The community action group Bridgeport Generation Now has been commenting on the selection process that led to three police chief finalists, Acting Chief Armando Perez, Captain Roderick Porter and New Haven Assistant Police Chief Luiz Casanova. Representatives of the organization attended a forum last week that allowed interaction with roughly 30 community leaders that were split into three groups.
Rev. Cass Shaw, president and CEO of the faith-based social services agency Council of Churches, provided notes from the interviews via Bridgeport Generation Now. Her notes follow:
Present in our room:
· Ernest Newton, City Council Representative, 139th District
· Lauren Coakley Vincent, Downtown Special Services District
· Lorraine Gibbons, Cardinal Shehan Center
· Shamare Holmes, Her Time/Hang Time/ C.H.A.M.P.
· Reverend Cass Shaw, The Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport
· Brent Peterkin, Project Longevity
· Don Wilson, Bridgeport Youth Lacrosse
· Kim Bianca Williams, VCL Consulting
· Hector Diaz, Bridgeport Police Commissioner
Health Director Maritza Bond, facilitating:
Not public meeting, community members had opportunity to sit around outside, not at table. Rules of engagement, respectful, ok to facebook live, don’t interrupt, Maritza facilitating, taking questions in turn.
Captain Rod Porter, Opening Statement: Has served in every division as captain. Married, live upper east side, one son in NYC. Dedicated to Bridgeport, policing style based on community engagement, partnerships, collaboration. Community policing is foundation for reducing crime. Consistent, sustained community policing is critical, it’s a mindset, we need to work together so it has lasting effects for the city. First assignment was a walking beat on Stratford Ave. Need to get cops out interacting on street. Disrespectful to community not to have this. Under my leadership we will do this. I have plan to restructure the department.
Lorraine: How would you implement real community policing, overcome lack of sustainability?
Porter: Will do a study of current organization and will reorganize it. Go from 9 squads to fewer, manpower issues, but current mindset is not committed to long term community policing.
Cass: You’ve been part of B’port police for a long time, what are the stumbling blocks?
Porter: We need to recruit officers who understand new mindset, chief is responsible for recruiting the right people, qualities, values … we haven’t been able to connect with community in sustained way. In first 60-90 days I will convene community leader panels to address this.
Lauren: Grateful for low crime downtown, what changes do you propose for how downtown is managed?
Porter: To have good economics, need to have good police presence. B’port still has reputation needs to be overcome. Evenings police presence wanders, is inconsistent, needs to be beefed up.
Ernie: 1981 question Joe Walsh said not enough police … who says you need 500 officers to do a good job? Has there ever been a study that says B’port needs 500?
Porter: We need to have a study to determine effectiveness with the # of people we have. You can throw more cops at a problem, but unless they are strategically placed, and part of new culture, so what. Obama’s 6 pillar approach is a model.
Ernie: Guns on streets, do you see a way to reinstitute frisk and seize? Too many guns, do you think we need tailored plan that includes this?
Porter: I am careful about stop and frisk, need instead reasonable suspicion, so we aren’t targeting black and brown people. I am concerned about too easy access to firearms, want a task force like the one in Hartford. Need laws that are better deterrents.
Don: Gangs, violence, do you have plans for preemptive initiatives?
Porter: Yes, masters degree was on urban youth violence. Want to strengthen Project Longevity, need to target the right people with the right services. Need youth activities. Started health and fitness program for boys and girls, Sheehan, Hall Neighborhood, midnight basketball … need all of that. This is where community collaboration is key.
Don: If organizations want to rent Saturday space in schools, it is very costly. How could we address this?
Porter: Sheehan, Raphaola, McGivney, are great spaces. Our kids are traumatized, think violence is ok, getting in trouble is okay … non fatal shootings are huge problem ’cause kids want to deal with it themselves.
Lorraine: Have you looked at other urban areas where community policing is effective?
Porter: Yes, one similar to us is Hyde Point NC, program like Project Longevity. Chicago has positive programs.
Shamare: Credible messengers utilized in NY, they’ve come back from incarceration and mentor youth. Would you be open to this?
Porter: Yes, and we’ve done some of that. We have MIRA, have a program at Hall Neighborhood House, will seek more opportunities. Also good to have people who didn’t offend who can give back. People need to see leaders like them on everyday basis.
Cass: What is your vision for better coordinating city agencies’ responses in emergencies, whether weather related, active shooters, at schools, faith communities, etc.?
Porter: Emergency Operation Center is already good. School protocol is good re training for active shooter situations. After Sandy Hook people looked to Bridgeport for best practices. Our response time is 1-2 minutes.
Kim: In Savannah, did a lot of collaboration, Neighborhood organizations reported crime as they saw it, how do you plan to interact with neighborhood organizations?
Porter: Neighborhood watch, build on it. We need to be more transparent, build up website so people can see crime statistics in their neighborhoods, need monthly neighborhood meetings …
Ernie: Community policing, how do you get officers who don’t live here to be more engaged?
Porter: You play basketball with kids, you live here … what can we do about those who live outside the city, to get them to understand that this isn’t a 9-5 job, they need to be truly engaged in the community … Our school resources officers are handpicked, actively engaged. We are recruiting more B’port residents. If we recruit people who share our priorities, and we adopt the philosophy the community wants, we will make progress. I want to have all new recruits on walking beats for the first few years.
Hector: What about letting police officers allowed to take their cars home?
Porter: I like it … it acts as a deterrent, they take care of their cars more … Hector has been advocating for it … Yes, it’s a plus/benefit. I don’t want a situation where it’s misused, but I agree it’s a good thing when car isn’t shared.
Lorraine: Looking at retirement, do you plan to change the model?
Porter: We need continuous recruiting, can start in high school and need many avenues.
Brent Peterkin: Concern re legitimization of police authority. We are at historic low in homicides, non fatal shootings, continuance of this legacy targeting stakeholders who aren’t at the table, i.e. street groups/gangs … how will you strengthen that relationship, build capacity?
Porter: Project Longevity is important. Numbers are good, but if people don’t feel safe, perception is everything. Legitimacy and transparency are critical. We gain it through good policies, community meetings, so we build trust, cooperation.
Cass: I’m concerned about lack of transparency in search process. The community has not been given genuine access to this process. What do you intend to do to connect with the community?
Porter: Panel teams of advisors, will talk to as many people as I can, get deputies and patrolmen out there, so I’m not the only face of the department, meet with a purpose, come up with solutions.
Summation by Porter: I’ve learned that whether financial or crime issues, we need to understand what led to the situation. Certain neighborhoods that consistently have crime issues. Need to get to the causes. That will be the cornerstone, that was my masters thesis. What the conditions, behaviors that lead to it, how do we address them? Community!!! Other candidates are fine individuals. At this time in our city/country, with my dedication to B’port, I believe I’m the best candidate.
Kim Staley passed out an article from a couple of weeks ago–encouraged people to give more, specific feedback to Mayor Ganim via email, his email address listed in article.
Chief Armando Perez, Opening Statement: Immigrant from Cuba at 12 yrs old. Came to Hollow, didn’t know we were poor. Dad’s rule–go to school or go to work, or don’t stay here. Didn’t have $ for college, so worked at bank, worked my way up. Bank sold, I was on the street with wife and 2 yr old. Became police officer, never looked back. Cut my teeth at PT Barnum, great friendships throughout B’port, care about people. Rose through ranks, have held many positions, have upheld the standards. I want to hear your concerns. I live by golden rule, if I can help a situation, I will.
Kim: Community policing plan?
Perez: 5 year plan, model out of Hartford, 21st century policing. Started when Chief Sweeney was here, 1985-6. Crime was bad, 1990s were bad. 73 homicides one year. Jersey barriers put into East End, led to worse issues. Brought in community policing, it worked, we cleaned up the city. Then in 2005 we started going in different direction, Boston U, violent crime initiative … opposite of community policing, instead of building relationships. Things fell apart. Need to integrate technology (we will have Tier 1 state accreditation by Dec.). Give officers training on best practices. Opened a lot of police posts, had enough SROs to man them, build relationships. Now have enough officers to have community policing in # of places around city, walking beats.
Lauren: Grateful for low crime downtown, any plans for changes, how to maintain?
Perez: Met with merchants. Part of 5 year plan, camera system, but need to have car on state street, keep two officers on walking beat … maintain police presence.
Cass: Racism, community policing, frustrated that you didn’t fire Captain Straubel–what is your plan?
Perez: I want to go back to the monthly meetings we had on 3rd Wednesdays. Straubel functioned well, kind, warm … but then saw another side of him. Once this allegation was made, it was hearsay, wanted an investigation, I was given evidence of wrongdoing, I was informed, told him to go home … he never stepped foot in the police station again. I told IA I wanted the case expedited. I don’t have power to fire, commission does (federal decree). I pushed it along, union said nothing we could do except get his resignation. His pension is now $32,000, no medical, not the $94,000 with medical it would have been. I’m a minority! This job is not for the faint at heart, spent a lot of sleepless nights, but I have no problem getting rid of anyone who is racist.
Don: Recent arrest of 4 kids in Trumbull Gardens–what are you planning for public housing areas?
Perez: We are ahead of curve on this. Had meeting 2 weeks ago, there were 4 shootings, lots of shell casings, AK47, AR15s designed to kill. I was alarmed, have increased patrols in that area. Gave all officers smart phones, feature called SLACK, keeps everyone on same page when incident is unfolding, not just B’port, but beyond–Trumbull, Fairfield. Try to form partnership between parents, kids, schools … one of the kids interviewed said, charge me with whatever you want, I’ll be out in 2 hrs, will go out and shoot someone anyway. I spent time with him, said there’s a future out there, we will work with you, help you … his reply: No, there’s nothing you can do, I want $, gun, car. I continued to try to reason with him, broke my heart. Last night shooting on Maple Ave, I was out there, I’m the chief, didn’t have to be, but I was. I put my contact info out there, am available.
Brent: B’port has had good year, historic lows, partnership with Project Longevity … all good. We had anti gun violence rally, value was the visibility in that part of the community, collective outrage, police were there, expressed public commitment. Re visibility, personal relationships, we do targeted outreach. Downtown foot patrols, but are you willing to have foot patrols in other parts of the city?
Perez: Yes, part of 5 year program. I will put foot patrol on Stratford, Connecticut, etc., they will use the post on 6th and Stratford, same for Trumbull Garden. They will play basketball, tennis with community, build trust …
Ernie: How do you break culture of how police talk to individuals? People are not greeted with respect. They are yelled at … How do you teach new recruits and veterans?
Perez: We discussed this just Monday. One thing NYPD has is a program where all officers are issued cards they have to give the person with whom they interacted … it asks for feedback on how the person was treated. How about the issue of getting officers to see the job not as 9-5 but a real involvement in community, whether they live here or not? You do this by leading from the front. If I become chief I will move back into Bridgeport. I have a house here. Moved out because education was awful. I walk the streets of B’port, I will lead by example. Used to walk on Fridays with captains, just talking to people, introducing ourselves.
Lorraine: You’re passionate about education, as leader of police force, what is your intention about getting your degree?
Perez: When it comes to admin and operation experience, I know what I’m doing. Chief Sweeney, Chapman, Norwood in New Haven, all were great teachers. I have programs with SHU, UB, I’m guest lecturer. I try to recruit young minds, we need minorities. We have 257 white, 109 Hispanic, 58 black officers. We have to do better job. Now that my kids are in school I will go back to UB and get my degree, important that I set the example.
Perez’s Summary: Privilege to serve B’port, we exist to preserve and protect everyone. There is a God, treat people as you want to be treated. I lead by example. I hope to have another 5 years to serve.
Luis Casanova, Opening Statement: Married 30 years, 2 girls, in policing 25 years. Came from PT Barnum, East End, Herald Avenue, lived above Hell’s Angels, to have 2 successful daughters who were supposed to be statistic makes me very proud. Worked in every division of the dept. Asked to change climate in Fair Haven, part of NH like East Side, successful in reducing homicides from 9 to 0. Wasn’t cops alone, we engaged, built trust with community, did it WITH them. Stolen vehicles reduced 80% in 2 years.
Cass: Regarding community policing, CONECT urged the B’port department to encourage using the New Haven strategy of giving officers free rent to live in public housing, but we heard that officers aren’t interested. Would you support revisiting this opportunity?
Casanova: Having cops living in public housing is important. We need to reframe community policing question–does it work, and how to you get cops to participate? I could give you textbook answer, but lots of departments talk about it, don’t do it. I only know community policing, it’s the only thing that works. Other models don’t work, add to incarceration system. B’port has attempted, but they have a CP unit, it doesn’t work, every cop has to do this, not just a few. Entire department has to transition. You have to change not just mindset (academic, they do it while you’re present) but heartset–you can buy labor, time, but can’t buy empathy. How do you teach it? Training, education, modeling it. Can’t go into community and telling them what we will do are over, we have to go in and ask what the community wants us to do. In NH we fought to get there, took a lot of time. Student of Ramsey in Philly, other great mentors. Cops have A personality, they say they want to help, but locking people up doesn’t work. Need to change trajectory of people’s lives. Get cops involved in this, hold all of them accountable to engage the community.
Don: What specific programs have you run for age 14-24?
Casanova: Police Foundation recently published article about NH, program I was involved in, had researchers from UNH to measure the results. At recruit level, before they became cops, we persuaded them to ID a kid in community to work with, if they did it they graduated with distinction. Not for the recruit to mentor the kid but the opposite. Researchers ID’d that pre and post engagement the change was remarkable. PAL, Explorer, Youth Council, Bd of young Police Commissioners, all these ideas are helpful.
Brent: Procedural justice, racial reconciliation … how do you perceive these things?
Casanova: Cops historically have not stood on right side of justice as we define it today. First we have to apologize on behalf of the whole force for bad interactions with police. Before you can move forward chiefs have to be brave enough to stand in front of the community and acknowledge the sins of the past. Then we have to ask the community for their input, guidance. This approach is embedded in the training we use.
Shamare: Re Jayson Negron, youth haven’t been apologized to, weren’t given support. Would you be willing to open that conversation back up again to provide counsel to the youth in our community? Groups trying to get answers have been shunned … Callie should be at the table, others should be as well … can this be a priority? It was a tragedy for everyone.
Casanova: Don’t know details of investigation, so can’t respond to that incident, but generally NYC 1974 cops shot 800, kill 100 a year, community responded by killing 8-10 cops a year. Sometimes a law is a law, states attorney’s office is required to follow letter of law, that isn’t good enough. Policy changes reduced police shootings by 90% in NYC. States Attorney can acquit, but officer can still be fired if didn’t observe policy. Policy holds cops accountable and you need to train them as well, where there are systemic issues you have to change the culture. There should have been a relationship with kids and schools beforehand, so you have community equity. When the community trusts you instead of marching against you they stand with you and know it will be investigated appropriately. During incident, saying no comment is no good, esp. when cop is involved, but always. Communication is critical throughout the whole process.
Lauren: Downtown policing question again, how will you maintain police presence or bring changes?
Casanova: Downtown is heart of community, critical. Mostly quality of life issues. Crime is down, chiefs will pound their chests with good statistics, but community wants to feel presence of justice. Doesn’t matter whether crime is up or down, they have to feel safe, not just downtown but city wide. If people don’t trust police, if they see cop and see disdain, it doesn’t work. They need to see integrity, we have a lot of work to do.
Lorraine: What’s working in NH that could benefit B’port?
Casanova: Besides community policing … You need table with community members who want to solve problems, but just yell about them. We have clergy meeting once a month, asking what people want, what they are hearing. We have youth leaders meetings, ask questions … In CT we spend 12 – 24 thousand a year per student to educate. Average $32,000 per inmate … we spend $65,000 in CT. Take the $ and follow the evidence. Ask the pros who know what doesn’t work and refocus it on what works.
Lauren: Being external candidate, how will you approach it re mindset and heartset?
Casanova: I’m not new to B’port, I would first have conversation with community, elected officials, cops, find out what people need. Need to listen, need to get the cops to care, tell them that I need them, not just ask them to volunteer. B’port isn’t going to change overnight, need to take care of the cops, diversify the department. Needs to be incentives for the cops. Every community partner has to be at the table. Slow approach … steady approach.
Ernie: How did NH gets its officers who don’t live in NH to realize that it’s more than a 9-5 job, and invest in the community?
Casanova: It was tough … had old guard, then the new folks. Got to street and old guard infected new cops, but we didn’t quit. I heard from cops in B’port that it’s a different place and it won’t change, but NH was B’port 30 years ago. If I become chief I would ask you to have my back, because a few will try to kill me when I’m trying to change culture, and you need to stand with me and not let them get away with it. Not about iron fist, have to get cops to buy in.
Cass: With all the progress in NH, and the good you’ve done in building trust, lowering crime, what do you regret about your time in NH, what are the gaps? Why come to B’port?
Casanova: Openings in many places, I’m not ready for retirement. Imagine headline, Ganim brings B’port native back to be chief, someone who grew up in public housing. Leadership isn’t about me, it’s about cultivating leadership in others. Gaps in NH? We’ve had ebbs and flows, thank God NH has people who refuse to let best practices go. Inconsistency in leadership makes it really difficult.
Casanova’s Summary: Tough decision, good candidates. I’m not competing with them, I’m competing with myself. Chief needs steel spine, fiscally responsible, implement policy when it’s not popular, I walk the walk. Ask the anti-police in NH about me. Ask the people who don’t believe in the police at times, and they will tell you that I’m fair, and expect police to do their job. Ask Father Manship, Barbara Fair, others in NH who know me.
To view backgrounds of finalists click on their names: