Reforms, initiatives announced for New Haven Police Department
‘Our measure of success will not be the number of arrests made...’
NEW HAVEN, CT (WFSB) – Changes at the New Haven Police Department were announced on Thursday morning.
The reforms and initiatives came as the family of a man paralyzed in New Haven police custody planned to lead a community march on Friday, along with the NAACP, to call for action.
New Haven’s brand-new police chief, Karl Jacobson, held a news conference on Thursday to announce what the department described as big initiatives. Many of them were prompted by the police transport ride that went terribly wrong on June 18. The incident left 36-year-old Randy Cox paralyzed in the department’s custody.
The chief said this is to make clear to officers the steps they’re supposed to take and how they’re supposed to treat those in their custody.
“We promised quick and divisive action, accountability and todays initiatives and reforms are an important step in fulfilling that commitment,” said New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.
“What this order is saying is, if they say it, you will do it, not that hey, it’s open to interpretation. If this is mentioned, you’re required to ask these questions on body cam,” said Chief Karl Jacobson.
Effectively immediately, no police vans will be used to transport suspects. They instead will be driven in marked police cruisers. The only exception is if the suspect’s physical stature prohibits that mode of transportation, in which case the officer will have to document the reason.
“The transport vans are not going to be out around the city, picking up suspects like they were in the past,” said Jacobson.
Also, if a suspect claims to be hurt while in police custody, officers are now obligated to seek immediate medical attention. Such cases are no longer open to interpretation or discernment of the officers. The process must be recorded by body cams.
“Some of this is reiterating, very, very explicitly what was existing policy, some of this is additional and I think the additional portion and also clarifying existing policy, but the additional thing that’s very important is that the officers are required to ask both at the time of arrest and upon arrival, if people need medical assistance,” said Elicker.
Elicker during the news conference on Thursday became emotional while talking about the recent incident with Cox.
“I’m a dad. I can’t imagine if children one day being able to walk [then] the next day potentially never being able to walk again,” Elicker said. “The first thing he said to me, he struggled to say ‘I can’t talk.’ The family said that that even was progress, that he was able to talk.”
Just after Jacobson was sworn in as the permanent chief on Wednesday, he promised to act right away. He said the big focus was to build back community trust.
Jacobson has been with the department for 15 years. Even though he’s seen and experienced a lot over that period, he said there’s clearly more work to be done and improvements to be made.
Jacobson said now is the time to implement new initiatives and reforms. He said he’s hoping to get back the trust of the community.
“Our measure of success will not be the number of arrests made or traffic citations issued, but rather interaction with community, along with the reduction of crime, fear and disorder in New Haven,” he said.
New Haven will host a series of public safety town halls with the mayor and chief.
The first one will be next Thursday night, July 14, at Hill Regional Career High School.
While the city is changing its procedures and reinforcing others, it’s based on a proposed bill at the state level.
Months before the video, Senate President Martin Looney pushed for a bill requiring officers to provide immediate medical attention to those complaining of illness or injury during their arrest or while being transported.
“It was suggested to us by the Medical Civil Rights Initiative, a group of physicians from Mass General Hospital and Brigham & Women’s, we introduced it here and it did past the Senate 34-0,” said Looney.
But the House never took it up before the session ended.
After Cox was left paralyzed while in New Haven police custody back on Father’s Day, Looney says he’ll introduce his bill again.
“Clearly I think the video is clear in that case and this would establish a statewide standard that the standard practice is to not ignore these kind of things that are asserted at the time of arrest,” said Looney.
It’s something the family and attorneys representing Cox have called for as well.
“I want to know, where is the person that sees what’s going on and says, maybe he’s not joking, maybe he’s not drunk, maybe he is in distress. He’s laying on the floor saying I think my neck is broke, help, I can’t move,” said Latoya Boomer, Cox’s sister.
New Haven based its special order on Looney’s proposed bill, which he says is just a start.
“The other issue will be looking at is whether or not seatbelts should be mandated on vans because one of the New Haven vans had them, the other did not, so that is another issue we’re going to look to standardized, both for municipal transport vans and also for state transport vans,” said Looney.
Now the family of Randy Cox along with their attorneys and the NAACP, plan on holding what they’re describing as a March for Justice Friday afternoon.
It will start at the Stetson Library on Dixwell at 5 p.m. and make its way to the police department.
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