Westport forms civilian review panel to investigate complaints against police, fire, EMS
WESTPORT — After a year of pressure to create a Civilian Review Panel to oversee the police department, the town has now formed one.
The panel will work closely with members of the police, fire and EMS departments to assist in hiring new employees and to review and provide feedback to civilian complaints, town officials said.
“They will seriously consider all the items before them to achieve an increasingly effective, transparent and equitable process in hiring public safety personnel and, when necessary, investigate civilian complaints,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said in a statement Tuesday.
Discussion about a CRP popped up back in the spring of 2019, when Westporter Jason Stiber was given a distracted driving ticket by Westport police who apparently mistook a hash brown for a cellphone. Stiber was later found not guilty.
“I received a motor vehicle infraction ticket issued in error that required me to defend myself in court, which got overturned,” Stiber said Tuesday. “In the process, I filed two complaints with the police department, the first of which was never (properly recorded) and the second did not result in any corrective action taken.”
Stiber said he found the process for civilian complaints to be biased and inadequate because fellow officers were the only ones to review complaints made about police.
“I think a civilian review panel will add transparency and will promote public confidence to the process of investigating civilian complaints,” he said. “It will help the police maintain public trust and improve the quality of services they provide through an unbiased review and disposition of complaints.”
Last year, Stiber petitioned for such a panel but was met with a mixed response from town officials.
“It was the numerous recent peaceful protests in Westport in response to the killing of George Floyd that had hundreds of people gather in protest against racism and police brutality, which should be ultimately credited for this change,” Stiber said.
TEAM Westport Chair Harold Bailey, who heads the town’s diversity organization, said current events nationwide have emphasized a need to address systemic racial inequities, with a focus on policing people of color.
“The CRP should be an immediate, significant first step toward the comprehensive equity review/revision process for Westport public safety which should ultimately be conducted,” he said.
Bailey and Selectwomen Jennifer Tooker and Melissa Kane have been appointed to the CRP by Marpe.
Kane said the panel will be an important step toward accountability and transparency for the town’s public safety departments and personnel.
“I look forward to serving on the panel, and appreciate the openness with which our public safety leadership has welcomed the opportunity to review our public safety procedures,” she said in a statement.
When Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas was sworn in as chief of police, he said, his goal was to continue to build a foundation of public trust.
“Now, at a time when police departments across the country are looking introspectively at ways to better serve our communities, I believe that this is an important step in continuing to maintain complete transparency, in preserving public trust and in reassuring our residents that effective policing is truly a collaborative effort,” he said.
But Stiber said he was worried an appointed board of hand-picked individuals would not have true independence. Despite this, he said, the change will help to make Westport a better place.
“Our police department is made up of dedicated professionals who do a great job, but an organizational change in how our town government is structured was clearly needed for police accountability,” he said.