The Justice Department today announced that it has entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement with the town of East Haven, Conn., to resolve the department’s complaint alleging that the East Haven Police Department (EHPD) engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination against individuals on account of race, color or national origin. The agreement also resolves allegations that EHPD engaged in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force and unconstitutional searches and seizures. The department and town jointly filed the agreement in federal district court today seeking the court’s approval and continued jurisdiction to enforce its terms.
The agreement is designed to ensure that the policies and practices of EHPD uphold constitutional protections against unlawful discrimination and unreasonable searches and seizures for the town’s 29,000 residents and other individuals who visit the town. The agreement, which draws from contemporary policing practices from around the country, is also designed to strengthen the community’s trust in EHPD and enable police officers to more effectively protect public safety. Once the agreement is implemented, the town is required to maintain two years of sustained compliance to ensure that the reforms become part of the agency’s standard procedures and institutional culture.
On Oct. 22, 2012, the department and the mayor of East Haven signed a letter of intent to enter into the agreement that provided the mayor an opportunity to consult with other town officials on the agreement’s comprehensive reforms. Following a series of board and council meetings, town officials unanimously endorsed the agreement. On Nov. 15, 2012, the mayor and police commission chairman executed the agreement.
“We are pleased that town officials have joined the mayor and the board of police commissioners in supporting the broad reforms embodied in the agreement.” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The agreement reflects a strong commitment to effective and constitutional law enforcement in East Haven for all who live, work and visit the town.”
“We commend the mayor, board of police commissioners, police chief, police officers and other town officials for taking this important step forward toward reform,” said David B. Fein, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. “This agreement will provide the men and women of EHPD with the necessary support and guidance they need to fulfill their duties in a manner that protects public safety and upholds individuals’ civil rights.”
The agreement provides for comprehensive reforms in seven core areas, and provides for a joint compliance expert who will independently assess EHPD’s implementation of the agreement. The seven core areas are:
Biased-free policing, including measures on mandatory training, collection and analysis of data on police encounters, development of a meaningful language access plan, notification to consulates when foreign nationals are detained, and steps to promote biased-free policing in EHPD’s hiring, promotion and performance assessment processes;
Use of force, including the development of current policies on use of force and measures that provide for comprehensive training, consistent force reporting and thorough force reviews and investigations by supervisors and the internal affairs officer;
Searches and seizures, including the development of up-to-date policies and measures on applying for search warrants, documenting consent searches, notifying supervisors of felony arrests and other “contempt-of-cop” situations, inspecting detainees for injuries and preserving individuals’ First Amendment rights to observe and record police activity;
Policies and training, including measures to ensure that officers and supervisors have sufficient guidance to carry out their law enforcement responsibilities in a lawful, effective and ethical manner;
Civilian complaints, internal investigations and discipline, including measures to ensure that all allegations of officer misconduct are received and thoroughly investigated and that officers who engage in misconduct are held accountable by a disciplinary system that is fair and consistent;
Supervision and management, including steps that provide for close and effective supervision to assist officers in carrying out their duties in a lawful manner and systems that allow supervisors to identify, correct and prevent misconduct; and
Community engagement and oversight, including measures to create robust partnerships with all segments of the East Haven community, disseminate public information on reforms and policing activities and solicit feedback on the relationship between EHPD and the community.
In September 2009, the Justice Department opened a pattern or practice investigation into allegations that EHPD officers engaged in discriminatory traffic enforcement, use of excessive force and unconstitutional searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution and federal anti-discrimination laws. In December 2011, the department completed its investigation and issued a letter finding reasonable cause to believe that EHPD engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination and other misconduct. The investigation was conducted jointly by the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut.