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Lessons From Meriden Police
Police Troubles Travails offer instruction in what not to do

Courant.com - Editorial
June 18, 2011

If nothing else, the problems in the Meriden police department raise issues of management that may apply to other organizations.

State and federal authorities are investigating allegations that brutality allegations against the chief's son were sloughed off, and that there is a disparity in how officers are disciplined. Though the investigation continues, lessons that might be extracted now involve:

Nepotism. If the boss hires his son or daughter in any organization, the child must be held to the same, if not a tougher, standard as other workers. Unequal treatment hurts morale and efficiency.

In Meriden, Officer Evan Cossette, the son of Chief Jeffrey Cossette, has been the subject of seven internal affairs complaints in the past 18 months, more than any other officer in the department. Four were for alleged excessive force, including one in which he was accused of pushing a handcuffed inmate backward into a jail cell, cracking the man's head and knocking him unconscious. That was the only complaint that was sustained, but it resulted only in a letter of reprimand and a training session.

Many sons and daughters follow their parents into police work, as happens in other professions. It is not a bad thing; it speaks well for the value of the profession, and it usually works out. The son or daughter knows something about the job, and has support at home. But when it doesn't, it's trouble. That is why many veteran police officers encourage their children to apply at other departments.

Complaints. Any good organization takes criticism seriously, and with an open mind. The Courant's Dave Altimari recently reported that the Meriden police department receives a much higher number of complaints than similarly sized departments, but rarely sustains a complaint made by a citizen. However, it often sustains complaints made by the chief, his deputy or one cop against another.

It is hard to believe that nearly all citizen complaints over the past 18 months were frivolous. A police department is a public agency; residents are the customers. They need to be treated as such.

Mr. Altimari reported that several complaints have recently been filed against two officers who were whistleblowers on internal affairs cases. If the disciplinary system is being used for retaliation, that is egregiously wrong.

Outside review. Here is one the city got right. When an organization is in turmoil, it's sometimes helpful to bring in outside help. City officials recently hired a former federal prosecutor, Hartford lawyer Thomas V. Daily, to review the brutality allegations and the way they were handled.

Running a police department is a major managerial challenge. Meriden has many fine officers, as anyone in the city is quick to say. If the investigations show that managerial mistakes blunted the department's effectiveness, they will have to be corrected. That is the final lesson.

 

 

 


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