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Commentary: Thoughts on a Police Commission

Gerry Pleasant, Retired Deputy Chief

November 22, 2012

The implementation of a police commission seeks to solve one problem with the introduction of another. The current problems faced by the Hartford Police Department would not be solved by the creation of a police commission.

The city charter vests the responsiblity for the good order and efficiency of the department in a chief. That sole responsibility creates an element of accountability that would be mitigated by a separate commission.

Traditionally, police commissions exist under the guise of civilian oversight and accountability to the public. However, this diffuses the responsiblity for decisions. Police commissions possess powers to hire, promote, promulgate policy, and terminate employees.

In our current governmental system, the civilian oversight occurs through the strong mayor of the city who can appoint and replace a police chief under just cause.

The creation of a police commission threatens to bring partisan politics to the running of a police department. It can create regression to problems that existed at the beginning of the twentieth century with the "ward" politics whereby officers were hired by virtue of political patronage, cronyism, and nepotism.

The move to professionalization of the police service has come a long way. Police managers receiving a high level of extensive and specialized training in legal, ethical and management disciplines with a body of best police practices developed. The issues in policing today are myriad and complicated and necessitate the training and experience of these seasoned police managers. The transfer of authority for major law enforcement decisions and promulgation of policy should not be left to a body of non-expert civilians to base decisions on personal opinions or agendas.

The notion of a police commission in theory certainly has some appealing elements in so far as outside oversight is concerned; however, the practical implementation of such a body will invariably cause further problems for the management of the Hartford Police Department and run contrary to the effective administration of department as a function of the executive branch.

A more effective avenue would be to use the collective best practices of the law enforcement profession to make a commitment to seeing the Hartford Police Department nationally accredited, appoint and train quality, competent individuals to run the department and institute policies and best practices for a transparent department responsive to the community it serves. The implementation of a police commission is merely a feel good trip on a tangent with no real prognosis for progress.

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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