The Hartford Inspector General says he won’t be able to do his job properly unless there are some major changes to the system. Namely, he wants to be able to question officers facing investigation and complaints directly, rather than through a proxy.
According to Inspector General Liam Brennan, his office has so far been unsuccessful in its efforts to gain that level of access due to resistance from the Hartford Police Union.
“When I started two months ago, I had a meeting with the Union where I made clear to them that I wanted to be present,” explains Brennan. “My goal was to be present at the interviews and ask questions directly, that I cannot do my job without being able to do that.”
Brennan says he thought the matter had been settled and that the Union had agreed, through the Chief of Police, to allow him to ask his own questions during interviews. But when he arrived in April to do so, he was stopped. He says the Union issued a demand to bargain with the city over the issue and that the matter remains unresolved. The Union did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“I can provide questions to Internal Affairs investigators, and if I want to be present at an interview, I can be present there to observe,” he says. “But I don’t have it hammered out a way to ask questions directly.”
Brennan says the ability to ask his own questions during an interview may seem trivial to some, but it is imperative to his ability to act as an independent investigator. “There will be reactions to answers, sometimes those can be spontaneous,” he says, continuing, “I just can’t be as effective providing written questions and speaking through somebody else.”
Brennan stresses that he doesn’t believe he will need to exercise this ability in many cases, but that he should still have it regardless of how often it is needed.
In the meantime, he and the Civilian Police Review Board maintain one major investigative tool: subpoena power. So far, they have only utilized it to gain access to documents from outside organizations which assisted in an investigation. They are also able to subpoena officers to answer questions directly. Brennan says that move can be viewed as an escalation, which is why they have avoided using it so far.
That record is set to end, however, as the CPRB voted to table two complaints at their April meeting and seek to use their subpoena power to interview the officer at the center.
In one case, the officer is alleged to have deployed stop sticks – spiked devices used to disable vehicles in a pursuit – on a vehicle that was not involved in a pursuit. CPRB Chair Eric Crawford says the board wants to ask the officer why he may have taken that action and better understand how disciplinary actions are decided in the department.
“I think that’s what our citizens need, just to hold people accountable,” says Crawford. “Just like they hold the citizens accountable, we’re going to hold them accountable. It’s not a witch hunt.”
Crawford says he believes that better accountability would increase trust between citizens and the police force and potentially drive recruitment to the department and a better relationship between the department and citizens.
For the moment, Inspector General Brennan says they’ll look to see how the subpoena action pans out before pushing the interview issue further.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the CPRB had subpoenaed documents from the Hartford Police Department. This was incorrect and the story has been updated.