Forum Leadership desperately needed in Bridgeport Police Department
Last week, the Bridgeport Police Department arrested 11 peaceful protestors and a Connecticut Post reporter during a protest marking the two-year anniversary of the fatal police shooting of Jayson Negron. At a time when police-community tensions are high and trust of police is low due to the recent firing of 16 shots by the police at Paul Witherspoon and Stephanie Washington, two unarmed people in New Haven, and the fatal police shooting of Anthony Jose “Chulo” Vega Cruz in Wethersfield, this action by the Bridgeport Police Department serves only to further erode what little credibility and trust they have rebuilt since Negron’s death.
Further, the act of a large number of officers clearing the street escalated the tension at a time when we most need police restraint. Video from the Post reporter seems to clearly indicate that the police arrested people on the sidewalk. The decision to clear the street, undoubtedly made by police leaders on the scene, calls into question whether the Bridgeport Police leadership, Chief Armando Perez, or Mayor Joe Ganim are at all serious about public commitments they made more than three years ago to implement department-wide de-escalation training for all officers and reform and professionalize department practices.
The further decision to charge the protestors with inciting a riot, interfering with the police, and breach of peace and require $5,000 bond for some of them is blatant overcharging and an attempt to intimidate protestors. The arrest of the reporter and protestors alike is an affront to all of our First Amendment rights.
After the tragedy of Negron’s shooting two years ago, we had hope that the Bridgeport Police Department would start to take seriously the need to train officers better, professionalize the department and take proactive steps to earn greater trust in the community. Instead, we have seen a pattern of alarming and concerning incidents. A few examples:
racist texts by Capt. Mark Straubel, a top deputy to Chief Perez, leading to his resignation last August;
violations of procedures and policies by 17 officers in conjunction with the response to a house party in 2017 that came to light in March;
reports of a physical scuffle in the Chief Perez’s office between police leadership and police union leadership in March.
Last week again showed concerning behavior — police behaving like an aggressive, occupying force, rather than an agency dedicated to protecting and serving a community that they know well.
We call on Mayor Ganim and Chief Perez to take immediate steps to rectify this heavy-handed action by the Bridgeport Police Department by dropping all charges and apologizing to those arrested and to the broader Bridgeport community. We further call on Mayor Ganim and Chief Perez to redouble their efforts and commitment to the longer-term, harder work of improving the culture and leadership of the department and to earning the trust and respect of the community.
The Rev. Anthony L. Bennett is co-chair of the Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT); the Rev. Cass Shaw is president of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport.