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Justice report recommends policy changes


Published: Sat, March 4, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


The Urban League says the report gives police a chance to move forward.
By TIM YOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Mayor Michael J. O'Brien has pledged to institute a litany of U.S. Justice Department recommendations to improve the police department.
The Justice Department issued Thursday a 30-page report dealing with police shortcomings brought to light through complaints about the use of excessive force and strip-searches of suspects.
On Friday, O'Brien termed the report a "working document." Some of the recommendations are geared for larger police forces and will take longer to implement, he said.
Law Director Gregory V. Hicks said none of the recommendations is impractical.
Police Chief John Mandopoulos, O'Brien and Hicks said that some of the recommendations have been instituted, such as 40 hours of police training, updating legal decisions and briefings during roll call.
Mandopoulos said a warning on a citizen's complaint form that some thought was threatening has been removed from the form.
Chance to 'move forward'
Thomas S. Conley, president and chief operating officer of the Warren-Trumbull Urban League, characterized the report as "an opportunity to move forward."
He said there is a need for the police to follow their own policies, with discipline used if they aren't followed.
Mandopoulos said some of the recommendations such as the need for equipment will require additional money be allocated for his law enforcement.
Both O'Brien and Hicks stressed that the city will not seek a tax increase to pay the added costs.
The Justice Department recommended that to improve community relations the police hold community outreach meetings to serve as an open forum for all residents to discuss issues with the police.
The meetings should occur as needed, but at least quarterly.
Another recommendation is that the police department update policies and procedures. When completed, they should be given to the officers and they should acknowledge receipt, since not all officers are following them.
The report pointed out that the lack of a policy concerning the use of force "may lead officers to believe that they are justified in using force in situations in which it would be unreasonable or unnecessary."
Recommends board
The Justice Department would like to see the police form a deadly-force review board to report directly to the chief.
It would evaluate use of deadly force to determine whether it was used within policy and to prevent future situations involving such force.
It would not replace internal affairs or any criminal investigation, the report said.
In 2003, the police department issued its policy governing body-cavity and strip-searches.
"However, our interviews revealed that officers were unclear on the policy's standards and requirement," the report says.
It recommends that the law department retrain all officers, including all command officers, about such searches.
Concerning supervisors, the investigation found a lack of structured oversight of police officers by the command staff. It pointed out that not all of the command staff, particularly the chief, are attending all of the required training.
yovich@vindy.com


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