Photo: Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media
Recently, a pair of Bridgeport’s most respected religious leaders issued a cry for leadership in the city’s police department. They cited “concerning behavior — police behaving like an aggressive, occupying force, rather than an agency dedicated to protecting and serving a community that they know well.”
The Rev. Anthony L. Bennett is co-chair of the Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut; the Rev. Cass Shaw is president of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. They have a long history of standing up for Bridgeport residents, and their concerns must be taken seriously.
Yet so far, the city is waiting for an indication that Bridgeport leaders are treating the issue with the gravity it deserves.
The most recent troubles came on the two-year anniversary of a police officer killing a 15-year-old boy in what a state prosecutor deemed was a justified action.
The crowd at a vigil was reported to be mostly peaceful, though that peace was apparently broken when a glass object was thrown. Police are obligated to protect the public, and are expected to protect themselves. But their actions in breaking up the demonstration struck many as heavy handed and over the top.
Eleven people were arrested for, as the police said, not clearing the area after having been given sufficient warning. Also arrested was a Hearst Connecticut Media reporter, and though no charges were filed and she was soon released, the mistake, if that’s what it was, should not be overlooked.
As to the 11 others arrested, police have an obligation to explain why they needed to go to such lengths to ensure public safety.
Taken by itself, the issue might have been surprising but not overly troubling. But coming as it does amid a long spate of other concerning police activities, the problem becomes more serious. These include racist messages sent by a police captain, reports of a physical scuffle in the chief’s office and possible violations committed by 17 officers in response to a 2017 house party.
Leadership starts at the top, and Bridgeport residents are left to wonder about the leadership of Mayor Joe Ganim and his chosen police chief, Armando Perez. Perez, though generally well-liked, has a history of making eyebrow-raising comments that are enough to make observers wonder whether he has the judgment necessary for someone in his position.
The closeness of Ganim to Perez, and of the chief to other city political leaders, is also a trouble spot. The police chief needs a good working relationship with the mayor and other politicians, but it must be a professional relationship. “I know him and love him,” Perez has said of Ganim. “He’s my brother.”
Both insist they can maintain a proper working relationship, with all the necessary checks and balances, regardless.
Ganim is up for re-election soon. It will be up to his constituents to decide whether his relationship with the chief has been a help or a hindrance regarding the conduct of the Bridgeport Police Department.
They might do well to carefully consider the clergy members’ words.