Photo: Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media
How many outrages will it take for Bridgeport leadership to realize its Police Department is in crisis?
A brief recap of incidents in the past few years includes, but is not limited to, 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 house party. There was a city detective sued for sexual harassment by a woman who reported a burglary. Not to be forgotten was the arrest of peaceful protesters as well as, stunningly, a journalist in the course of doing her job during a protest rally. The rally in question was in memory of a teenager killed by police two years earlier.
How many more embarrassments will the city need to endure? How many more people will be hurt before City Hall takes some action?
The latest evidence of a department adrift came this week when a Bridgeport police officer was placed on administrative leave following his third arrest for domestic violence. Steven Figueroa, 28, was charged Saturday by police in Shelton with third-degree assault, unlawful restraint, threatening and risk of injury to a child. He was released after posting bond.
Last year Figueroa was also placed on administrative duty after his second domestic violence arrest following an incident involving a different woman. Police Chief Armando Perez said at that time that his patience had worn out.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Perez said then. “After his first arrest we spent a lot of time mentoring this officer, but now that there has been (another) arrest we are going to let the chips fall where they may.”
His words meant nothing, as proven by the latest incident.
This has proven to be a recurring theme. The police chief consistently gets himself into trouble with blase or inappropriate comments about police officer issues, to the point that today he hardly speaks to the press at all.
In one view, it’s good that he’s trying to learn on the job. But there’s also plenty of evidence that Perez is simply not up to the job and should never have been hired in the first place.
Perez has long been close with Mayor Joe Ganim, going back to the mayor’s first round in office, which was characterized by rampant criminality. Ganim handpicked Perez for the top job, after a “nationwide search” that ended exactly where everyone knew it would go. Throughout Ganim’s return to City Hall, the Police Department has been characterized by scandal, outrage and rudderless leadership.
It has to change.
The city has heard from the public, members of the clergy and outside groups about the problems in its police department. There is no question by now that the city is facing a crisis. There have been too many controversies, too many embarrassments to ignore.
The question is what is going to be done about it. The current path, exposed yet again this week as a failure, must not be the way forward.