U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Tuesday the town of East Haven has done a good job repairing the relationship between the town’s Latino community and its police. She was visiting East Haven on a national tour of cities and towns where police officers have improved their relationships with the communities they serve.
In 2012, four East Haven police officers were arrested on federal charges for violating Latinos’ civil rights. They received prison sentences of four months to five years.
In 2011, a Department of Justice investigation found that East Haven police were engaged in a "pattern or practice of systematically discriminating" against the town's Latinos. Because of that investigation, the town of East Haven entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice to reform its police department.
“This could have been a situation where the police just checked a box and did what they did to try and show the Department of Justice that they were complying," said Lynch. "But if the people who really felt victimized don’t see a difference, then we would not view it as a success."
Lynch spoke with Latino residents from East Haven on Tuesday. She said they told her that since police implemented changes recommended by the Department of Justice, Latinos now feel safe calling officers for help.
"Law enforcement officers are working not only to fulfill the terms of the agreement, but to make their department a model for the state," she said. "I could not be more proud of the important progress you have made."
Lynch said East Haven’s police force is becoming more diverse and that police are getting to know residents on a more personal level. She said that communities facing similar problems — like Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland— can learn from the turnaround that East Haven’s police force has made.
Father James Manship, a Catholic priest at New Haven's St Rose of Lima Parish, was at the meeting with Lynch.
Manship was arrested in 2009 after he videotaped East Haven police officers who were harassing Latinos. That arrest prompted the Department of Justice civil rights investigation that led to East Haven's police reforms.
Manship said police and community members have been getting along much better since the Department of Justice stepped in. He said the agreement between the Department of Justice and East Haven ends in two years and he wants the town to continue supporting the police reforms even after they’re no longer required to by the Department.
“This requires money," he said. "The men and women of the East Haven police department deserve the continued financial support of the town to continue to grow in their policing policies.”