New Civilian Panel Reviews Police

Soon after the 2013 election, new First Selectman Jim Marpe met with Police Chief Dale Call and Deputy Chief Foti Koskinas.

“I’d never been a police officer,” Marpe — a former management consultant — says. “I needed their best input.”

Today, he notes, “I’m a lot smarter about their activity — and the Fire Department, and EMS.” Though the leaders of those department report to him, Marpe describes their relationship as “more collaborative than command-and-control.”

Nearly 5 years ago, Marpe appointed Koskinas as chief of police. He continued what Call had begun: a review of policies and procedures to reflect new national policing standards.

Westport’s manual dated back to 1972. It was one year younger than Koskinas.

The department enjoys an excellent reputation. In 7 years, Marpe says, “I don’t need 2 hands to count the number of genuine, legitimate complaints we’ve gotten — and that includes the Fire Department too.”

Nationally of course, police departments face intense scrutiny.

So — in addition to weekly meetings, and many more frequent phone conversations — Marpe has created a Citizen Review Panel. To “foster and maintain the public’s trust” in its public safety departments, the panel will:

  • Participate in the interview process of new hires and lateral transfer applicants of the Police, Fire and EMS Departments
  • Review and provide feedback on complaints
  • Advise the departments on policies and procedures that improve transparency and accountability.

CRP members will be trained to understand policies, internal affairs and legal issues. They’ll hold regular public meetings.

The CRP will include the 2nd and 3rd selectmen (currently Jen Tooker and Melissa Kane); one member of TEAM Westport, and 2 members of the Westport electorate. Marpe has appointed TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey to the panel, and will name the 2 other members soon.

Westport Police Chief Fotios Koskinas (Photo/Dan Woog)

Koskinas says that the police union is on board with the CRP. “They want accountability and transparency too,” he says.

Westport’s police already meet or exceed the state’s Police Office Standards and Training (POST) guidelines in areas like body cameras, chokehold procedures and more. Minority recruitment — including the most recent hire — is “the most diverse ever,” says Koskinas.

“But we want an outside party to see the complaints that come in. We want to highlight how well we handle our internal policing.” Sometimes, he says, an investigation turns up an issue that the initial complaint did not even include.

In 2016 there were 6 civilian complaints against the Police Department. The next year there were 5, then 6 and 8. In 2020, there have been a total of 3. Complaints against the Fire Department and EMS are even lower.

Most police complaints, Koskinas says, involve citizens dissatisfied with an interaction with an officer.

“It may be the way someone stopped the car or spoke to that person,” Koskinas explains.

“We look at the body camera. Maybe the officer spoke in a monotone. We try to explain what goes into controlling a scene.” Often, he says, a complaint is then withdrawn.

“But we do speak to the officers. We do adjust policies. We take every complaint seriously.”

Nearly all police interactions with the public are positive.

The Representative Town Meeting is currently examining a Civilian Review Board ordinance. Its members would be elected by the public.

Already though, the Civilian Review Panel is up and running. They are reviewing their first incident.

“Mr. Marpe and I believe in this,” Koskinas says. “We want to set it up for long success.”

11 responses to “New Civilian Panel Reviews Police

  1. Dan, no mention of the hash brown/cellphone guy who was wrongly accused, fought and won, then petitioned the town to create a CRB (like surrounding towns have) despite the opposition of our police leadership? This piece makes it sound like this was Foti’s and Marpe’s idea which is not the case.

  2. Thank you, Alex. The petitioners have been requesting a Civilian Review Board, not a panel which will have no permanence. Only a CRB will avoid problems of panels and include investigative powers, subpoena powers, transparency, and independence. Anything short of that will be ineffective.

    The panel will be more of an audit function to rubber stamp complaints currently investigated by fellow police. The statement in the article that there are very few complaints is inaccurate. I and others have submitted complaints that end up in the “round file” (aka the trash can).
    Let’s follow the ACLU model.

  3. this town is lucky to have the management it does in Marpe/Toooker/Koskinas/Yost. They volunteer and support about every cause in town that benefits the community and there isn’t a safer, more comfortable and incredible place to live in the northeast.

  4. Michael Guadarrama

    Transparency to the public on how these complaints are handled will be the true test – police oversight or rubber stamp? How does the public see how past complaints have been handled?

  5. If ever a police dept. were going to have transparency in all facets of operation, including complaints from the public against those empowered to serve and protect, it’s gonna’ be from a leader like Koskinas….if you’re looking for a police chief more enlightened than he, let our town know when you’ve found one.

  6. If the Westport Civilian Panel is truly seeking transparency and wants fair publication of facts and opinions for public review as well as truly a freedom of press, then this commentary I’m posting will last. I’ve watched reply after reply already disappear from public record related to this article. Without shock, I fear what I write will removed, and justification will be found to not allow it to stick. Let us all hope that doesn’t happen for the sake of Westport residents!

    The Westport Civilian Panel should be looking at a prior resident named John Borg. His history of Westport Police allegations, accusations, and ultimately the arrests made against him and his family members make the hash brown case look like it was trite. What the Westport Police has done led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial damages to the Borg family, their neighbors, and has forced multiple residential relocations. Worst of all, the physical injuries sustained by Mr. Borg are shock the senses and the body cam footage shows a Westport Police force in action that should scare anyone away from their “protection.”

    The Borg family case is not the only one like this but because of the approach the Borg’s took in dealing with the Westport Police and the Town of Westport’s protection of their own reputation the police files and incident reports show a long and visible history of unprofessional, biased police “investigations,” and political maneuverings. There are solid fact-based documents aplenty in the public record also from the Borg’s litigation against the Westport Police Department and the Town of Westport. That legal case produced a long paper trail that went to the Supreme Court before the “government immunity” card was thrown to keep facts from flowing into public review and assessment.

    What surrounds this Borg family history with their neighbors is not a single incident but one of many that go back over a decade. It would be easy to assume it was the work of one “bad egg” police officer or chief of police but unfortunately there has been more than one Westport Chief of Police involved, dozens of Westport officers, and Town of Westport officials. Please, don’t think this commentary is a paranoid reach for I’m no Ed Snowden devotee. Do your own research and if the Westport Civilian Panel is true in aim they too will go forth, try and use the freedom of information act requests for files about these prior citizens of Westport and their neighbors.

    If history repeats itself there will be denial after denial of incident reports and assuredly many redactions of information or removal from review. Push hard for copies of the Westport police body cams and do your best to put a list of Westport officer’s together that were involved and quickly one will see body cams fail, didn’t work, and the history just isn’t there for some reason. If lucky the inquiring mind will get just enough information to see the “professionalism” used by the Westport Police is loaded with doubts that need further investigations.

    As a retired management consultant and 30-year resident of Westport I’ve done my research out of self-protection. For years I tried to watch this situation as a neutral neighbor but the horrors at some point pulled my wife and me into the case history. After watching the Westport Police time after time negatively impact our neighborhood, destroy our beach community, scare elderly residents, destroy young families’ sense of safety, and passing concerned citizens retract from trusting the Westport Police I just simply needed to know more what was going on.

    Sadly, I now know this situation well. It’s clear the Borg family and their neighbors were violated, police tools of power were used to push fear into citizens, and further justify the Westport Police keeping the Town of Westport clear of such information and knowledge going public. Mr. Borg was physically harmed by the Westport Police and the family, as well as many neighbors, were psychologically tortured for years by the Westport Police. Drones were flown over their houses at night, hidden cameras placed in people’s windows, and to this day the neighbors who’ve remained are forced to deal with this situation through coercion tactics to not speak up, deal with pressures from lawyers to keep the story from public view, and live with shame in public awareness of the incidents that did go public because they favored the Westport Police and Town of Westport versions of the stories.

    NOTE – this saga started when the Westport Police stepped into civil dispute between neighbors and the Westport Police failed to tried and make acts criminal. The Borg family and their neighbors were battling over property boundaries, the Westport Police took sides, stereotyped certain parties, and then ultimately were taken to court for their actions but that appears to have in turn caused further aggression against the Borg family and pressure against the neighbors involved in the litigation.

    Please, as a community of concerned citizens, let’s seek and support transparency. Let us not let this go unseen and ultimately allow officers and political parties to make ongoing issues disappear from public notice. From what my wife and I’ve seen in just this one Borg case there is a lot going on that should warrant a serious investigation, just like the hash brown case against the Westport Police. Neighbors are talking but many are afraid of the Westport Police, would never now do what the Borg family did, and aren’t as brave. If the Westport Civilian Panel is truly seeking transparency and Dan Woog wants fair publication of facts and opinions for public review as well as truly a freedom of press, then this commentary I’m posting will last. I’ve watched reply after reply already disappear from public record related to this article.
    Sadly I fear what I write will removed, and justification will be found to not allow it to stick. Let us all hope that doesn’t happen for the sake of Westport residents!

    • Mr. Healy,
      Could you site one of the posts that was “disappeared” from the 06880 site…I am aware of no such disappearances and would love to be better informed.
      Thank you.

      • Correct. No posts have been removed from this site regarding this story.

      • I think it was hash brown references. In further looking it appears there is something still here so in that regard I apologize.

        • As well you should; not to mention your implying that there were multiple “disappearances” for which, since they, too, are probably nonsense, you should also apologize.

  7. What about the Elgin case? Will that be reviewed along with the Borg case?