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.
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.”
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.”