WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — In the first of many planned town hall meetings, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo took questions from callers on WATR-AM radio on race, police policy, and the city’s Christopher Columbus statue.
Mayor O’Leary hoped it would become a chance to discuss with residents the role of local government in combating systemic racism and implicit bias.
It was the first of several town hall meetings in the weeks to come to open the lines of communication with residents following the recent protests across the nation against police brutality against African-Americans following the death of George Floyd.
“I also am very dismayed and really disturbed,” the mayor said, “as a veteran law enforcement officer, at the actions of these white police officers against African-American males.”
The phone calls from the public rolled into the radio station. One community activist called to say they were angry that 28 people were arrested last month in a protest in Waterbury. He was so angry that he called for the mayor to fire Chief Spagnolo, who was sitting right next to the mayor answering phone calls in the studio
“We’re demanding that you fire him,” Robbie Goodrich said. “Will you do that?”
“No,” the mayor answered.
“We know that there needs to be more justice in policing,” answered Chief Spagnolo. “We know that change needs to occur to make it a safer place and especially for the Black community right now to feel safe when they’re dealing with police officers.”
Mayor O’Leary told News 8 he feels it’s important more now than ever to be transparent with his residents. He says he’s already heard suggestions to create a citizen review board overseeing incidents involving police and it’s a suggestion he will act on and implement.
“Getting ideas and suggestions on how we can rebuild the confidence that has been lost in the law enforcement community,” the mayor said.
He does not support defunding the Waterbury Police Department.
“98% of all law enforcement across the country are committed to protect and serve and to serve each and every one of their communities,” Mayor O’Leary said. “Those two percenters or three percenters have shattered the confidence in most communities across the state and across the country and it’s our job to rebuild that confidence.”
As part of that effort, the mayor has committed to creating a diversity council in his administration so members of communities who feel like they are not being heard now have a seat at the table.
The dialogue with city residents continues next week.