Waterbury police chief addresses race and reform in radio town hall

New Haven

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — The city of Waterbury wanted to open the lines of communication between city leaders and residents. That’s why Mayor Neil O’Leary wanted to begin a series of Town Hall meetings at WATR-AM radio.

Residents can call in, and he and special guests in will field their questions after the unrest around the city, state and nation following several incidents of police brutality, resulting in the deaths of several African Americans across the country.

When it was the police chief’s turn to step up to the mic Tuesday, at times, he got an earful from callers.

“I’m so pissed off at the Waterbury Police Department,” one caller said.

“I’ve seen police officers in Waterbury spit at, sworn at,” said another caller.

Chief Spagnolo listened for four hours, telling callers he understands that trust in the police has been broken. He also told callers he supports those who are peacefully standing up to end police brutality and systemic racism.

“It’s a time for expression, and we acknowledge that,” said Chief Spagnolo. “At some point, we need to take this energy and we need to come to a table and come to some stable ground and make the change that needs to be effected so we can move forward.”

RELATED: Waterbury mayor, police chief answer calls from residents on race, police reform in radio town hall

“Policing is due for change, and we want to be part of that change,” he said.

In Waterbury, that change could be a diversity council and a citizens review board. A Waterbury pastor suggested the diversity council, which would bring more people of different backgrounds and different segments of the city an opportunity to engage in consistent dialogue with the mayor and other city leaders like the police chief — exchanging ideas and getting more input about issues of deep interest to minority communities.

A citizens review board would oversee any incident involving a Waterbury police officer and a resident. A community group called “The Ungroup Society” has already submitted a list of proposed police reforms the mayor and police chief are going over.

“No one wants to see illegal chokeholds or any above the neck restraints,” said Warren Leach of the Ungroup Society. “We advocate for the use of body cameras, and in our bullet points, we have called for this to be enacted by year’s end.”

Leach and several callers also wonder about the training Waterbury officers go through — in particular, psychological training that prepares them for dangerous situations.

Chief Spagnolo said the department is beefing up its training and has implemented ideas to keep officers mentally healthy. They started special town hall meetings within the department for officers and they’ve stated a Peer Support Program.

“To express their feelings, vent any frustrations, look for assistance, ask for assistance, ask for help or guidance, and it’s been working really well,” the chief said.

The city town hall meetings continue in the coming weeks.

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