GROUP LETTER: Greenwich Police Union Should Not Endorse Political Candidates

Submitted by Phyllis and Tim Alexander, Joe Angland, Stephanie Barrett, Phyllis Behlen, John B. Cooper, Meredith Curreri, Lara Damashek, Dan Edelstein, Nicole Heath, Rachel Khanna, Sue Khanna, Janet McMahon, Cheryl Moss, Nerlyn Pierson, Jonathan Perloe, Elizabeth Perry, Marianne and Clifford Schorer, Joanna Swomley and Michele Voigt

It is disappointing and concerning that—for the first time in its more than 60-year history—the Silver Shield Association endorsed a candidate for political office (“GPD Silver Shield Endorses Fiorello for State Rep,” Greenwich Free Press, Sept. 15). 

As Town employees sworn to protect all residents of Greenwich, it is inappropriate for Greenwich police officers to take sides in a political campaign. Engaging in a partisan campaign goes directly against the union’s stated value to “Remain committed to a shared and open relationship of involvement with all segments of our community.” 

It’s also a bit ironic that the police union is embracing a candidate who is staunchly anti-union. At an April, 2018 Representative Town Meeting Fiorello proclaimed that, “it’s a troubling thing to have the public sector unionized against the taxpayers.”

The union’s endorsement is especially troubling given the rationale: their strident opposition to the police accountability bill passed by the CT General Assembly earlier this summer. The press release announcing the endorsement misrepresents the bill, contains false information and shows a stunning lack of sensitivity to the Town’s Black and Brown residents.

The Association called the bill a “knee-jerk reaction to an out of control anti-police climate,” claiming “no evidence whatsoever presented to show the need for such drastic changes.” Let’s be clear, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and demanding accountable policing is not “anti-police.” It merely asks that Black and Brown people be afforded the same respect, dignity, restraint and justice at the hands of law enforcement that whites receive.

The response was not “knee-jerk” and it is categorically untrue that the bill was “rushed through…with no input from police officers, police Chiefs, unions, and other stakeholders.” While the murder of George Floyd sparked a national discussion on police violence, the issue is not new.

Police accountability has been debated in the state legislature in past years, as recently as 2018, as long ago as 2012 when S.B. 364 legislated measures to prevent racial profiling. Recognizing the complexity of the issue, the 2020 accountability bill specifically establishes a task force to make recommendations to the General Assembly relating to implementation of the most contentious part of H.B. 6004, limits on qualified immunity.

The bill passed after weeks of debate, public listening sessions and some 60 hours of discussion among legislative leaders. Hundreds of conversations were held between proponents of the bill and representatives of law enforcement across the state. Both State Senator Alex Kasser and Representative Stephen Meskers, Greenwich Democrats who voted for the bill, spoke directly with members of the Greenwich Police Department, both rank and file officers and leadership.  

The bill does not “threaten the integrity of our profession and place unnecessary risk and harm to all police officers,” as claimed by the union. Police officers who respect human rights and follow the law have no reason for concern. The bill requires police officers to intervene when a colleague is using excessive illegal force, like kneeling on a suspect’s neck for more than eight minutes. It creates uniform police training, including on implicit bias. The 76 deaths caused by use of deadly police force since 2001 that have resulted in only one officer charged and not a single conviction suggest the possibility that conflicts of interest by State’s Attorneys are hindering justice. For that reason, the bill establishes an independent office to investigate deaths caused by police.

Contrary to the union’s assertion that “No evidence whatsoever was presented to show the needs for such drastic changes,” public testimony presented at the listening sessions revealed quite the opposite. Rev. Thomas Nins, also the Greenwich police chaplain, expressed the need for change poignantly at the June Black Lives Matter rally at Town Hall, “I stand for a community that is tired of being stood upon.”

Like the union itself, their endorsed candidate, Kimberly Fiorello, has made false statements about the limits the bill placed on qualified immunity, claiming it would “subject police officers and municipalities to lawsuits, even when they performed their duties pursuant to policies and procedures.”  In fact, the bill requires municipalities to indemnify police officers from financial exposure, except when a court determines an officer deprived a person of his constitutional rights by committing a “malicious, wanton or willful act.”

Ironically, while the union believes Fiorello “will not falter in representing us,” her history as an elected official suggests their trust is misplaced. In addition to her general anti-union sentiment, Fiorello was one of only seven Representative Town Meeting members, out of a total 198, who voted to defund the Greenwich police uniformed patrol account in the 2018 Town budget.

Neither is Fiorello committed to law enforcement’s reason-for-being: public safety. She puts support of gun rights over protecting the community from gun violence. Fiorello was graded “F” by CT Against Gun Violence, while her opponent, Kathleen Stowe was graded “A” and is a Moms Demand Action Gun Sense candidate.

It is disappointing that, rather than sending a strong and clear message that police abuses and bad apples will not be tolerated, the Greenwich police union has chosen to fight reform, as have police unions elsewhere in Connecticut and across the nation.

We have enormous respect for the Greenwich police officers who put their lives at risk every day to protect our community. But wanting greater accountability and transparency to ensure equitable policing is not the attack on law enforcement that Fiorello claims.

The Silver Shield Association is wrong to create the appearance of pitting its members against those they are sworn to protect and serve; they should stay out of partisan politics. Their lack of recognition of the crisis of confidence in policing, and endorsing a candidate who fiercely opposes police accountability, sends a message to the residents of our increasingly diverse Greenwich community that the police do not have some of our backs. 

Please join us and the scores of other Greenwich residents by adding your name to our petition calling on the Greenwich Police union to not endorse political candidates.  

Editor’s note: Letters to the Editor in support of local candidates in the Nov 3, 2020 election may be submitted to [email protected] for consideration beginning July 15 and with a hard deadline of Oct 26, 2020 at noon.