In this time of racial tensions due to incidents involving white police officers and black suspects, the case of the videoed arrest of a 15-year old girl in New Haven stands out as a case study on how strong, fair, impartial leadership can calm things. Despite some curious protests from the police union, the incident was settled with few problems.
It began during the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New Haven when certain folks—those who are drunk and those who have to deal with them—are on edge. Following an incident inside a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant spilled out onto the streets. Police intervened and arrested one of the girls involved, a 15-year old.
In this day and age of having everything be recorded somehow, footage surfaced showing a New Haven police officer taking down the handcuffed girl face-first into the pavement. She suffered injuries and was treated at a hospital. Of course when taken out of context, video clips can be deceiving. The video, on its face was damning. There seemed to be no reason the officer had to use such force.
Incredulity over the incident began to grow. Community groups protested. Enter first-term Mayor Toni Harp who came out of her office to meet with the protestors and hear them out. To be fair and safe she ordered the cop, who had a spotless record, onto desk until the investigation concluded.
The inquiry took only a week and the officer was cleared of any improper conduct. The review found that he did exactly as he was trained. The girl seemed to be resisting and was found to have a knife in her pocket.
Mayor Harp supported the internal investigation’s findings and tried to keep things calm. Community protestors demonstrated against the decision which is understandable as emotions were running high. (Full disclosure: I worked with Toni Harp when she was a state senator and I was her communications director for her successful campaign for mayor in 2012.). She also didn’t shy away from the overall topic when addressing the new New Haven police officers fresh out of the academy.
What was less understandable and sort of odd was the protest by the police union. Their guy was cleared. He was on desk duty for just a week. What exactly what were they protesting? The guess here is that the union has a beef with the police and this was the vehicle that it could use to cause some commotion.
As promised, the police investigated the underlying incident and arrest an 18-year old girl who was alleged to be a tormentor of the 15-year old. The juvenile’s mother, who had been very critical of the police after her daughter was injured, thanked police chief Dean Esserman for following through on a promise to follow up on the case..
In the end, it was Mayor Harp steady hand at the wheel that defused the situation and avoided an even smaller version of what we saw in Ferguson, Staten Island and elsewhere.