Editorial Roundup: New England

Recent editorials of regional and national interest from New England’s newspapers:

CONNECTICUT

Lamont must attend to New London wind project before it falls apart

The Day

Sept. 23

This might happen elsewhere, we suppose, but it is hard to imagine another scenario in which a city looking at the $157 million transformation of its industrial port, heretofore known mostly for its lack of activity, would craft a legal challenge to stop the plan dead in its tracks.

Welcome to New London.

What the heck is going on here? Nothing but a lack of follow through by the Lamont administration, continued mismanagement by the Connecticut Port Authority, and the wrath of a mayor scorned.

Gov. Ned Lamont was so excited when he showed up at the city’s port in May 2019 to proclaim, “Connecticut’s maritime economy has significant potential to drive economic growth and create jobs across the state, and redeveloping State Pier is a central component to that growth.”

The plan was to use a public-private partnership to transform State Pier into a hub for supporting the first major wind-power development off U.S. shores. And if the project were built out in 20 years or so, State Pier would be left with infrastructure able to handle far heavier freight loads than it can today, boosting its long-term economic potential.

Since the announcement the administration has failed to remain engaged and keep the parties working together to make the project a reality. Lamont’s like a teacher who left the room, blissfully unaware the students are firing objects at one another and work is not getting done as assigned.

When the teacher was in the classroom, New London Mayor Michael Passero took a front seat to make note of his excitement.

“Today our city is emerging as an epicenter of innovation as new businesses and supply chains have invested in our community in preparation for this new industry coming to New London,” Passero said back in the May 2019 news conference.

No longer.

Passero has been stewing for months about the inability to reach a host city agreement with the Ørsted and Eversource partnership that plans to develop the port in support of offshore wind development. The State Pier facility is state property and so exempt from property taxes. The mayor wants New London compensated under the HCA as if it were taxable property.

The state provides PILOT money — payment in lieu of taxes — for its properties, but only a fraction of what would be paid if the land were taxed privately. Reportedly, Ørsted-Eversource has agreed to supplement the PILOT revenues to make the city whole. But the mayor wants assurances that if PILOT money does not grow with the development, or is cut by the state, the developers will make up the difference, a request they haven’t been willing to grant.

This goes a long way in explaining why Passero has just hurled a wrench into the gears of this planned development. City Law Director Jeffrey Londregan, in a Sept. 2 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has argued none of the necessary permits for the project should be granted. Why? Because on the books through 2029 is a now 20-year-old Municipal Development Plan for the pier property. It doesn’t allow some of the things being planned, like filling in between the two piers to form a single, heavy-lift platform.

And the MDP can’t be amended without the city’s approval. Which, we suspect, won’t come without an HCA.

Connecticut Port Authority Board of Directors Chairman David Kooris insists that because the actions contemplated by the MDP at State Pier — the acquiring of additional land — are completed, it is essentially null and void and no city approval is necessary.

Frankly, we don’t know who is right. But we do know that a loose end such as this should have been tied up long ago and is the latest example of CPA mismanagement.

A federal agency like the Army Corps is unlikely to care about this intramural fight and will continue with its permit review, but state environmental approvals are unlikely to move forward unless it is resolved.

Lamont needs to get his administration involved, bring the parties together and help the mayor find a face-saving path to “yes.” In fact, Lamont should have done that before signing the deal with Ørsted-Eversource, when he had leverage.

Perhaps the state can assure the continued PILOT payments through legislation. Maybe Ørsted-Eversource can sweeten the deal with a New London job center, targeting city residents.

If Lamont lets this deteriorate further, he may find he’s wearing the dunce cap in the corner for letting his prized project fall apart.

Online: https://bit.ly/332q71d

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Driving blind on the ‘driving while Black’ problem

The Boston Globe

Sept. 21

It’s not often that the state’s highest court lectures the Legislature on its responsibilities. But last week it did in a case involving racial profiling — also known as driving while Black.

There’s only so much courts can do to address the systemic racism that too often characterizes interactions between police and people of color. Most of the levers for change lie with municipalities, police forces, and of course the Legislature. And so the Supreme Judicial Court in a unanimous opinion pleaded with lawmakers to step up and do their part to fix some of what has gone wrong.

In doing so, the court echoed the thousands of voices coming from the street in protest march after protest march since the death in May of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

The case of Edward Long, a Black man pulled over by members of the Boston Police gang squad while driving his girlfriend’s Mercedes SUV, was part of that history. Police followed Long for a time as he drove through Dorchester’s Clam Point section, checked the car’s license plate, found the car was registered to a woman, not a man, and lacked a registration sticker.

They pulled him over, found he had outstanding warrants for driving without a license, arrested him, and searched the car, where they found a gun inside a bag in the back seat.

Long’s lawyers argued it was a classic case of driving while Black and brought in an expert in statistics to prove it.

“The discriminatory enforcement of traffic laws is not a minor annoyance to those who are racially profiled,” the court wrote. “To the contrary, these discriminatory practices cause great harm.”

Long’s expert witness concluded that “the officers in this case were significantly more likely to conduct” a Field Interrogation and Observation (FIO) of a driver for a motor vehicle infraction if the driver was Black. In fact, of all the traffic citations issued by those officers, 56.59 percent were issued to Black drivers although Blacks made up only 24.38 percent of the city’s population. Of all vehicle-related FIOs made, 80.62 involved Black drivers.

The trial court judge in the case apparently wasn’t impressed enough with the statistical analysis to exclude the evidence found during Long’s traffic stop. The SJC was — but also concluded that producing such an analysis was an exceedingly high bar to meet.

The high court’s own “fix” is a substantial one, allowing defendants to introduce evidence about the totality of circumstances surrounding the stop — how long an officer followed the car, whether the officer was routinely assigned to traffic duty, how the officer behaved during the stop, and how dangerous the alleged traffic violation was.

But the court recognized that it cannot solve the problem alone. It then weighed in on a provision of the wide-ranging police reform bill stuck in a legislative conference committee for nearly two months as lawmakers iron out their differences.

The Senate version of the bill “would enable defendants to access publicly available, department-wide data on the demographics of all traffic stops, by officer, in the relevant municipality, and would provide a plethora of data to support (or weaken) equal protection claims,” the court said. The House version “completely omits” that provision.

“We urge the Legislature to require the collection and analysis of officer-specific data,” the decision said, adding it would “help protect drivers from racially discriminatory traffic stops, and also would protect police officers who do not engage in such discriminatory stops.”

It is not uncommon for the high court to suggest to lawmakers that some law or other needs updating, that it is beyond the power of the court to set things right. But rarely — if ever — has the court taken sides in what amounts to a dispute between the branches.

This one section is far from the only flaw in the House version of the policing bill, but a provision that gets the attention of the Supreme Judicial Court also ought to get the attention of the stuck-in-neutral conference committee.

Fixing a problem like racial profiling requires knowing where it exists. The court sees that as essential to justice. Lawmakers should as well.

Online: https://bit.ly/3mSIAVK

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MAINE

COVID-19 prevention measures are there for a reason

Portland Press Herald

Sept. 25

Another outbreak, another costly reminder that the measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are there for a reason.

State documents show that Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison allowed an employee who failed a coronavirus screening to work a 10-hour shift, in violation of federal requirements for infection control and prevention, the Morning Sentinel reported Thursday.

The next day, that employee reported that she had previously come into contact with a person who was positive for COVID-19. The employee later tested positive herself.

There have now been at least 39 cases of COVID-19 and seven deaths at the nursing home, leaving residents and their families heartbroken and afraid.

It has all happened because of a failure to follow the rules that have been proven to keep us safe. These careless mistakes and failed leadership have spread the toll far and wide.

Maine’s largest COVID-19 outbreak to date started Aug. 7 at the now-infamous wedding in Millinocket, where too many people gathered in too small an area, without face coverings.

The guests came from different parts of the state, and they brought the virus home. Still, the outbreak could have stopped there if others had followed the rules.

A staff member who attended the wedding carried the virus into the York County Jail, where Sheriff William King Jr. admitted to the Portland Press Herald that he had allowed staff and inmates – also against state and federal guidance – to refuse to wear masks. What’s more, the jail was not screening staff members upon arrival at work each day.

Nearly half of inmates and staff were infected, and the virus spread into the community, throwing the school year in nearby districts into turmoil.

In central Maine, a guest from the wedding passed the virus, through another contact, to the staff member at Maplecrest. A certified nursing assistant, she said she was experiencing a cough, new muscle aches, repeated shaking with chills and a sore throat when she arrived at work on Aug. 11, according to state documents.

A Maplecrest charge nurse told the Maine Department of Health and Human Services that it had been left up to individuals to tell their bosses when they were feeling ill, and that no one was reviewing the results of the screening tools.

No one can foresee the future. But failing to require masks and properly screen incoming workers is as close as you can come to guaranteeing an outbreak in institutional settings, which, since the appearance of COVID-19, have been recognized as one of the most vulnerable. Once the virus is introduced into such a venue, it spreads quickly, then follows workers home, where it worms into the community at large.

The colder weather now coming to Maine will force more people inside, into situations where the virus can spread more easily. The outbreaks at the Millinocket wedding, Maplecrest and the York County Jail show the high price of carelessness in such situations – and why it is so important for leaders, in public and private offices, to make sure the people around them are following the rules.

Online: https://bit.ly/3cwMYF2

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VERMONT

Police: Arresting Reforms

The Caledonian Record

Sept. 23

This week the city of Burlington announced that Police Sgt. Jason Bellavance would be leaving the department.

For months protesters camped outside the Police Department asking for Bellavance’s head. They got him to go, but Bellavance also got a little something… namely $300,000 in cash, 18 months of health coverage and retirement benefits.

The protesters took issue with the way Bellavance shoved a suspect during an arrest in 2018.

“Although the Police Department’s internal investigation found that Sgt. Bellavance did not use excessive or unlawful force, it did find that the force used was not necessary given the circumstances,” said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. “The investigation concluded that consistent with his training, there were a number of de-escalation techniques that Sgt. Bellavance could have used, but did not attempt, before using physical force.”

By Vermont standards, it looked like bad policing. By national standards, it likely wouldn’t ever have made the nightly news.

We think that’s because we’re generally blessed with pretty darn good cops throughout our local, state and county forces. That’s probably the case elsewhere, but larger areas have more cops. If less than 1% of officers are more like Bad Lieutenant than Serpico, that number is simply going to be bigger in NYC than Burlington.

Nationwide, the cost of bad police is staggering. This week alone we read a couple of reports that illustrates the point.

The National Registry of Exonerations last week released a study that found “official misconduct contributed to the false convictions of 54% of defendants who were later exonerated.” The report shows police committed misconduct in 35% of those cases and prosecutors accounted for 30%. The report found the misconduct most commonly includes: concealing exculpatory evidence; witness tampering; misconduct in interrogation; fabricating evidence; and perjury.

The report also says it’s rare for either prosecutors or police to be disciplined or penalized financially for misconduct in wrongful convictions.

That’s not the case for the cities, states and counties that employ them. The financial settlements in abuse, wrongful death and wrongful conviction cases are rightly enormous, as NPR reports this week in an examination of the issue.

Over the past decade, for instance, Chicago has paid more than a half billion dollars for police misconduct, NPR reports. Among recent payouts was $17 million to Jacques Rivera who spent 21 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. NPR writes “Rivera is one of at least 20 who have been exonerated in cases where that detective, Reynaldo Guevera, led the investigations.”

Protestors, like those in Burlington, point to these ongoing abuses as evidence to support their calls to defund police. We think sane people agree this is like removing a lung to treat an ingrown finger nail.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The scourge of police violence and misconduct is immemorial enough to have spawned quality research into methods to curb it. The following are ideas we think make a lot of sense to both hold law enforcement to account, thereby curbing the insidious problems plaguing far too many systems.

DEMILITARIZATION

For generations the federal 1033 system pumped surplus military gear into local police departments at no cost. It takes one look at the heavily-armed storm trooper photos policing peaceful protests to know this is a bad idea.

INSURANCE

If individual police officers had to be bonded by insurance carriers, then it wouldn’t take long before bad cops became prohibitively expensive for municipalities to cover.

CIVIL FORFEITURE

One of the things that reasonable people marvel at is the low-level crimes that often bring people like George Floyd in contact with police in the first place. We think a big part of the problem are civil forfeiture laws that give police departments the twisted incentive and unfettered right to keep the financial spoils of their criminal investigations. We’ve long held these programs are un-constitutional. They also are a dangerous profit motive to over-policing.

END QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

In 1982, the Supreme Court made it almost impossible to sue a police officer for their gross misdeeds. Coupled with no-fault contracts, it means police are effectively above the law. Colorado recently removed their immunity statutes, giving the rest of the country a blueprint.

UNIVERSAL BODY CAMERAS

Research shows they don’t necessarily curb violence but they do provide a priceless record in the event anyone wants to hold police to account. In the case of the current protests, it’s the public filling that role.

TRAINING

According to Campaign Zero, police spend an average of 58 hours on shooting but eight hours on de-escalation tactics. We think that should flip. At the same time, police departments should widely implement enforceable limits on the use of force - like chokeholds and neck restraints that killed Floyd.

TRANSPARENCY

Remove open record exemptions to police misconduct complaints and investigations.

OVERSIGHT

Most departments have no mechanism for independent investigation and review.

DATA

Probably by design, there’s no uniform standard for tracking police activity, calls, complaints, etc. Without good (or in most cases, any data), it’s impossible to study or understand how the system is working. You can’t make improvements if you don’t have methods of measurement.

We think the biggest problem right now is a systematic lack of accountability and transparency in police forces. Add to that twisted profit motives, deadly weaponry, and anachronistic training and it’s a wonder that police are only killing an average of 1,100 Americans a year. We think the aforementioned methods might help improve law enforcement agencies everywhere.

Online: https://bit.ly/341EMZt

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