Fairfield police chief says more, better local law enforcement training already in place

Protestors chant slogans while marching down the Post Road during an organized Black Lives Matter police brutality protest in Fairfield on June 2.

Protestors chant slogans while marching down the Post Road during an organized Black Lives Matter police brutality protest in Fairfield on June 2.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — After weeks of protests around the country over police brutality, many people are questioning law enforcement’s use of force policies and calling for defunding police departments.

Fairfield Police Capt. Robert Kalamaras said the department and the state is ahead of the curve regarding use of force and anti-discrimination training.

Protests started almost three weeks ago after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes. Hundreds of demonstrators protested in Fairfield on June 2.

Kalamaras said that there is some frustration in the department that police are being painted with a broad brush.

“There’s also an understanding that this is a movement and, whenever things like this occur, sometimes there needs to be someone to point the finger at,” Kalamaras said. “It’s understood that we’re usually on the receiving end of that.”

Kalamaras said there were 12 cases in 2019 where officers reported they used force; they responded to about 50,000 calls. He said the statistics reflect officers’ ability to deescalate incidents.

“Whenever it’s safe and possible, officers should attempt to use deescalation techniques prior to the use of any physical force,” he said. “As soon as that incident comes under control, whatever use of force they use should be stopped or discontinued.”

According to the department’s use of force policy, physical force should not be used against individuals in restraints except to prevent escape, bodily injury to an officer or other person. It also says officers have a duty “to intervene to prevent or stop the use of excessive force by another officer whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so.”

Kalamaras also said a large portion of Fairfield officers are part of the critical incident team and have further training in deescalation, especially when it comes to interacting with individuals with disabilities or emotionally disturbed persons.

“It gives the officers the ability to recognize those identifiers with whatever mental health issues they may be facing and then try to use the deescalation techniques associated with those mental health issues,” Kalamaras said.

The police captain said the department has been getting a lot of letters from politicians, organizations and citizens requesting an update to its to use of force policy and techniques, but a lot of what the letter writers want, he said, has already been in effect for years.

“All of these topics that are being brought up in these form letters and asked about by our local representatives, they’ve all been in effect for years,” Kalamaras said. “We’ve followed those policies and had no violations.”

Kalamaras said he knows some people interpret defunding the police as shutting the department down, but that is not the case.

“That is interpreted by us at the police department as transferring funds to a place where they can be better used as a resource towards some of the things that police officers do that we really shouldn’t being doing,” he said.

Police have become a type of catch-all resource when an immediate response is required, according to Kalamaras. He said that way of thinking has been building for years and police officers now receive more training because of the different situations they are called to.

Kalamaras said when police respond to a domestic violence call, for instance, they respond to the crime, but also follow up to provide resources to the victim. While he said that it is important, because it gives officers the ability to build trust with the victim for later proceedings as well as make them feel secure, it could be the role of someone else.

“This incident and this public outcry has put a more focused scope on these matters,” Kalamaras said.

Kalamaras said defunding police departments is not an inherently bad idea. When someone calls the police, he said, an officer is going to arrive on scene and problem solve the issue.

“(But) I think there needs to be specific roles an officer is responsible for,” he said. “Anything that comes out that needs public restriction is automatically (directed to) law enforcement.”