NAACP, police meet with community in Fairfield
FAIRFIELD — It wasn’t a very large crowd that turned out Tuesday night for an NAACP community meeting — mostly officials from the town or NAACP, with maybe a dozen residents.
But, cautioned Police Chief Gary MacNamara, “Don’t let the turnout minimize the importance of the topic.”
George Mintz, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP, told the audience that when the organization first began, the “C” stood for “colored people,” the words used back then to reer to African Americans. “But in 2016, the ‘C’ stands for all colors, it’s not only an organization for African Americans,” Mintz said. “It is for anyone who chooses to become a member.”
Mintz said the greater Bridgeport chapter was holding community meetings its four member communities — Bridgeport, Fairfield, Trumbull and Stratford — to find out what needs to be done, and what can be done to prevent the violence and unrest being seen nationally and improve police and community relations.
“We want you to be a part of the NAACP, and not only for this discussion, but in ongoing discussions,” Mintz said. “This is your meeting, for you to give us some ideas and discuss some of the things you think we should be concerned with when we discuss community policing.”
One woman, who is black and a Fairfield resident, recalled a recent incident with her 15-year-old son. He was having a problem with his bike, and so he was carrying it when a Fairfield cop stopped him, and began questioning him. Eventually, the officer ended up helping her son, she said, but said a better approach would be to be more friendly, rather than assume the worst.
Mintz said that is an important topic — how do those in inner cities view police versus how those in suburbs view police, and why they have the perceptions that they do.
Fairfield by the numbers:
Total population: 60,678
Asian Pacific: 2,842
Native American: 0
Fairfield native and U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly said the Department of Justice’s job is not only to keep people safe and secure in their communities by prosecuting criminals, but also to help develop trust and understanding between residents and law enforcement. That’s done, she said, through things like de-escalation training, and implicit bias training. “This is one of the issues for the moment in our country,” Daly said, “and your presence also suggests you think this is an issue that concerns you and you want to help.”
MacNamara said officers in his department receive training in implicit bias, cultural diversity, and crisis intervention, and have 10 of its patrol officers wearing body cameras. They also do outreach with visits to Bassick High School in Bridgeport, he said, and MacNamara was a participant in the 2016 Juneteenth parade, marking the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
His department, he said, currently has 106 officers. Of the 13 officers hired since 2014, two are Hispanic and two are African Americans. There are now 8 minority officers on the force, evenly split between Hispanics and African Americans.
Mintz noted that at one point, the Bridgeport police had about 60 black officers, but that number is now down to 54. “What can we do, as the Bridgeport NAACP, to increase the number of black officers within the police department in Bridgeport,” he said.
Amy Guerrero said she moved to Fairfield from Stamford 15 years ago. She looked around at her now mostly white community, she said, and “I thought, ‘what did I just do? I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me.”
However, she said, she’s glad she’s stayed. “Fairfield’s gotten more diverse,” Guerrero said. “I hope that there will be regular forums like this.” She said at first she sent her children to a magnet school in Bridgeport, but then brought them back to local schools. “If I don’t send my ethnically diverse children to Fairfield, I’m not helping my community be more diverse,” Guerrero said.
Another audience member suggested that it’s not just the police force that needs to be diverse — there are few teachers of color in the public schools.
“I think the key in any community is all about communication,” First Selectman Mike Tetreau said. “Fairfield is much different today. It’s a lot more diverse, but there’s also a better understanding of diversity.”