Bridgeport appoints victim advocate and social services unit in Limbo

BRIDGEPORT — City Hall has filled a police department opening tasked with helping victims of crime, but a separate $760,000 effort to create a comprehensive counseling unit within the force has stalled in limbo without the the administration of Mayor Joe Ganim does not say where this is.

On Thursday, the city announced that Shanda Scott was the new victim services advocate. This office, a resource for people affected by violent crime, has been vacant since last June. The $66,444 position was, according to the city, first advertised internally in accordance with union requirements, and when there were no candidates, advertised externally, with 10 candidates interviewed in October and November.

Scott, according to Thursday’s press release, was hired Jan. 18. The city said she was a resident but provided no detailed work experience other than Ganim indicating that she had worked in New York.

“We appreciate that Ms. Scott has joined the service to provide assistance to residents. Having a professional with the know-how and resources is essential for people who may face trauma as a result of crime,” Ganim said in a statement.

The news comes as the police department and the mayor have been criticized for taking too long to respond to complaints from the families of Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, and Brenda Lee Rawls, 53, two black women who died on the 12 December in unrelated incidents. Relatives claimed police failed to properly inform them of the untimely deaths, lacked sensitivity and, in the case of Smith-Fields, failed to screen the white man she spent the night with who reported his death.

The cases during January made national news, music star Cardi B commented on Smith-Fields on social media, and hundreds of protesters joined families to demonstrate downtown on January 23. .

On January 24, Ganim announced in a video that he had ordered the two detectives involved to be placed on paid administrative leave, a decision that was challenged by the police union.

Last year’s job advertisement for Victim Services Advocate did not specifically mention notification of next of kin or consolation of bereaved loved ones, although, in accordance with police department policy, Bridgeport who are required to deliver this sad news are being instructed to seek assistance from a chaplain or crisis intervention specialist “where feasible.

The city confirmed Friday that the attorney “will not be the responsible party to notify families (of the death of a loved one),” but may assist officers who do and help support those families.

Some found the timing of Scott’s hiring announcement suspicious given the recent controversy.

Gemeem Davis helps lead the Bridgeport Generation Now civic group, which for the past few years has been demanding new leadership and reforms within the police department. Davis said Friday that when she saw Thursday’s statement about Scott, she immediately thought it was Ganim’s attempt to show the sensitivity his administration was accused of lacking.

Davis was part of a mayoral task force made up of elected officials, Ganim employees and activists who were looking for ways to improve policing and public safety and issued their recommendations last April. Chief among these was the creation of a social services unit staffed by professional mental health and addictions counselors to respond to non-criminal, non-violent police calls that do not require law enforcement intervention. Currently, the local force relies on the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The task force was co-chaired by city council president Aidee Nieves, and that legislative body last spring earmarked $760,000 to establish and staff the new social services unit.

As reported last November, the effort stalled. And as of this week, he still seemed to be caught up in bureaucratic red tape within City Hall.

“If Ganim cared, he would have made sure the task force recommendations were taken seriously and not blocked,” Davis said.

Requests emailed Thursday and Friday for an update on the status of the mayor’s office, his chief executive and his chief staff officer were ignored.

Nieves said Friday the unit was busy creating job descriptions and figuring out how to fit it into the police or health services. She noted that she and her task force co-chair, Councilman Scott Burns, had tried to push the case forward on their own, but at this point they had to rely on city staff to do the bulk. of this work.

“It’s much more difficult than expected to deploy it,” Nieves said.

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