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U.S. Attorney General visits East Haven talking about community policing

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EAST HAVEN – Less than two months into her tenure, Loretta Lynch, chief law enforcement officer for more than 300 million Americans visited East Haven, a town of about 30,000 people.

The stop at East Haven High School on Tuesday was part of a six-city nationwide tour. The Connecticut town didn’t make the list on a whim.

East Haven is battling to correct its past -- when four members of the town’s police force were charged in what federal investigators called systemic racial profiling of Latinos.

Four years after the Department of Justice officials announced their findings, replaced police leadership said they’ve made major changes.

“If we can do it, everybody can do it,” said chief Brent Larrabee. “We are a police department that's turned over by 50 percent.”

Larrabee spoke at a roundtable discussion with Lynch, along with East Haven community and faith leaders.

“We're more diverse than we were in 2012, much more diverse,” said Larrabee of his department. “We get a constant barrage for information to provide people with our policies and procedures.”

That progress was applauded by Lynch, who wants to use what was once a negative situation in the small town as a positive example for the nation.

“It's our hope that cities and jurisdictions that are still struggling with these issues -- and they can be very painful, we know that -- will look at East Haven and take heart and see that in fact, things can improve,” Lynch said. “We want this to be the model.”

Father James Manship of St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven is both pleased with and skeptical about East Haven police changes.

It was his parishioners who alerted him to civil rights issues with the department in 2008.

“I became aware of very harsh, violent confrontations, interactions with the East Haven Police Department,” Manship said. “Racial slurs, targeting of people in cars because, basically they were brown.”

The priest himself was cuffed while attempting to film an arrest by East Haven police officers. That, coupled with complaints by his congregants, launched the federal civil rights investigation.

“The department we have today is drastically different than the department we had in 2008, 2009,” Manship said. “Tremendous amount of training, tremendous amount of supervision.”

He said he’ll continue to be on the lookout and is interested in how the future shakes out.

“Five, six, seven, 10 years from now is the culture fully ingrained in the department? In the policing?” Manship said.

Chief Larrabee acknowledged the journey isn’t over yet.

“We are probably three-quarters of the way of where we would like to be,” Larrabee said.

He vowed to continue working after Lynch’s high-profile visit was over.

“We are not done with what we started,” he said. “We know we will go even farther than today.”