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Norwalk Police Still Skeptical of Chaplain

NORWALK, Conn. – A key volunteer is taking a break from the Norwalk Police Department to give everyone time to heal in the wake of a controversial accusation, but forgiveness will be tough, according to the president of the Norwalk Police Union.

The Rev. Nellie Mann, who has spent "hours and hours" helping the department choose new recruits, according to Chief Harry Rilling, is taking a three-month break from her duties as police chaplain. That is due to hard feelings engendered when she sent an e-mail to the press alleging racial profiling during an incident at Calf Pasture Beach on Memorial Day.

"I don't think Rev. Mann intended to be malicious with her comments but her actions called into question the integrity of one of my union members and the integrity of our department; that was a serious mistake," said Sgt. Thomas Roncinske, president of the Norwalk Police Union. "In the police culture, once you lose the trust of the officers it is nearly impossible to earn it back."

The union called upon Mann to resign. She went around the room at Thursday's Police Commission meeting, looking officers in the eye as she explained her point of view and her respect for the department. The leave of absence was a compromise, but Roncinske said many issues remain.

"Rev. Mann made a series of apologies, but even after being presented with the facts she stated at the police commissioner's meeting, 'I still stand by what I said.' How should this message be interpreted?" He asked.

Mann said she was upset that an entire group of 100 to 200 teenagers seemed to be characterized as gang members in news reports about the police radio broadcast by the only officer at the beach Monday, who was looking for help.

Police Commissioner Pete Torrano explained the view of officers. "When you have one officer down there and he's seeing a crowd of one to 200 hundred people, and as an experienced officer that deals with gangs he recognizes among those people gang members, he hasn't got the time or the ability to stop and interview the other 190 people," he said. "So what he has to assume is those people are hanging around with people who are wearing the colors – and they are gang members, and they're known gang members – he has the right and the obligation to notify the officers who are arriving that they may be facing additional gang members."

Torrano said he agreed that most of the kids probably weren't in a gang, but said the officer didn't have the time to differentiate that in his broadcast.

"This incident should have been about the safety of a police officer and law abiding patrons of the beach," Roncinske said. "It should never have been about race."

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