Though it is a close call, the state labor board was right Thursday in ordering Windsor Locks to rehire police Sgt. Robert Koistinen.
Robert Koistinen was fired in January 2012 for his role in the investigation into the death of 15-year-old bicyclist Henry Dang, who was struck by a car driven by Sgt. Koistinen's son Michael Koistinen, also a Windsor Locks police officer, in October 2010. Michael Koistinen was off duty and had been drinking all day.
Robert Koistinen was one of the first officers to reach the scene. He twice placed his son in the back of his police department SUV and drove him to the police station.
The three-member panel from the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration acknowledged that Robert Koistinen's removal of his son from the scene was "inappropriate," but said there was no police policy in effect that addressed the issue.
Robert Koistinen also did some things right, an independent review of the incident by Marcum LLP found. He called his superiors when he learned his son was involved. The accident scene was adequately protected and there was no conspiracy to protect Michael Koistinen. The younger Koistinen was sentenced to 64 months in prison.
Robert Koistinen was acquitted in October 2012 of charges of hindering prosecution. Nonetheless, he used bad judgment. Was it bad enough to warrant being fired, when he had a clean record over 34 years on the force? The labor board said a one-year suspension would have been appropriate.
It's probably more helpful to look at what might have avoided the problem. A lot of parents might have responded as he did; the key would be not to put them in this position. The town might consider a policy against nepotism. Also, if the department were certified — met top standards in all areas of police work — it would likely have had a policy about removing suspects from crime scenes.
But as The Courant's Josh Kovner recently reported, only 29 of the 104 municipal, state, university and tribal police departments in Connecticut — Windsor Locks not among them — have attained either state or the more exclusive federal accreditation; about half the agencies have both designations.
We need to do better than that.