The civilian police panel advances; the participation of the officers stirs some

An effort to include civilians in the review of Arlington police activities is heading towards Town Meeting, but not without bumps down the road.

Jury logo, May 20, 2019

The select committee on Wednesday, February 23 voted unanimously to support a committee’s recommendation to create a trust-enhancing non-investigation committee. An amendment passed, 4-1, with Len Diggins voting ‘no’, addressing the question of whether law enforcement should be on the panel. A motion by John Hurd excluded current and former members of the Arlington police, but left open the possibility of including other members of law enforcement.

Council chairman Steve DeCourcey noted that the wording may change before a final vote, which will take place before the town hall.

A number of members of the public objected to the inclusion of law enforcement. Some are linked to Arlington Fights Racism, a group formed in 2019 following the publication of racist statements by Lt. Richard Pedrini in October 2018. The group called for public scrutiny of city police and the 2020 city meeting agreed to create a study. group.

See the full memo from this study group >>

The chief of police approves

Laura Gitelson, co-chair of the study committee, told the select committee that Police Chief Julie Flaherty endorsed the committee’s recommendation to establish a permanent civilian committee whose purpose is not to investigate but to improve the links between the police and the public, “particularly, but not exclusively, those belonging to historically marginalized groups.”

Since March 18, 2021, the study committee has met 16 times. Between October 27 and November 17, 2021, the committee held 14 listening sessions with residents and city employees to solicit feedback on interactions with Arlington police. Among the main results:

● The Arlington Police Department is professional, proactive and operates according to 21st century policing principles.

● Some residents who are BIPOC, LGTBQIA+ and/or living with a disability and who have negative interactions with Arlington police are deeply reluctant to report these experiences to the police.

● The formal process for sharing complaints and/or praise regarding residents’ interactions with police does not meet the needs of all residents.

● Feedback from listening sessions with residents was overwhelmingly positive toward the Arlington police, with the stipulation that trust needs to be improved between residents and police.

Susan Ryan-Vollmer, another co-chair, provided examples of public interaction with city police, one positive, one she described as “heartbreaking.” In the latter, a woman had fallen to the ground, and a municipal agent, called to the scene, refused to pick her up.

Later, Diggins asked if homophobia was involved. Ryan-Vollmer said she didn’t know.

Law enforcement issue

The study group’s work received great support from members of the select committee, including Eric Helmuth, who said he appreciated how the group listened.

On whether law enforcement members should be on the panel, Chief Flaherty said the panel would “miss an opportunity” if a retired officer was not included.

Helmuth asked Flaherty whether the officer should be from town or not, and the chief replied “out of town”.

Jillian Harvey, director of equity and inclusion for the city and a member of the task force, called her involvement “inspirational”. She said she was not in favor of including law enforcement.

Hurd called the report “a step in the right direction.”

Diggins asked: “How do you respond to people who say that [report] doesn’t go far enough?” Co-Chair Sanjay Newton cited the extensive research done to support the committee’s findings.

participation in 4 questions

Among the responses from the audience, after Susan Stamps said she was impressed, four speakers suggested that a police officer not be on the panel.

Three are members of the Arlington Fights Racism Steering Committee: Elizabeth Dray, Robin Bergman and Lynette Culverhouse. A fourth, Sarah McKinnon, echoed Dray, emphasizing the word “civilian” in the band’s title. “We need to uplift those who need to be heard,” she said.

The select committee discussed whether a police officer, current or former, should be included. Diggins pointed out that if the recommendation goes to the town assembly, including an officer, the assembly will reject it.

Hurd proposed two amendments, and the board voted on the second, 4-1. The main motion in support of the committee’s recommendation carried, 5-0.

Read City Council memo on items discussed Feb. 27 >>

Other business from the February 23 meeting will be reported.

Watch the full February 23 board meeting on ACMi:

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