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Government

Police data sparks debate

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A spirited discussion took place at Village Council’s Nov. 6 meeting regarding whether a Justice System Task Force member acted appropriately or not this week when he posted on Facebook controversial police department statistics in the context of criticism of a fellow JSTF member who was running for Village Council.

“This whole episode is a learning experience for all of us,” said Council member Gerry Simms at the meeting.

At issue was a statistical report suggesting that local African Americans have, over the past six years, been cited with offenses by local police at a rate 1.47 times higher than white villagers. The report, part of a longer statistical study commissioned by the JSTF from the Wright State Statistical Consulting Center, has not yet been completed and released by the group.

On Monday of this week, JSTF member John Hempfling released key findings on Yellow Springs Open Discussion, along with a criticism of his fellow task force member, David Turner. According to Hempfling, Turner had several times encouraged the group  to not yet release the findings because he was concerned the findings would sow divisiveness and make local police look bad.

“I felt there was an emphasis on protecting police from public scrutiny,” Hempfling said to Council regarding his post, which stated that he wanted villagers to be aware of Turner’s actions before the election.

However, Turner disagreed with Hempfling’s representation.

“I want all the data to be out for everyone to see, I want it to be clear and transparent,” he said, However, he also felt the data wasn’t ready for release as it was not yet presented clearly, he said. Also, the decision to postpone the data release came from the whole task force, not just him, Turner said.

Task force member Pat Dewees agreed with Turner, stating that the group had cited three reasons for not yet releasing the data. First, group members had found statistical errors that they wanted corrected, and much of the report’s language needed revision to be more clear, group members agreed.  Beyond those factors, given the controversial nature of the information, group members were concerned that the data be presented with care for all segments of the village.

“There will be multiple interpretations regarding its meaning,” Dewees said. She also took issue with a statement from Council member Judith Hempfling, the Council liaison to the JSTF and mother of John Hempfling, who said that all of the task force members but her son seemed overly concerned at a recent JSTF meeting with how the data reflects on the police department.

“I find that insulting,” Dewees said.

Several villagers attending the Nov. 6 Council meeting passionately spoke up for John Hempfling’s right to post the material on Facebook.

“It’s imperative that there be transparency,” according to Sarah Morrison, who said that while she “was not surprised” that the data appeared to show racial discrimination coming from the police department, she was “disturbed that the statistics were not shared with the community.”

To Bomani Moyenda, the incident “smells like a cover-up, like protecting the police from public scrutiny.”

But Council members and citizens alike agree that the information needs to be shared with the community, according to Council President Karen Wintrow.

“We are just as concerned about racial  issues of justice and fairness, but we want to make sure we’re working with the right information,” she said, urging the JSTF to complete its work on the report and communicate its outcomes as quickly as possible.

And according to Council Vice President Brian Housh, Council created the task force to do just what the group is doing, finding ways to improve the relationship between local police and the community.

“That’s why we established the JSTF,” he said.

The Facebook incident, to Housh, raises other issues regarding appropriate behavior for commission members, who as citizen advisors to Council, need to be clear when they are speaking as a citizen and not representing the commission, because being a commission member “gives the appearance of authority,” he said.

Council member Marianne MacQueen offered her apology to Turner for the incident.

“I can’t say how sorry I am that this happened,” she said, apologizing also to the police department for “putting this information out, out of context.”

At MacQueen’s suggestion that restorative justice be used to bring all parties involved in the controversy together, Dewees agreed.

“There are injuries” from the incident, she said, “to the commission, to Mr. Turner and to Mr. Hempfling. When we disagree, we have to find a way to communicate.”

In a later part of the Nov. 16 meeting, Council members considered guidelines regarding roles and responsibilities for members of Village boards and commissions, recently revised by Housh. Council members need to discuss further how best to provide training for commission members on ethical questions, MacQueen said, suggesting that the discussion take place at a future meeting.

Other items on Council’s Nov. 6 agenda will be covered in next week’s News.

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Police data sparks debate

by Diane Chiddister