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Policing forum is tonight

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Villagers have strong opinions about what they want their police force to be. According to recent anonymous input from Village Human Relations Commission surveys, many residents want police to be out of their patrol cars and visibly engaged with the community. Some want police to see them as citizens first, not as suspects, and to focus on communication and de-escalation techniques, rather than new military equipment and SWAT training. And some respondents would prefer that both officers and the chief live in the village, and feel they should be paid well enough to do so.

More villagers will have a chance to voice their needs and concerns about the culture of local policing at a policing forum tonight, Oct. 23, from 7–8:30 p.m. in the Bryan Center gym. Bryan Youth Center will provide free child care. The event, sponsored by the HRC and the Village of Yellow Springs, is an opportunity to start a dialogue within the community about local policing and shaping the department to meet the community’s needs.

The forum was originally organized to address concerns that had been voiced about the department under the leadership of former Police Chief Anthony Pettiford, according to HRC secretary Kathryn Hitchcock. Since Pettiford resigned his position last month, organizers have turned the event into a general dialogue about what the community wants its local department to be. Village Manager Patti Bates will attend the forum, along with local police staff, Village Council and HRC members, who will pass on the information they gather to the new police chief, scheduled to be hired in November.

Because the police department currently has no permanent chief, the forum will not be a venue to get answers from police. Much of the early feedback collection makes clear that villagers have questions, such as why officers don’t have a regular walking beat, why officers have semiautomatic weapons in each patrol car, why marijuana has not been decriminalized in the village, and why police decided to join the regional SWAT team.

Instead, organizers hope that participants can focus on three key issues that HRC formulated recently based on the main concerns they’ve heard. They include:

1. Citizens’ desires for local policing, e.g. beliefs about the ideal relationship between police and community.

2. What citizens are looking for in the new police chief.

3. Community values and attitudes that should be reflected in local policing.

Leading up to tonight’s event, HRC members, including co-chairs Debra Williamson and Nick Cunningham, Hitchcock, Chrissy Cruz, Kate Hamilton, Corey Johnson, and Council liaison Brian Housh, solicited initial input from response boxes around the village as well as an online survey through Survey Monkey. The group received a total of 50 replies to questions such as what concerns do you have, what makes you feel connected or alienated, what qualities are you looking for in a police chief, and how can citizens support or improve community/police relationships.

Following is a sampling of some of those responses:

“I believe different training for the police and continued education in sensitivity, conflict de-escalation, diversity training, crisis intervention, etc. is paramount. I also believe the cops and community should have regular discussions and community building activities.”

“I am dismayed by [talk of] stopping participation in the Drug Task Force…Drug trafficking is serious, deadly to community life and rampant in this area. It can’t be prevented in town by refusing to deal with it as a regional problem.”

“Drug use … and rehabilitation … should be a medical issue, not a police issue.”

Yellow Springs needs a police chief “who actually seems to enjoy Yellow Springs.”

A respondent was concerned that police “focus is shifting to seeking out and punishing rather than protecting and building community.”

Tonight’s forum won’t be the end of the dialogue, according to Hitchcock. The forum is intended to be a springboard from which to launch follow-up discussions, community-police projects and initiatives citizens are interested in organizing.

“We don’t see it as a one-time thing — ‘what kind of police department do we want to have in Yellow Springs’ is a big question,” Hitchcock said.


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