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Council’s take on policing

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Village Council members voiced some common themes at a work session Monday, July 20, as they took their turn to voice opinions about policing in Yellow Springs. The current national bias against police and police militarization is somewhat out of context here in the village. Still, tension exists between residents and police, largely because both groups don’t know and trust each other like they did in the 1970s. Both citizens and police officers must do some work to get to know each other and to treat each other with less suspicion and more respect. More and better officer training is a good approach, and one Yellow Springs Police Chief David Hale has already begun.

About 40 villagers came to hear Council discuss the start of a vision statement to guide the Yellow Springs Police Department and Village Manager Patti Bates, who supervises the chief of police. The discussion was a follow-up to two previous policing forums organized by the Village Human Relations Commission. At the October 2014 forum, citizens voiced concerns about a sometimes unnecessarily aggressive police force that seemed disconnected from the community and their desire for more of a peace officer presence. At a March forum, Chief Hale gave the police department’s perspectives and rationale behind some of its policies, stops and citations.

On Monday, each Council member gave initial thoughts on local policing. For example, connecting the YSPD to the national conversation on policing is both unfair and not relevant, according to Karen Wintrow, who has seen “big changes” under Chief Hale in response to citizen concerns with the local department. More discussion is needed about whether to continue with the Greene County ACE Task Force (the combined drug enforcement agency), she said, adding that the “incredibly unfortunate incident” in which an armed citizen was killed by a Task Force deputy in July 2013 “doesn’t need to define us.”

Lori Askeland agreed that scapegoating police doesn’t solve local policing issues, which are real and should be addressed with more and better officer training, a more overtly compassionate approach from officers, and at some point perhaps higher pay. Askeland leans away from participating on the Task Force. She also spoke about an “elephant in the room:” the older, whiter, wealthier majority in the village (including herself, she said) needs to be aware of its “implicit association,” which makes those in the dominant culture feel safe as “insiders,” while young, black, underprivileged citizens may be seen as “outsiders” and unconsciously treated differently.

“That can allow us to go on thinking everything is fine, and it’s not,” she said, adding that police need to be trained about implicit association or bias.
Brian Housh said the Village had hired Chief Hale based on the needs the community expressed at the first forum, and he had already demonstrated a responsiveness to concerns, for example, by engaging with school staff to connect with local youth. Continuing to criticize police and reducing staffing would only raise the risk of discouraging and perhaps losing the good officers Yellow Springs currently has, Housh said.

According to Gerry Simms, because the village has become less affordable, officers tend not to live in town, therefore villagers need to make time to get to know them personally. Villagers should also try to understand that officers sometimes cite residents for seemingly harmless offenses because they are trying to prevent a possible crime from occurring. For example, a person walking in a park at night is an easy target for a potential criminal and might get cited for his or her own safety.

“Some of our citizens expose themselves to possible crime” and are unaware of the dangers their actions pose, Simms said.

Marianne MacQueen focused on the policing concerns community members raised at the forums. Yellow Springs police, she said, should withdraw its full-time officer from the Task Force, whose participation in the war on drugs has “caused more problems than it’s solved” and wasted money treating a “social issue as a criminal issue.” The chief’s commitment to the full 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT, for all of its officers is good news, but more positive engagement between police and especially youth is still needed. More discussion is also needed on the validity of a citizen review board to moderate policing complaints, the use of Mayor’s Court to resolve local issues, and potentially taking a “laissez-faire” approach to offenses that aren’t causing immediate harm, such as having a dog off leash at Ellis Park or walking in a public park after dark.

Laissez-faire policing took on a life of its own during the discussion, in which citizens and Council members disagreed on the usefulness of the leash law itself, as well as on how strictly to enforce it. Such loose law enforcement could potentially be applied to any law, MacQueen pointed out, including someone with a marijuana joint. But Hale, Bates and other Council members argued that the use of “double standards” could lead to unwanted discrimination. Instead, Hale said, police can issue warnings as a type of behavior changing enforcement for situations that officers deem less threatening.

Hale also mentioned that increased training is currently being mandated by Attorney General Mike DeWine, and new officers are now required to have 16 hours of CIT training in addition to a larger block of time dealing with people and situations. He said that increased scrutiny of police through widespread video camera use was “a good thing,” but that police also needed training beyond the current “shoot or don’t shoot” model that would give them options such as how to take cover quickly or use alternatives to deadly force.

“Bad cops stick out like a sore thumb — I can weed them out in an instant,” Hale said, stating that it’s much more difficult to train for the instantaneous judgements they sometimes have to make. “Good cops that make bad decisions” could potentially include any officer on the force, he said.

Local residents stated some of their concerns and needs as well, during the meeting. Longtime villagers Joe Lewis, Becky Campbell and Sue Abendroth said they wanted the Village to stay on the Task Force and that police did a good job providing safety necessary for the town. Abendroth added that police deal with complexity and should be given the benefit of the doubt; also that there was ample oversight of police, including Chief Hale, Manager Bates, Village Council, and Village Solicitor Chris Conard, to render a citizen review board unnecessary and even problematic.

“I don’t want my system of safety to be [guided] by someone I don’t have any influence over,” she said, referring to a citizen board, which could face privacy and legal issues.

Trauma nurse and paramedic Jeff Reich, Talis X, HRC member Steve McQueen and John Hempfling all voiced adamant opposition to the village’s participation on the Task Force, and both Hempfling and Antioch College student Angela Myelovega said that many young people don’t feel safe around police. Cheryl Durgans emphasized that Yellow Springs isn’t immune to the racial bias and profiling that affects police across the country.

Ken Odiorne acknowledged that polarization between the community and police was “a problem for all of us.” He said he would do his part and hopes the department will “turn things around.”

Village Council plans to continue its policing discussion. MacQueen and Housh agreed to present a draft vision statement for the police department at the Aug. 24 Council meeting.


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