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Yellow Springs Village Council plans policing talk

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Village Council members had a tough time at their meeting this week settling on a format for their local policing discussion, scheduled to take place Monday, July 20. After a 30-minute discussion about whether to voice their own opinions or hear from Police Chief David Hale about his strategies so far, Council agreed to do both at the upcoming meeting.

Villagers are invited to attend the meeting, which will begin with an hour of business at 6, followed by the policing work session at 7. Council will meet in its chambers on the second floor of the Bryan Center.

Council members agreed that the discussion is the first opportunity the governing body has taken to share its thoughts and opinions on policing in the village since the policing forums organized by the Village Human Relations Commission began last fall. The public weighed in with their opinions, concerns and desires for local policing during a forum in October 2014. And at a second event in April 2015, Chief Hale responded to questions from villagers about the department’s operations, policies and policing tone.

But Village Council members, who oversee the Village manager, who oversees the police chief, never participated in any of the discussions, several Council members said this week. The upcoming work session is their chance to do so.

This week Council members Brian Housh and Marianne MacQueen presented a draft agenda for the discussion. The plan was developed from a review of the HRC forum, interviews with Village Manager Patti Bates, Chief Hale, former police chief John Grote, local resident Ellis Jacobs, and HRC members Kate Hamilton and Nick Cunningham, as well as a Yellow Springs News series of articles and a public survey on policing in the village.

The agenda opens with a chance for Council members to give their perspectives on policing in Yellow Springs and follows with a broad discussion about the values the community wants reflected by the Yellow Springs Police Department. The discussion then heads into “concerns,” including how the department has been affected by national issues, such as police militarization, Black Lives Matter and the war on drugs, as well as how the department has been affected by local areas of concern, such as non-local police/high turnover, possible targeting of young, poor and African Americans, stops for no cause, officer aggression, training in crisis intervention/dealing with the mentally ill, and participation in ACE Task Force. The agenda suggests considering potential strategies to meet local values, such as use of bike/walking beats, developing local capacity for local officers, training new officers with the Yellow Springs ethos, restorative justice/Mayor’s Court, and closes the discussion with planning next steps.

But before giving her own opinion about policing, Village Council member Karen Wintrow said she first wanted a chance to hear from Chief Hale about what the department has done in the eight months he’s been in office to respond to the community’s concerns and desires. Council member Gerry Simms agreed that Council should be fully informed of the department’s efforts and direction before opining about issues the department might already be addressing.

“Why are we starting with Village Council? We should start with a summary of the issues from the chief,” Wintrow said. “I’m still learning — I don’t know that there are issues” with the department.

MacQueen and Housh felt strongly about Council getting a chance to speak about policing matters, and Askeland suggested that the discussion open with a presentation by the chief and then move into the broader discussion among Council members.

Chief Hale, who was present at the meeting, also welcomed the opportunity to take about 30 minutes on July 20 (the entire event was originally intended to last about 90 minutes) to present to Council what the department has been doing and how they are responding to some of the community’s needs.

“It’s clear that this Council values a positive community and police interaction, and we want to do something about it,” Wintrow said. “I want to hear from the chief and understand why the police department is doing certain things.”

MacQueen and Housh agreed to work with Chief Hale to revise the agenda to reflect Council’s needs.

Additional items addressed at Council’s July 6 meeting will be included in next week’s News.

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