Anti-ACE voices speak up
- Published: November 12, 2015
On Thursday, Oct. 29, the Village of Yellow Springs invited the public to the Bryan Center for a panel discussion about the Yellow Springs Police Department’s participation in the Greene County ACE Task Force. The event was organized to help Village Council decide whether to renew YSPD’s membership in the Task Force as part of this year’s Village budget and featured presentations both for and against continued involvement.
The ACE (Agencies for Combined Enforcement) Task Force is a multijurisdictional drug and law enforcement agency comprised of officers from Fairborn, Beavercreek, Xenia, the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, Yellow Springs and Sugarcreek. Its board of directors is made up of the chiefs of the five departments, the sheriff, and the Greene County prosecutor. Each participating jurisdiction pays an annual fee to participate in exchange for the resources and manpower of the combined bodies and shares the seized assets netted as a result of its investigations.
The village’s involvement is a contentious issue, said Village Council member Marianne MacQueen at the beginning of the event. The 35 villagers in attendance were almost universally opposed to Yellow Springs’ continued involvement because of what they perceive are its biased and financially-driven motivations. Opponents say the Task Force encourages aggressive policing, which they hold is contrary to Yellow Springs’ values. Proponents maintain that it allows for better communication among law enforcement agencies and greater resources for solving serious crimes.
On the panel were Commander Bruce May (who oversees the Task Force) and Yellow Springs Police Chief David Hale, who presented in favor of involvement with the Task Force. Community leaders Cheryl Smith and Bomani Moyenda were on the panel opposing membership. All five members of the Village Council were present, as was Village Manager Patti Bates.
According to Chief Hale, the Task Force helps take down criminal operations of greater complexity and reach than a jurisdiction may be able to handle on its own. Thirty-five percent of Task Force investigations go to breaking up criminal operations like human and gun trafficking, gambling rings, and fraud like a recent tree-trimming scam that targeted the elderly, he said. The Task Force helped solve the WesBanco burglary of 2014 and the Lopez murder of 2002, Hale said, “which would’ve been a missing persons case had it not been for the involvement of the ACE Task Force.”
The other 65 percent of its operations tackle large-scale drug-dealing operations. This aspect of the Task Force is especially important because Yellow Springs has the same percentage of drug abuse and addiction per capita as other cities in the county, Hale said, and “you have to have your head in the sand” not to realize there is a problem with drugs here.
Aside from criminal investigations, the Task Force provides training that endows officers with “intelligence and experience,” Hale said. The Task Force trains its officers in interrogation, courtroom, and search warrant writing procedures. Hale also pointed out that the Task Force and the SWAT team are two separate entities; the notion that they are one group or are always used in tandem is a popular misconception.
Moyenda, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Miami Valley, and Smith, a nurse and drug counselor, opposed Yellow Springs’ involvement with the Task Force. The training encourages more aggressive policing and increases clandestine police operations in the village, they said, and furthers the agenda of the failed war on drugs, whose operations disproportionately affect people of color and the poor, and whose attitudes reinforce generations of oppression and the concomitant economic disparity.
Smith noted that the percentage of people of color arrested in their stings is proportionally higher than the population of people of color in Yellow Springs, Greene County, and Ohio as a whole.
Policing is “based in racism, classism, and biased against youth, and any law enforcement program [like the Task Force] carries these biases,” said Cheryl Smith.
Smith said she was “incensed” by the disparaging remarks of May and Hale towards other counties in Ohio affected by drug use and violence, “as if poverty doesn’t have an effect on crime.” Portraying policing as simply a matter of good guys going after bad guys precludes real analysis of the economic factors behind drug use, for example, which makes unbiased police work impossible from the beginning. The Task Force targets “low-level drug traffickers and addicts,” she said. The majority of the Task Force’s arrests are “kids with drug problems” and not professional criminals, she said.
“It doesn’t take a very long jail sentence to disrupt the life of a person and their family,” Moyenda said.
Funding the Task Force
The mechanisms for funding the Task Force were discussed, as were the funds it generates for the village.
One of the benefits of Yellow Springs’ involvement in the Task Force comes from the assets seized in investigations, Hale said. Council members Marianne MacQueen worried that the costs associated with participation in the Task Force are a burden to the Village. Smith and Moyenda argued that the funds generated by the Task Force are gained unethically.
The program costs each participating jurisdiction $10,500 annually. Taxpayers fund the roughly $50,000 salary and $20,000 in benefits earned by the Yellow Springs officer assigned to the Task Force, according to figures provided by Chief Hale. (Around 45 percent of the village’s annual general fund expenses go to its police force.)
Task Force operations have funneled over $270,000 in forfeited money and property back to the village over the last five years. That, figured with the $350,000 in personnel costs means that the village has paid $80,000 over five years for its involvement, or around $16,000 per year, Hale said.
The law requires that 10 percent (or 20 percent over $100,000) of assets be used for social services, Hale said. Money Yellow Springs has received from Task Force operations has been used to fund women’s self-defense courses, safety equipment for school patrol, and for SPIDEE, an anti-bullying program in local schools. Refurbishing a car into a fleet vehicle was paid for with seized funds, Hale said, with “a few thousand dollars” spent on new lights, back seats, equipment, and other accoutrements of a police cruiser.
But Smith and Moyenda argued that using financial gain as a rubric for success is not advisable. Police work that benefits from or is funded by forfeitures of money and property encourages police to make more arrests, said Moyenda. Police then create narratives that conform to their expectations and biases, he said, which perpetuates unfair policing and the economic disparity that results.
“I see forfeitures as incentive for bad police behavior,” he said.
Moreover, the whole picture isn’t being presented when seized assets are considered a victory, Smith said. Assets and property are actually being taken from people with a “chronic brain condition called addiction,” she said, and seized automobiles, for example, don’t just affect those arrested but their families who need the vehicle for use in daily life but can no longer use it after its been seized.
The seized money would be better spent addressing the root causes of addiction, said Smith, because addiction is a mental health issue that leads to criminal behavior. And poverty is intimately linked with drug abuse, she said, so building treatment centers that accommodate working class people or women with children would be a better use of funds.
Villagers advocate withdrawal
Community members commented during the forum as well, largely arguing against the Task Force because it is driven by profit and the community has little connection with its officers.
The logic of the war on drugs is faulty, said Yellow Springs resident Jeff Reich, and the Task Force is an arm of this flawed logic. Yellow Springs ignores 40 years of failure in the war on drugs because it is able to fill police coffers with forfeitures, said Julius Eason, who demanded immediate divestment from the Task Force. “The Task Force is essentially a businessman putting other businessmen it doesn’t like out of business,” said Matt Carson. Council candidate Chrissy Cruz said that videos of Task Force arrests posted on YouTube show that it’s not big-time drug kingpins that are being taken down but the poor and disenfranchised.
All this considered, “the work of the Task Force is not consistent with the values of Yellow Springs,” said Al Schleuter, a sentiment echoed by others present.
Hale cautioned that if Council votes to leave the agency, the Village’s access to the Task Force resources would end within 90 days, said Hale, as would the Village’s input into its activities. The Task Force would operate without any oversight from Yellow Springs, which is presently provided by the YSPD officer assigned to the Task Force and by Hale, who sits on its board of directors, according to May. The Task Force would remain active in Yellow Springs even if the village was no longer part of it, he said, but it would be a “courtesy” if the Task Force told the village when it was operating within its borders.
The Village has about 4,000 residents — of about 100,000 in the county — yet makes up one-sixth of the Task Force, said Macqueen, who then asked if there was any way for Yellow Springs to receive service from the Task Force proportional to its population. May said it is not possible to divvy up the work the Task Force does in that way.
Yellow Springs resident Becky Campbell said that leaving the agency wasn’t a gamble she wanted to take. She has been living in the village for 60 years, she said, and “can’t imagine” breaking away from the Task Force.
“I want to continue to be safe and secure in Yellow Springs,” she said.
Further deliberations necessary
Council President Karen Wintrow said the aim of the meeting was to “deliberate and discuss” the issue and not to make any decisions. More questions still need to be considered, said MacQueen, such as, if Yellow Springs withdraws, what gaps would need to be filled? And how? What other options are available to people in the throes of addiction? How much is a treatment option really being considered, and how would it be implemented?
Wintrow said that she feels like she’s “not getting a complete picture” of the issue because she “didn’t hear from a lot of other people in the community [she’d] like to hear from.”
For this reason, Hale will give a presentation on the ramifications of not renewing membership at the Council’s Nov. 16 meeting, where the public can speak again as well.
Council Member Brian Housh said Council has made and will continue to make a concerted effort to get feedback from the community on the issue.
In the meantime, the Village has organized a few “Coffee with a Cop” events in order to foster better community relations with the police.