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Village Council— Policing issues dominate Council

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The fractious aftermath of the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop dominated Village Council’s Jan. 17 meeting, with both Village leaders and community members presenting initiatives for helping to better relations between villagers and local police.

“We have prioritized this issue,” Council President Karen Wintrow said, following the meeting discussion. “Over the next several months, you’ll hear a lot, see a lot.”

Seeking witnesses
The Village is seeking is seeking eyewitness accounts of events that transpired following the aftermath of the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, especially interactions between police and citizens, to give to David Williamson, the attorney investigating the incident. Any witnesses should contact Village Manager Patti Bates at 767-1279.

Wintrow announced that the upcoming special meeting on the incident, originally planned for Jan. 30, has been postponed until Feb. 13, so that the results of the Village’s internal investigation into the incident by Dayton attorney David Williamson will be available. 

“We apologize” for the delay, Wintrow said. “We were anxious to move forward as quickly as possible.”

Interim chief finalists

At the beginning of the discussion, Village Manager Patti Bates announced that Council will hold a special executive session this Friday, Jan. 20, at 2 p.m. to interview two finalists for the position of interim police chief, following the resignation of Police Chief David Hale. While Bates stated at the meeting that she could not yet announce the finalists because they’d not yet been notified, in a press statement on Wednesday, the Village announced the finalists for the position. They are current part-time Village officer Brian Carlson and former Xenia Police Captain David Pazynski, who was one of two finalists in the most recent police chief search.

Other candidates for the position were Dennis Nipper, John Krug and Robert Chabali.

Due to the high level of community interest in local policing following the recent event, “The interim chief will not be just a placeholder,” Council member Brian Housh stated. “He will implement at least interim steps.”

The Village is also gearing up to conduct a search for the permanent chief. According to Pat Deweese of the Justice System Task Force, that group, a Council-appointed commission launched in September that aims to examine issues of police and the community, will form a new working group to work with Bates on the process for hiring the new chief. Council member Judith Hempfling encouraged those interested in joining the group to contact her or other JSTF members.

The JSTF, which originally had a charge of offering recommendations after two years of research, recognizes that there’s a need for a quicker response, Deweese said, so it hopes to bring some preliminary recommendations to Council’s next meeting, on Monday, Feb. 6. 

“We want to move quickly to bring recommendations to Council,” said Council member Judith Hempfling.

Housh encouraged Council and Village leaders to consider recruitment as a critical part of the search process for a new chief.

“It’s important that we cast a wide net,” he said.

Another important step in the search process is reviewing the process used two years ago when Hale was chosen, to ask, “Did we do something wrong?” Bates said.

New initiatives

Manager Bates announced a new initiative aimed at improving relations between local police and the community, developed in conjunction with Village Mediation director John Gudgel. 

Called the Village Mediation Community-Police Relations Initiative, the effort will start by bringing together local officers and dispatchers each month with two trained facilitators, Linda Rudawski and Kathryn Hitchcock. The meetings will offer officers the chance to express their feelings and frustrations about their jobs, along with deepening understanding regarding village values and culture.

Gradually, according to Bates, the conversations will expand into the community, with representatives of groups working on police/community issues, such as the Justice System Task Force, next engaging in conversations with police. And finally other members of the community will be brought into the discussions.

“The idea with this initiative is not to find fault or cast blame but to facilitate an exchange of ideas about how to engage in quality local policing that satisfies the expectations and needs of the Yellow Springs community,” a statement by Bates says.

In a citizen-led initiative, the 365 Project is also launching an effort to improve police/community relations, according to 365 representative Gavin DaVore Leonard. That effort is three-pronged, he said, with one component looking at what villagers want from police, along with the department’s own values; the second component looking at community engagement; and the third examining the structures of policing.

“This is an exciting time in terms of community interest” in policing, DaVore Leonard said. “It’s not that we’re the only ones doing something, but this is just what we’re doing.”

Concerns voiced

Several villagers spoke at the meeting regarding their concerns over the New Year’s Eve incident, when police attempted to disperse the crowd by driving into it soon after midnight. Tensions grew as police next chased and attempted to tase a young man, who was charged with a felony.

“We’re darned lucky it wasn’t a full-fledged riot,” said Bob Baldwin, who complimented the “cool heads” of the village for maintaining some order and composure. Baldwin also questioned why the police chief and Village manager didn’t have a plan in place for the policing of the event.

“The stellar leadership this town has had a hiccup,” he said.

Sandy King spoke of feeling disturbed at “the swiftness of arresting someone, charging them with a felony, sending them to jail” contrasted with “how long the investigation is taking.”

King also questioned why citizens aren’t talking directly to police about their -concerns.

“I’m wondering, can we have a conversation?” she said.

Nancy Lewis also expressed frustration that police were not present at the Council meeting, and why the investigation takes 30 days.

“Why is the investigation taking so long?” she said. “It should take 48 hours.”

The process is taking longer than otherwise because it was important to hire an independent investigator, according to Wintrow and Village Solicitor Chris Conard.

“The process takes time to make sure it’s thorough, fair and responsible,” he said.

Other Council agenda items will be reported in the Jan. 26 paper.

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