YSPD chief resigns; villagers demand better policing
- Published: January 12, 2017
On Tuesday evening a crowd overflowing the Bryan Center gym heard a statement from Police Chief Dave Hale offering his resignation in the aftermath of what many perceived as overly aggressive and hostile police behavior at the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, a longtime and beloved village tradition. Village Manager Patti Bates read the statement for Hale, who was not at the special Council meeting.
“I want to apologize,” Hale stated, acknowledging that the New Year’s Eve event “damages the trust between the community and the police.” While Hale stated that some circumstances around the incident remain unclear, it is clear that the officers used “extremely poor tactics” in interacting with the crowd, and that the four officers involved lacked leadership, for which Hale took responsibility.
“I believe the best way to heal the rift is for me to resign from my position,” he wrote in the statement, which received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Hale has been chief since 2014. See the ysnews.com website to view his resignation letter.
More than 250 people attended the special meeting, which pre-empted Council’s regularly scheduled meeting in order to address community outrage and concern over the incident, in which the four officers attempted to disperse New Year’s Eve revelers only a few minutes after the ball drop by driving through the crowd with sirens blaring and lights flashing. The resulting crowd agitation escalated when an officer chased and tackled a local man, who is bi-racial, and another officer attempted to tase him in front of a large crowd of onlookers.
Since the incident, villagers have expressed deep concerns and frustration, including at a meeting Monday attended by more than 100, at what they perceive as a pattern of overly aggressive and hostile behavior by local police. At Tuesday’s special meeting, Council heard a full-throated plea from the community for a police department that provides a trusted and engaged community presence, rather than the distant and sometimes hostile interactions they sometimes feel.
“The time has come to stop getting people to police the community and start getting people to serve the community,” said Sterling Wright, to a standing ovation.
After hearing from citizens for two hours, several Council members responded with contrition and apology regarding a police department that too often seems at odds with citizens.
“I feel I’ve let you down as your representative,” Gerry Simms said, stating that he’s been deeply involved in the selection of the last two police chiefs and, “It does not appear we’ve done it right. It appears we might have problems with who we hire.”
Simms said he’ll decide in the next several weeks whether to continue serving on Council.
Council President Karen Wintrow also apologized, stating that she had previously felt that because this Council has focused on improving police/community relations, that those relations were working.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was clearly wrong. I wasn’t listening.”
According to Village Solicitor Chris Conard, an investigation into the New Year’s events is ongoing. Council scheduled an additional special meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 30 to address the New Year’s events and offer any information that’s then available.
Plea for community policing
About 40 villagers spoke on Tuesday, with some describing their distress while witnessing police actions on New Year’s Eve, along with the effects of those actions on children.
“I saw what amounts to excessive police force right in front of me,” said Skip Leeds, a physician who works at Wright State Family Physicians, who described seeing police “body slam a kid” who appeared to be trying to get an officer’s attention. “What we saw was the violation of the social contract. From the police there was escalation rather than de-escalation and provocation rather than peacekeeping.”
Abby Cobb described the effects of the event on her three grandchildren, who were all shaken by it. Her youngest grandchild, a second-grader, described the event as “the scariest moment” of her life.
“This is an important community event,” Cobb said. “We have to do better.”
Several expressed concerns about the presence of outside police agencies called in by local police on New Year’s Eve.
“I’m concerned with the speed and aggressiveness of other departments,” said Ian MacDonald, stating that the presence of outside police also undermines the control of local officers. And like several others, MacDonald described the attempts of several villagers to warn the local officers on New Year’s Eve of the potential consequences of their actions, but the officers weren’t paying attention.
Part of the problem, MacDonald said, is that the local officers don’t seem to know villagers, and thus didn’t know the “high-profile” villagers who were trying to talk them down.
“How can you be on the Yellow Springs police department and not know who owns the Emporium?” he said, referring to Kurt Miyazaki, who had attempted to warn the police of the effects of their behavior.
Several others emphasized their preference to have local officers who live in the village and therefore have a stake in the community.
“I want to know their names like I used to know their names,” said Molly Lunde, who grew up in town.
While she acknowledged that she’s not sure Village government is legally allowed to require that officers live in town, Karen Gardner suggested that the Village could encourage the practice by offering financial incentives.
“Ideally all officers should live in town, but at least the police chief should,” she said.
Several speakers also emphasized the need for creating a department that better reflects the local values of tolerance, compassion and diversity.
Longtime resident Sandy King said she’s experienced over the years, “excellent policing, but recently, horrible policing” in Yellow Springs.
“Police should be calming and cooling, not escalating,” she said.
Several speakers stated they were involved in efforts to identify values important to villagers before the Village hired its last chief, but felt their input wasn’t heard.
“Dave Hale was at the bottom of the list matching the qualities we identified,” said Pan Jeff Reich. “I urge the manager to listen to what villagers want.”
Some suggested that the Village should attempt a new and radical approach to local policing, with an emphasis on restorative justice rather than criminalization.
“We could become a model and leader in policing relations, something we can all be proud of,” said Gavin DaVore Leonard.
Several speakers questioned whether hiring a new chief would solve the department’s current problems, and urged the Village to hold the officers involved in the New Year’s fracas accountable for their actions.
“We have officers here now who are the problem and who keep getting complaints,” Steve McQueen said. “We have officers who get complaints all the time.”
But the Village also has good officers, Alban Holyoke emphasized.
“We also have competent, judicious officers and I don’t want the community to lose sight of that,” he said.
Several villagers spoke of a pattern of police aggression against citizens, especially young people and young people of color.
“The stories I hear from young people who feel they can’t walk at night, they can’t have parties,” said longtime villager Shonda Sneed.
And several speakers agreed that to have a police department more engaged with the community and reflective of village values, citizens must become more engaged.
“Shame on us if after this event we become more complacent,” Sneed said. “We have to show up for every meeting.”
If villagers want real change in the police department, they need to become more involved in the change process, according to several Council members.
“If we’re going to revolutionize our policing policy, then we’ll need your help,” said Judith Hempfling.
Hempfling also acknowledged the contributions of the group Black Lives Matter to Americans’ growing insistence that they be treated with fairness and respect by the police, as reflected in the large crowd that showed up for the meeting.
“In part I give credit to the questions raised by black activists, who said, ‘We will no longer be treated this way,’” she said.
For Brian Housh, the New Year’s Eve incident suggests that “part of the problem is the system that exists, has to do with the terrible training that police get now.”
Yellow Springs can do better, he said, stating, “I do believe we want to be a model of policing. We need better hiring, better supervision, solid leadership.”
Housh also offered an apology for thinking that Council’s focus on police/community relations in the past few years meant that local policing was on a higher level than that exhibited on New Year’s Eve.
“I am incredibly pissed off,” he said. “We have prioritized local policing. I don’t understand how we got to this.”
At the meeting, Council member Marianne MacQueen announced that she’s being charged by the local police with two misdemeanors, obstructing official business and resisting arrest, charges linked to her involvement in the New Year’s Eve events, when she attempted to intervene with the officers.
At the meeting, Council approved a resolution to hire an independent counsel if necessary. According to Village Solicitor Conard on Wednesday, Council’s action was necessary because as Village attorney, he has a conflict of interest in any issues regarding MacQueen.