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JSTF reports to Council — Police changes in process

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Since its inception about a year ago, the Justice System Task Force, or JSTF, has made several recommendations for changes at the Yellow Springs Police Department that have already been implemented, along with several that are in process. And the community response to these changes, which have been  supported by new Chief Brian Carlson, has been positive.

“Villagers seem pretty happy with the changes in the department,” JSTF member Pat Dewees said in the group’s first annual report to Village Council, presented at Council’s Oct. 2 meeting.

Already in place is a revision in the department’s guidelines on Taser use, recommended by the JSTF in March and implemented by Carlson. The new policy put in place guidelines to clarify appropriate Taser use, stating the weapons should be used “only to protect life or prevent serious injury,” and not for compliance, as had sometimes been the case previously.

Mainly completed is the March JSTF recommendation that the department re-commit to Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT, a de-escalation training with a focus on training officers to engage with those with mental health issues in a nonthreatening way. The JSTF urged the department to ensure that at least one officer on each shift had completed the 40-hour training.

That recommendation is largely complete following last week’s CIT training held in Yellow Springs, during which Officers Dennis Nipper and Dave Meister completed the program, according to Chief Carlson in a report to Council. Consequently, only one local officer has not had the training.

Council member Judith Hempfling  praised Carlson for his emphasis on de-escalation since he began the job last spring.

“I think de-escalation is the foundation” of the departmental changes, she said. “I think this will lead to a lot of positives.”

Nearing completion is a response to the JSTF recommendation that the police department hire a social worker to address “special needs in the community,” according to the JSTF report. Chief Carlson plans to bring to Council a job description for a half-time “outreach specialist,” or social worker, to Council’s next meeting, he said.

Not yet completed has been the JSTF recommendation that the local department complete implicit bias training by January 2018.

That timeline may have been overly optimistic, according to Dewees. While Carlson did bring in a motivational speaker on the topic, the department has not yet had implicit bias training. Implicit bias training is still a new concept, Dewees said, and the JSTF is still attempting to identify the most effective training available.

According to the report, JSTF members will continue to meet with Carlson and research strategies “to ensure that Yellow Springs officers are committed to recognizing and overcoming racial bias in their work.”

A May JSTF recommendation that the use of Mayor’s Court be expanded is also not yet complete, the report states. While the police have stepped up use of the local court for minor violations, “the issue of fully utilizing Mayor’s Court is complex,” the report says, stating that research continues on the benefits of having a prosecutor for the court and determining which violations should be sent to the court. Changes will also be influenced by the election of a new mayor, which takes place in November.

The report also notes that the Police/Community Guidelines, written largely by members of The 365 Project police sub-group, were adopted by Village Council. The guidelines aim to help guide local department hiring, training and evaluations, according to the report.

With another year left in its charge, the JSTF will next spend more time on analysis of local department data, along with researching best practices on training, Dewees said.

While many villagers think the JSTF  was launched in response to the 2017 New Year’s Eve Ball Drop event, it was in existence before that, Dewees said, although the controversial NYE event, during which many villagers were critical of what they perceived as overly aggressive police behavior, accelerated the group’s work. Rather, the group came about following several years of local residents feeling “a growing estrangement from the officers in the YSPD and a sense that village values and concerns were not reflected in many actions of the police,” the report states. Another influence in launching the group was the national attention to police aggressiveness toward people of color, the report says.

JSTF group members are Dewees, local attorney Ellis Jacobs, Kate Hamilton and Steve McQueen of the Human Relations Commission, Pastor William Randolph, John Hempfling, Cyndi Pauwels, Ayanna Madison and Mia Stewart. Alternates are David Turner and Al Schlueter and Council liaison is Judith Hempfling, with Marianne MacQueen the alternate.

Other items of Council’s Oct. 2 business, including the 2018 Village enterprise budgets, will be covered in next week’s News.

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