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Village Council

Village Council—Policing concerns, assessment discussed

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Local policing was once again a significant topic of discussion at Council’s regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 18.

While no decision has been made on the discipline of Yellow Springs Police Department Officer Dave Meister, Council members discussed the incidents in question and other concerns raised publicly about the department.

Council members and community members discussed the investigation into whether Meister should have accompanied a fellow officer to the scene of a shooting on Dec. 13, 2018. Meister was off duty, but still at the station, when the initial call came in.

According to Council President Brian Housh, “poor decision-making” was at the heart of both past and current investigations into Meister’s professional behavior. Housh added that policies are being “cherry picked” in order to rationalize Meister’s actions.

Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen was more pointed in her critique of Meister’s decision, calling his argument that overtime approval was needed first “ludicrous.”

“It’s sort of ludicrous that a situation where there is potentially an active shooter one block away, that an officer would take the time to call up his or her supervisor to ask [to go],” MacQueen said.

From the floor, several citizens defended Meister’s decisions on the night in question and his manner of policing, and suggested that Meister is not being treated fairly by the department.

Jim Zehner said he believes the Village is in a “quagmire” and that the legitimacy of the current disciplinary process involving Meister is unclear.

“Somehow the citizens need to be convinced that this is an actual procedure, that it’s not a fake procedure,” Zehner said.

Zehner said he believes that the outcome of the proceedings are already determined, that Meister would have been punished no matter what his decision was on the night in question and added that he is concerned about his tax money being used to “persecute” someone.

“We have an issue of trust and I don’t know how we’re going to get out of it,” he added of the general state of community-police relations.

Bob Baldwin said that he feels most villagers believe that Meister has not been  treated fairly.

“They like to believe in fairness and I think the overall view is that fairness has not totally been applied in this situation,” he said of villagers.

Baldwin added that Meister is appreciated by many for “epitomizing” community policing and because he is the only officer people know.

“I get around. I’m all over town. I don’t know another patrolman,” Baldwin said. “They may be equal or better than Meister on community policing, but the town has no idea. There is no interchange.”

Housh said, however, that other officers in the department are being “unfairly maligned” in local discourse and that they, too, practice community policing.

“All of our officers practice that leniency that you’re talking about,” Housh said.

During the meeting, Housh also addressed at length three letters of complaint against several Village and police department leaders, signed by eight villagers.

Those letters address the lack of regular formal evaluations of police officers, an incident last year involving the use of a Taser, the role of a local sergeant in the 2016–17 New Year’s Eve incident and perceived failures in supervision and mentoring in the department.

On the matter of evaluations, Housh said it “has been an ongoing gap” and that the Village “can do a better job.”

“We accept that as an issue,” he said, adding that he doesn’t accept the suggestion that lack of evaluations would not be “the only reason there would not be performance problems.”

MacQueen argued that the issue regarding the lack of evaluations has been “a historical issue,” persisting through several incarnations of Council and numerous chiefs. 

She also suggested that village residents who are not experts in policing shouldn’t be involved in decision-making regarding the department.

“We cannot have decisions about our police being made by every single person in the village,” MacQueen said.

YSPD assessment explored

Earlier in the meeting, Council members spoke about a planned assessment of the YSPD, which will kick off with a community forum in March. It will not happen before the disciplinary process involving Meister is complete, however.

MacQueen cited the “emotional tenor” of some segments of the community as driving the need for the assessment, which she argued should be done by specialists rather than Council members. 

Council Member Lisa Kreeger also noted the value of bringing in expert advice, along with the critical role of the public.  

“We can’t move forward together without the community getting involved in a meaningful way,” Kreeger said. 

Kreeger said the process has a “hot fire under it,” but that it’s not a reaction to a specific event at the department. Rather, it’s based upon the “recognition to do better.”

Council Member Kevin Stokes echoed her comments on the importance of looking at improvement.

“In any organization when you have policies and prejudices, you want to be in a continuous improvement mode,” Stokes said. 

He added that he hopes to highlight the “good things that the police officers do” which he believes the community often doesn’t hear about. 

“I look forward to any effort to shed a brighter light on the police department,” Stokes said.

Council Member Kineta Sanford said she views the YSPD assessment as a “great jumping off point” for the new Justice System Commission, which will be formed this year. 

MacQueen said she has spoken with several potential consultants to complete the assessment, including at least one with ties to Yellow Springs. Council has budgeted $30,000 for the effort, which will look at polices, procedures, budgets, police-community engagement and other issues,  Council members have said.

Other items from Council’s Feb. 18 agenda will be covered in next week’s News.

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