Council reviews YSPD assessment
- Published: October 3, 2019
When Bob Wasserman came to Yellow Springs last spring to complete an assessment of its police department, he found that officers were committed to “doing the right thing,” yet troubled by perceived attacks on them on social media.
At the same time, Wasserman found that villagers wanted to know their officers and for their officers to know them, and also wanted the department to be transparent and accountable for its actions.
To address those needs, Wasserman and report co-author Bob Haas drafted a series of findings and recommendations for the Yellow Springs Police Department, largely around improved transparency, management and implementation of community policing strategies.
In recent weeks, Council members and Village staff have responded to Wasserman’s 50-page report. And, by phone earlier this month, Wasserman summarized his findings.
Although “everyone talks about community policing,” it must be clarified in policy and implemented by department leadership, Wasserman explained.
One of Wasserman’s suggestions is for the police to assign officers to six different neighborhoods in the village.
“Community policing is about geography — that will always be the core,” Wasserman said. “If you have a neighborhood, the officers can take ownership and be accountable for it.”
Management stood out as a problem at the local department, Wasserman said. Regarding Chief of Police Brian Carlson, Wasserman said he is “liked and respected” but “not a skilled manager.”
“He relegated management to the sergeants. He can’t do that,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman added that local police should see calls not as incidents, but as “ongoing problems with a past and a probable future.” He cited research that about half of all calls are places the police visit 12 or more times per year.
“The officers have to figure out what the issue is and how to solve it by referring calls and involving other agencies,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman said that he heard concerns from some villagers about the police targeting minorities, for example by following them in their vehicles at night. He feels better public engagement and an active citizen advisory committee could help address those concerns.
But the advisory committee, Wasserman urged, should not be “just friends of the policemen.” And when an incident occurs, the local department should be as open and transparent as possible, even in the case of a mistake. Wasserman added that when there is a complaint against someone in the department, a neutral party should investigate the matter.
Looking to a future where more officers live locally, Wasserman suggested the department work with high school students, perhaps offering a summer internship.
“Some will say, ‘I want to be police,’” Wasserman said of such a project.
Reached for comment on the report this week, Chief Carlson said his biggest takeaway was the importance of transparency. Although he says he has struggled with the release of information that might either jeopardize an investigation or compromise a citizen’s privacy, he is learning what can be shared.
“In being transparent with a progressive approach, we’ll be able to get information out on the front end of a situation,” Carlson said.
Carlson also said he thought that the idea of policing neighborhoods was a good one.
“I definitely want the officers in the neighborhoods focusing more on public safety than just on traffic control,” he said.
Council is now looking for feedback on the assessment. Those interested should send comments to Council Clerk Judy Kintner by Friday, Sept. 27, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Village Manager Josue Salmeron suggested villagers respond to the questions: “What do you appreciate about the assessment? What’s missing? What needs to be corrected?”
Village staff will address the report in more detail at Council’s next meeting, Monday, Oct. 7.
During its most recent meeting, Council broached the subject, but did not go into detail.
MacQueen reiterated her disappointments that the assessment took longer than anticipated and might not be relevant for a small community.
Stokes said that he thought that assigning officers to neighborhoods or “beats” was a good idea. However, he was worried about the “budget ramifications” of some of the suggestions.
“Are we getting more people, or giving more people more responsibilities?” he asked.
Salmeron said that some of report’s suggestions are already underway.
“One of the recommendations is to create a new vision statement and we know we already have one,” Salmeron said.
Villager Matthew Kirk said from the floor that he wishes local cops were more visible walking and biking around town and “actively engaging people” rather than staying in a vehicle, which he said “poses a barrier.” He added that evaluations should include metrics such as “how people are serving their community,” and not typical “law enforcement metrics.”
Also from the floor, John Hempfling commented that many villagers feel there is an “ongoing problem” with YSPD and urged the creation of a standing citizen body.
“In order to credibly address people’s concerns, it’s important to work with a Justice System Commission,” Hempfling said.
Later in the meeting, during a discussion of “commission effectiveness,” several Council members suggested that instead of an official commission of Council, the Village might consider making the Justice System Commission a Village Manager’s advisory board. The change was suggested after only three citizens expressed interest in the nascent commission, and also due to Council member workload. In response to that possibility, Hempfling said there could be a “credibility issue.”
“The manager’s office has not been seen as a check on the police department, or independent from staff,” Hempfling said.
In other Council business —
Glen project get Council nod
Council unanimously passed a resolution to support Glen Helen’s application for state funds to build access improvements near the entrance off of State Route 343. The Glen is looking to re-develop a parking lot previously available at that site and also wants to erect a public restroom and a gatehouse for staffed access to the preserve.
Glen Helen Executive Director Nick Boutis said adding the parking area will allow people with limited mobility to access the park.
“I hear from folks that tell me they love Glen Helen and can no longer visit it because they cannot go down the stone steps,” Boutis said.
The gatehouse, meanwhile, would help to “ensure that after hours [the Glen] doesn’t become a vector for troublesome behavior,” Boutis said.
Boutis said the resolution would help the nature preserve, which is owned by Antioch College, in its application to the Ohio Public Works Commission.
Prosecutor talks local court, immigration
During special reports, Greene County Prosecutor Ron Lewis shared his thoughts on the Yellow Springs Mayor’s Court and the county’s involvement with immigration enforcement.
Lewis said that while he supports the local court, “I do think there are some things that are not appropriately funneled to a mayor’s court.”
Lewis said that charges that could be “enhanced” by a later crime, such as a first-time OMVI (operating a moving vehicle while intoxicated), should not be tried before a mayor’s court. Specifically of OMVIs, Lewis said that “enhancements” are crucial because after a second offense, the chances of re-offending are high for the crime.
“It’s important to enhance those penalties so you can deal with them in a proactive manner and get the help they need and protect the public at the same time,” Lewis said.
In addition, Lewis said that cases involving a protection order should not be seen in a mayor’s court because the county has better resources for victims, including an on-call victims advocate and the ability to arrest a suspect who violates a protection order.
Mayor Pam Conine said from the floor that while she is trained to hear cases involving OMVIs, those offenders can receive more help from county programs if their cases are heard in Xenia.
In response to a question about why a resident who was recently taken to Greene County Jail by Yellow Springs police was subsequently transferred to immigration and customs enforcement custody, Lewis said the involvement of ICE in county law enforcement is rare and was because the individual had a “detainer for a felony warrant.”
“We have a number of undocumented people who come through our courts, and ICE is not contacted,” Lewis said. “Almost all are traffic related because they don’t have a license and ICE has no interest in them, to my knowledge.”
In November, Lewis is running unopposed to be a judge on the Xenia Municipal Court.
Temporary transportation projects
During the Citizen Concerns portion of the meeting, Dan Carrigan and Matthew Kirk spoke critically of the Village’s plans for a temporary transportation project involving turning Short Street and the section of South Walnut Street from Short Street to Limestone into one-way streets to improve pedestrian safety and reduce traffic congestion in the area.
Carrigan said he worried that the project would be tested without a “baseline.”
“How will you know congestion has changed?” Carrigan asked. “Disrupting the traffic circulation for the whole day for the whole village is not based upon facts.” he added.
Kirk criticized the proposed prohibition of left turns from South Walnut onto Limestone, noting that it would be inconvenient for those villagers living on the south side of town. He suggested instead a solution for Mills Lawn drop-off that involves creating a drop-off lane from what is currently a row of parking spaces in front of the school.
“What we want is a safer drop-off place for schools, and what we can do is create a safe drop-off space,” Kirk said.
Housh defended the temporary projects, saying “I know change can be hard,” but asked villagers to be open to trying out alternatives. Referencing the 2018 Active Transportation Plan, Housh said, “I feel very strongly that we have a plan and that we should at least see how things can help.”
MacQueen said she “appreciates the reactions” and that she wants to promote active transportation in the village, saying the focus is on “the more that we can make this a place that is safe for walking and biking, and safe for kids to walk and bike to school.”
Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, Oct. 7, at 7 p.m., in Council chambers.