Frustration Resurfaces As Community Safety Working Group Attempts To Complete Its Work


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Report On The Meeting Of The Community Safety Working Group, September 9, 2021

The meeting was conducted over Zoom and was recorded. The meeting ran from 6-7 p.m and then resumed at 8 p.m. following the public forum on CRESSThe recording for the first hour of the meeting can be be viewed here. The recording for the second hour of the meeting can be viewed here beginning at 1:31:57.

Ellisha Walker (Co-Chair), Brianna Owen (Co-Chair), Russ Vernon Jones, Debora Ferreira, Pat Ononibaku, Tashina Bowman. Staff Liaison: Jennifer Moyston

Resident Oversight Board and Successor Group
The complaints and concerns had been raised before – that the town manager and the town council were creating obstacles that prevented the working group from fulfilling its charge through the setting of unreasonable deadlines, by withholding funds, by failing to meet with the group or respond to their queries in a timely manner, or by making little effort to genuinely hear what the group was saying.  (See for example here, here and here). And as at past meetings, committee members expressed anger, frustration and disappointment at what they described as efforts to sabotage their project and for an unwillingness to prioritize the needs of BIPOC communities.

CSWG has been engaged for months in discussions with Town Manager Paul Bockelman and finance director Sean Mangano about issuing a contract for a consultant to collect additional data that CSWG needs for its final report. The contract must be awarded and data collected over the next five weeks and members expressed doubt that there was sufficient time left to complete these tasks.

Brianna Owen reported that the town is seeking quotes from four consultants: 7 Generations Movement Collective (7GEN), who were the consultants for the fist CSWG report,  African Diaspora Mental Health Association (ADMHA), 21 CP Solutions, and OIR.  The first two consultants were recommended by CSWG, the latter two by Mangano as firms that are experienced in community safety research and reform.  Moyston noted that there are few consultants willing to take on the work on such short notice and with such a tight timeline. The scope of that work can be viewed here (see pages 3-10 in meeting packet)

Debora Ferreira, echoing the sentiments of others on the committee, said that the town manager was trying to sabotage their work. ” We’ve known we needed to hire consultants since we completed Part A of our charge (in May of 2021) and have been pushing for this and now we have five weeks left to complete this work” she said. Ononibaku called the compressed, urgent timeframe insulting and stated that “it’s always like this with BIPOC issues.” She further noted that Bockelman had been clear from the beginning that he was only interested in supporting some of the CSWG recommendations.

The committee was further angered when they were informed that the town council would be unable to hear their final report at their November 8 meeting because their agenda was already full. Ferreira expressed further frustration saying, “Time and again they send the message that BIPOC issues are just not important to this government. We need to go back and demand a meeting. Bockeman insisted that we must be done with our work by November 1 but now they don’t have the time to hear our report.”

Ferreira further complained that Bockelman has stopped attending CSWG meetings and this has built a lag into the committee’s communication with him precisely when the group is running out of time to complete its work on the rigid deadline that Bockelman imposed. She noted that the committee had asked to extend its work into December or January, but Bockelman had refused.

Moyston pointed out that Bockelman had stopped attending CSWG meetings when the committee moved it’s meeting time to Thursday evenings when Bockelman had a previous commitment (Town Services and Outreach Committee meetings).

Owen noted that they had requested feedback from Bockelman on the draft document for a community oversight board and a successor group to the CSWG (see pages 11-20 in the packet) but had yet to hear anything from him.  Owen reported that she had received feedback from the Chief of Police (see below).

Ferreira , Ononibaku, Walker, and Vernon Jones all commented on the importance of establishing a successor group to CSWG and noted that this does not seem to be a priority of the town manager or the town council. They maintained that without a strong successor group, it is a lot less likely that the CSWG’s recommendations will be put into place. Owen reminded the group that Bockelman was the one who had recommended a successor group and she suggested that they remind Bockelman that he assured them that such a group would be put in place to continue the work. 

Special Meeting Proposed
Council President Lynn Griesemer was in the audience and said that she would ask the town council to schedule a special meeting to hear the final CSWG report on October 25. She said that the meeting  would be for two purposes with the CSWG final report being one and, the other would be for additional feedback and vote regarding redistricting.

Owen, Vernon-Jones  and Ferreira agreed to draft a report and recommendations so it would be ready for discussion at CSWG’s next meeting on September 23. 

CRESS Implementation
Walker reported that she had reached out to Dr. Barbara Love, who had previously advised the CSWG to see if she would be willing to help the CRESS implementation team move forward with the process. She said that they would speak further about the details of the proposed work.

She reported on the meeting of the implementation team on September 7, noting that:

  • The implementation team was able to have an initial meeting with the three member Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) to do introductions
  • With the departure of Mary Beth Oguleweicz from her position as Director of Senior Services and also heading the CRESS implementation team, Bockelman is looking to hire someone to replace her and in her absence, Russ Vernon Jones has volunteered to join the implementation team
  • LEAP has begun working on the data, both with regard to types of calls and when the calls come in.
  • LEAP has prepared a draft of a job description for the program director position based on alternative policing programs in two different cities.

Community Oversight Board
Owen noted that she had met with Police Chief Scott Livingstone concerning the draft document for a community oversight board and that he had voiced a number of concerns including possible conflicts with the union. As a result, the committee is now looking at the Springfield Oversight Board to see how they have overcome any obstacles or if they have even encountered any conflicts with their union.

Vernon Jones expressed concern  about the myriad details that need to be worked out for a resident oversight board and observed that CSWG really doesn’t have enough time left to resolve all of the issues. After considerable discussion on the issues that need to be resolved, Walker concluded that the group ought to continue to work on it and move this forward until they run out of time.

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