Community Safety Committee Ponders Its Role In Creation Of Resident Oversight Board

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Report On The Meeting Of The Community Safety and Social Justice Committee,  September 28, 2022

This meeting was held over zoom and was recorded.  The recording can be viewed here.

Present
Dee Shabazz (co-chair), Allegra Clark (co-chair), Debora Ferreira, Pat Ononibaku, Philip Avila, Freke Ette
Staff: Pamela Young (Director, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). Earl Miller (CRESS DIRECTOR) joined the meeting at 55:13
Two Members of the public attended

Highlights

  • Resident Oversight Board Timeline
  • POST (The Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission) Legislation
  • Statements from members of the Amherst Nine and their families
  • Victim Compensation Fund / Justice Compensation Fund/ Police Misconduct Fund
  • DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) and CRESS (Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service)

Resident Oversight Board
The Community Safety and Social Justice Committee (CSSJC) commented on the proposed resident oversight board (ROB) timeline as presented by DEI Director Pamela Young.  Debora Ferreira asked for clarification of who would sit on the board, who would determine who sits on the board, and whether the CCSJC would participate in the process.  She reminded Young that the original Community Safety Working Group recommendations emphasized the importance of hearing from a wide range of constituencies.

Young noted that the year-long process for creating the ROB was intended to incorporate more community input.

Pat Ononibaku cited the community involvement in the CSWG process and Allegra Clark cited the Leap Community Responder Report as examples of taking substantial community input. Ononibaku voiced concern that contract negotiations were going on now with the police officers union and that there did not appear to be any consideration of the proposed ROB as part of those negotiations and it did not appear that any People of Color were involved in the process.  She said “the Community Safety Working Group (CSWG) was very clear that the DEI director should be involved with the creation of the ROB so it pains me that this contract negotiation is happening without the involvement of our DEI director. I originally pushed for the two departments so that we would have people of color sitting at the same table with senior management who are mostly white.”

Young shared while she is not a part of but the police contract negotiations team, the contract would need to be in line with the state regulations. She noted that the negotiation team for police officers union was probably established before she arrived and that’s likely why she is not currently involved.. Young said that DEI is a two-person department and she is concerned that tasks keep getting added to her agenda beyond the means of the new department to handle them.  She said that she  likes the suggestion Shabazz offered to involve consultants in the development of the ROB. 

Ferreira pointed out the need for more staffing and the danger of accumulation of tasks in such a way that nothing will get done. She said that CCSJC needed to advocate for proper staffing for DEI and CRESS so that the work that needs to get done will get done.

CCSJC also discussed the need for a stop gap intervention to cover police oversight during the long process of creating the ROB.  Phillip Avila, who co-chairs the Human Rights Commission, Ononibaku, and Young all noted that at the moment, complaints about the police go to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) but that the bylaw that created the HRC severely limits what they are able to do and hence the HRC is not well suited to really handle community oversight needs.

Police Officer Standards Training
Shabazz shared a slide presentation of Police Officer Standards Training In Massachusetts (POST). Adoption of the POST system would bolster public safety, enhance accountability, and build public trust in municipal police officers in Massachusetts” according to the state website. Shabazz inquired about Amherst police officer trainings and if Amherst is compliant in their reporting of discipline or investigation. Young replied that they are compliant. On the topic of trainings for police, Allegra Clark shared her view that devoting more resources to the police, even for trainings, is not the solution to the concerns raised by residents or by the CSWG and CCSJC. Ononibaku concurred that trainings will not make a difference and suggested that compensation for harm done will help to make systemic changes.

Victim Compensation Fund
Ononibaku and Clark opened the discussion on their research on victim compensation funds, seeking for example, a model of a fund for the purpose of providing monetary compensation for the youth (The Amherst Nine) harmed by Amherst Police in the widely reported July 5 incident in which a group of mostly BIPOC youth were detained by Amherst Police and told that they did not have any rights.  Ononibaku shared quotes submitted by members of The Amherst Nine  which were read by Clark. Parents of some of the Amherst Nine penned a letter read that was read by Ferreira (see below). Ononibaku said feedback from one of the parents of the Amherst Nine suggested the term “victim” in the proposed fund’s name be replaced by “justice” because victim felt disempowering. Freke Ette moved that the fund be termed the “police misconduct fund” which was seconded by Ononibaku but the motion failed.

Upcoming
CRESS update was tabled to the next meeting on Wednesday, October 12, 2022.  Before the meeting officially adjourned, the committee tasked the co-chairs to draft a media release to present the proposal for a compensation fund and to press the Town Council to take up the Amherst Nine matter as a high priority. Avila expressed dismay that the complaint letter from CCSJC has gone unanswered.

Letter With Voices Of The Amherst Nine And Their Parents

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