Seattle re-imagines policing

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Still keeping an eye on what’s happening elsewhere. The Breonna Taylor ruling yesterday precipitated not only protests but violence, as well as renewed calls to “defund” the police, to “divest and re-invest,” to “reimagine” how public safety is done.

Now that it looks like leadership of the police department is being re-established, perhaps we will have discussion of such matters that is visible to the public.

The Seattle Council proposed changes in August, the Mayor vetoed the legislation, now Council has overridden the veto.

We are not Seattle, of course, but Gadfly believes we are not without suitable imagination.

———-

selections from Hanna Scott, “Seattle City Council approves historic cuts to police department budget.” MyNorthwest, August 10, 2020.

Seattle City Councilmembers have officially approved legislation enacting sizable cuts to the police department’s budget.

Pushback against the proposal from the other side of the aisle has come from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Police Chief Carmen Best, police unions and pro-police community members, who have all cited concerns over public safety should the department be forced to reduce its number of sworn officers.

Last month, seven of nine councilmembers pledged support for defunding SPD by 50% in 2020 and reinvesting that money into communities of color as demanded by King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, which encompass dozens of community groups, non-profits, and other BIPOC-focused organizations.

The highlights of the 2020 package approved by councilmembers Monday include:

    • Eliminating up to 100 sworn officer positions across various teams via layoffs and attrition (including 32 patrol officers), beginning in November 2020
    • Capping command staff pay at $150,000 (not including Chief Best’s salary, which was reduced to $275,000).
    • Ending the Navigation Team (14 of the 100 officers mentioned above)

The package also cuts or reduces a variety of SPD’s specialized units, including the Harbor Patrol Unit, SWAT team, Public Affairs unit, and school resource officers, and cuts $800,000 of SPD’s retention and recruitment budget.

The goal from councilmembers is a re-imagining of policing, right-sizing what the council feels is an inflated police department and budget that is not necessary and instead finding alternatives to sending armed officers to respond to calls that someone else, such as a social worker, might be better equipped to handle and avoid an unnecessary risk of escalation.

Exactly what this re-tooled version of policing and public safety will look like in practice remains to be seen, and likely won’t come into full view until next year, but the council says it will be a community led effort as has been demanded by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, the groups that will taking part in the participatory budget process with the council on the 2021 public safety budget.

The blueprint Decriminalize Seattle has provided as a path forward includes city-funded research done by BIPOC communities to provide, and among other things, “a plan on what health and safety actually means, including (but not limited to) alternatives to policing.”

“Instead of buying bullets, violence and intimidation, we are choosing — the city council is choosing — to invest in peace and restoration in a community that has been ravaged by generations of racism,” Council President Lorena Gonzales said as she explained the vision for future policing in Seattle.

Chief Best has repeatedly urged caution, explaining that she and Durkan support a re-envisioned SPD, but that these changes cannot happen overnight without risking public safety. Last week, Best also released her own vision and accountability website for making such changes.

 

selections from MyNorthwest staff, “Seattle City Council votes to override mayor’s veto of cuts to police budget.” MyNorthwest, September 23, 2020.

City council voted to override Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s recent veto of cuts to the police department’s remaining 2020 budget by a 7-2 vote, with the mayor issuing a statement after the fact indicating she might not adhere to all of the provisos laid out in the council’s proposal.

“We cannot look away from this and we can no longer accept the status quo if we truly believe that Black lives matter,” said Council President Lorena Gonzalez after expressing that she would be voting to override the mayor’s veto.

1619 v. 1776

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It has been said that the murder of George Floyd has triggered (another) national reckoning with race.

Followers will recognize that Gadfly rarely comments on national political issues, rarely mentions national political figures.

By design.

There is such polarization on the national scene that community seems impossible.

But Gadfly believes that community is possible among neighbors in the relatively small town of Bethlehem, believes that if we focus on local issues fellow residents will “lean in” and resolve differences for the benefit of all of us.

We have on our plate, in the words of Councilman Reynolds, the lofty goal of ending systemic racism and making Bethlehem an equitable city.

And thus Gadfly, as you can tell, has for several months now been filling his mind and yours with perspectives on racism.

And, as such, President Trump’s recent announcement of a 1776 Commission to foster “patriotic education” and his reasons thereof very much clamored for his attention.

The 1776 Commission is very much a response to the New York Times 1619 Project inaugurated in August 2019, a project that suggests thinking of that year — the year the first African American slaves arrived on land that would become the United States — as our founding moment. Replacing 1776.

(Take a moment to consider the importance of founding moments/points of origin to our national sense of self. The issue of the local Columbus monument fits in here. What we think of as our founding moment is quite important to our identity. Put it this way: where would you want the traditional survey of American History in high school or college to begin? What’s chapter 1?)

Gadfly, like you, has heard of the 1619 Project and knows that it is finding its way into school curricula, but, probably like you, he has never looked in to it.

Gadfly’s going to take a look at it now, first by considering the controversial — well, the whole project is controversial — Pulitzer Prize-winning introductory essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Gadfly, as always, invites you to join in reading for yourself rather than adopting someone else’s opinion.

It sounds like doing so will add to the important big picture frame to our local discussions.

Some of the New York Times material is accessed by subscription only. If you are not a subscriber and you run into that barrier, write to your Gadfly, and he will give you his log in info.

“George Floyd is everyone’s brother or cousin or uncle. Or grandson.”

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“The Community Engagement Initiative is [about] looking at the ways that
we as a community can end systemic racism and create an equitable city.”
Councilman Willie Reynolds

from Steve Kreider, “Your View by former Lehigh football star: Having a Black grandson finally made me think, ‘What is it like to be a Black person in the U.S.?'” Morning Call, September 18, 2020.
(Headline in Sunday, September 20, Morning Call is “How having a Black grandson opened my eyes.”)

“Would you let your daughter marry a Black man?” It was the fall of 1985, in the Cincinnati Bengals locker room. I had just stood up to put on my shoulder pads for practice.

I was a 27-year-old slot receiver from a small school (Lehigh University) in Pennsylvania. Bobby Kemp, our strong safety, was asking the question from a distance of about 12 inches. Lots of teammates were watching.

“Um, yeah — but I would want her to know what all she’s getting into.” (Why’s he asking me this? Aren’t we friends?)

This wasn’t the first time Bobby had asked a question like this. A year earlier, just as I got up to put on my shoulder pads, there he was, 12 inches away, eyes flashing. I had been sitting at my locker, doing my usual nerdy thing and trying to get some reading done for my graduate school classes in finance.

This time the question was, “All this junk you’re always readin’ — have you ever read James Baldwin?” “Um, no. No, I haven’t.” (Why’s he asking me this? Aren’t we friends?)

So there I was, seventh year in the league, a few months from finishing a Ph.D., thinking the U.S. was headed in a good direction. Black players on the team were friendly to me. There were Black people making some progress in business and the professions.

In general, it seemed that people understood that it was bad to be racist. There was reason to be optimistic — confident even.

This is how I thought about things for a long time. And then in 2007 my college-age son fell in love with a woman who happened to be Black. I began to hear things I never heard before.

Speaking about Black friends who were engineering graduates from Princeton, holding high-paying jobs and driving BMWs and other high end cars, “Dad, you know they get stopped while driving around Princeton? In this fancy town? And they have to hold onto the steering wheel with both hands and be super courteous and sweat and hope and pray they don’t get shot. This happens all the time. It is a regular part of their life — this fear.”

And “Dad, the kids couldn’t tell you, but when you were coaching our little 10-year-old kids’ football team, when we would go to those games out in the rural counties, a lot of the Black kids were really scared. Their parents told them not to go there because there’s a lot of crazy people out there who want to kill them. They were really terrified.”

My son is now in his 30s and he and his wife have a son. My daughters live with their families in a well-to-do Philly suburb in Bucks County and have been encouraging my son and his wife to move close to them.

He asks me, “Dad, how do I tell them that my wife is afraid to live there?” “Dad, if you were a 22-year-old Black man, would you go for a jog in the neighborhood where you and mom live?”

It is worse than shameful that it took having a Black grandson to make me think, “What is it like to be a Black person in the U.S.”? To read James Baldwin. To start reading “Stamped From the Beginning” and “The Ways of White Folks,” etc. But that’s what happened.

We need to look at everyone as one of our family.

George Floyd is everyone’s brother or cousin or uncle. Or grandson.

Protests have a wider reason than raising awareness

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Gadfly:

Thanks for the great job you do promoting discussion and thought about local issues.

I saw the transcript of my City Council recording [the August 11 Public Safety Committee meeting]. To facilitate accuracy I am including the original text.

But first, let’s talk about the group promoting defunding the police, “Black Lives Matter.” While many of the recent protestors are truly interested in supporting minority rights, “Black Lives Matter Inc” contrary to its name, is at i’s core, a Marxist organization admittedly led by trained Marxists easily verified by a quick web search. It is funded to the tune of $1.3 billion by organizations from around the globe as well as by well-intentioned but misled corporations. Much of the money raised because of the George Floyd video just as easily may be funneled to French radicals or to the Congo, but not, you notice, to the devastated local black communities. It is international and has connection to the TIDES Foundation and others. By the way, Marxist movements historically are responsible for the deaths of 170,000,000 civilians, not counting deaths during war.

The violence you see today didn’t begin with the death of the vicious felon George Floyd , it began in 1999 or maybe even earlier when Marxist-Socialists protested the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle demonstrating in what was called a “black box”. This is a collection of radicals all dressed in black with masks and helmets or head coverings. They paraded down the main streets damaging businesses, setting fires in trash cans, and smashing windows. Because of the complicity of the elected officials there, the police were regularly restrained from intervening and when they did the mob mingled and dispersed, their nondescript clothing making it impossible to arrest the vandals among them.

This type of activity went on occasionally for years since then. ANTIFA was the next progression. Same outfits, same tactics, but even more violent attacking individuals, often including the same radicals. Twenty years BEFORE George Floyd!

They were waiting for a video like George Floyd’s.

If raising awareness of injustice was the reason for the protests, how long would it have taken to raise awareness? But if the overthrow of our government is the goal then arson, destruction, intimidation, violent confrontation, and even extortion as we see in many cities is in order.

THERE IS NO APPEASING RADICALS.
THERE IS NO APPEASING RADICALS.

This may seem far-fetched  . . . I’m sure it did to the people in Portland and Seattle too. But things eroded little by little.

First the language changed. They started using phrases like social justice and systemic racism. If we’re going to have discussions let’s define the words and discuss whether the problem is real or imagined. What is social justice? There are about 18,000 police departments in the US. There were 13 or 14 unarmed blacks killed in 2019. Does that sound systemic? When 4.4 million random stop and frisks were conducted in New York City, during the period from 2004 [to] 2012, even though Blacks were disproportionately singled out, the incidence of further police action was less for Blacks than for whites. Is that SYSTEMIC racism??

If you are rightly willing to condemn actions like those of ANTIFA and reject strategies of BLM like the dissolution of the family and defunding of police, say so, strong and clear at the beginning of this process Otherwise you are complicit in the lawlessness.

Socialism has a unwavering pattern. Venezuela was a prosperous country with rich oil supplies but with a lot of problems in their government. They saw Socialism as the solution to their problem. About 6,000 people a year are murdered by Venezuelan “law enforcement” in a country 12 times smaller than the US that has banned private gun ownership. There are no zoos, starving citizens have slaughtered the animals for food. There are no pets for the same reason. One of the leaders of Black Lives Matter, Opal Tometi, praised and posed with Venezuela’s Marxist Socialist Nicholas Maduro.

If Black Lives Matter wanted to be inclusive and healing they wouldn’t bristle at the phrase All Lives Matter. While many of the young people in good faith have responded to the BLM slogan others engaged WITH EVIL INTENT, let me leave you with a question. Would an organization whose goal is the empowering of black citizens trash and burn its black community to the ground?

Thanks again,
George Roxandich

Good conversation builds community, and . . .

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 . . . and bad conversation destroys community.

That’s the way it goes with language.

We’ve had bad conversation on all sides.

A caller at the August 11 Public Safety meeting reminded us that a defunding partisan said, “we don’t need to hear from any more white people.” That kind of talk gets us nowhere.

A defender of the police called defunders “insane.” That’s insane. In what universe does that help to solve problems.

A defender suggested that residents might need to pass a stakeholder test before claiming the right to speak on the issue of police/community relations.  Echoes of the poll test before voting. A silencing tactic. Anti-democratic.

A defender suggested that defunders might find another city in which to live. America, love it or leave it. Bethlehem, love it as is, or leave it. A particularly nasty trope. Anti-democratic.

A businessperson on Main St. with years of good relations with the police argued against defunding as if her experience was the only one that counted. Remember empathy.

A defender asked who will safeguard you from the death of your loved ones if we defund police departments seemingly without realizing that defunders were reacting to the injury and death to their loved ones at the hands of the police. Whose loved ones count the most?

Out of nowhere at the end of a recent City Council meeting, one Councilperson asked another Councilperson a question whose only purpose Gadfly could discern was to cause trouble — and not the John Lewis variety of “good trouble.” Of course, Gadfly could be wrong. But Council dissension is the last thing we need.

Both defunders and defenders threaten political retribution. Vote my way, or we’ll vote you out of office. Gadfly is not always sure that elected officials are strong enough to withstand such threats. Perhaps naively, he hopes that arguments can be made without such threats. Make your case. Persuade. Don’t bully.

“We need to heal,” we just heard Julia Jackson say.

Let’s avoid the incendiary and inflammatory and insensitive.

And remember that good conversation can build community.

Jacob Blake’s mother: “We need healing”

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The news from Kenosha: two dead, more injured, invectives, firebombings, rocks, tear gas, rubber bullets, vigilantes, militia . . .

But through it all, Gadfly hears the voice of one who might justly lay claim to the title of most aggrieved:

  • We really just need prayers.
  • If Jacob knew what was going on . . . the violence and the destruction, he would be very unpleased.
  • I’m really asking and encouraging everyone . . . to take a moment and examine your hearts.
  • We need healing.
  • As I pray for my son’s healing . . . I also have been praying, even before this, for the healing of our country .
  • Take a look at your hand. Whatever shade it is is beautiful as well.
  • How dare you ask him [God] to make one type of human that looks just like you.
  • I am not just talking to Caucasian people. I am talking to everyone.
  • No one is superior to the other.
  • Please, let’s begin to pray for healing for our nation.
  • Have we been united?
  • To all of the police officers, I’m praying for you.
  • Let’s use our hearts, our love, and our intelligence to work together.
  • America is great when we behave greatly.

Still no official press conference?

Listening summit: building relationships key; defunding police not the answer locally

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from Sarah M. Wojcik, “Dialogue on race and policing continues in Northampton County, but both sides seem to agree on one thing: defunding police is not the answer.” Morning Call, August 25, 2020.

David Collins, a captain with the Department of Corrections at the Northampton County Jail. . . . doesn’t think police departments need less money, but he also believes in the power of peaceful protesting and the message of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If I’m doing my job, I get it from both sides,” Collins told a roomful of police leadership and Black community members Tuesday morning at the ArtsQuest Center in Bethlehem. “I don’t believe in the movement to defund police. I think it’s ridiculous. But I also believe in Black Lives Matter. How can I not? After I take this uniform off, people don’t see a blue life. They see a Black life.”

Collins shared his experience during the second installment of a listening summit designed to open a dialogue between Northampton County law enforcement and Black leaders in the community.

The aim of the summits — the first of which was in June — has been the sharing of ideas, experiences and concerns, in order to try to improve the relationship between police and communities of color.

Andre Stevens, a detective and task force coordinator with the Northampton County Drug Task Force, said he was dismayed to see the video, both as a member of law enforcement and a Black man. He said he was most bothered that officers, close enough to Blake to tug on his shirt, chose deadly force over other methods of detaining the man.

“Police are not punching bags. We want to go home safely to our families,” said Stevens. “That being said, if you got fear in your heart, you shouldn’t wear the badge. Because it’s fear that will escalate a situation far beyond where it should.”

But a lot of the confrontations between police and the public are not clear cut, argued Bethlehem police Chief Mark DiLuzio. He mentioned the July 12 incident in Allentown, when a city officer restrained Edward Borrero Jr., 37, in front of the St. Luke’s Hospital-Sacred Heart, and used a knee to keep Borrero’s head pinned to the ground.

Photos and video of the encounter caught national attention and sparked local protests. But Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin ultimately determined the officer’s use of force was “reasonable.”

“Use of force does not look pretty,” DiLuzio said. “It’s messy and it’s nasty. It never looks like it does on TV. And that’s why we need to wait and see what the facts are before we go out and make things worse.”

Police and community members agreed that building relationships would be key to changing tensions between law enforcement and communities of color.

But Tuesday’s attendees agreed that the rallying cry to defund the police was not the answer locally.

Houck said he greatly opposed the idea, saying he’s seen police departments slowly “defunded” over the years as budgets have been slashed.

“It would cripple prosecutions and investigations if it were to continue,” Houck said of funding reductions.

Myers also took issue with a literal interpretation of “defund the police.” What he believes most people want to see is a reallocation of police funding.

This would mean beefing up training or moving some of the duties to different professionals such as social workers, rather than shelling out money for militarized equipment, Myers said.

Nicole Cooper, an Easton resident who has helped organize Black Lives Matter events in the city, agreed that “defunding” can be a misnomer that hurts the cause itself. But while reallocation is more accurate, she said that term doesn’t capture the full breadth of the reform advocates want. Funding changes should also include an element of oversight and accountability, she said, ensuring that departments put the money where it’s most needed in their community, whether it be for outreach or training.

Bethlehem PD Releases Report on Citizen and Police Interactions

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A Report on Citizen and Police Interactions
August 12, 2020.

from Christina Tatu, “Bethlehem Police release report on five years of citizen complaints.” Morning Call, August 25, 2020.

Bethlehem police released a report Tuesday on resident complaints over a five-year period, showing only 7% of the 125 filings were substantiated by the department.

Topping the list was rude and unprofessional behavior, followed by disputes with police and then complaints about force, which accounted for 16 of the incidents from 2015 through 2019. Allegations ranged from an officer damaging someone’s property, to inappropriate use of force, to people saying they were targeted by police, and racial profiling. Nine of the complaints were substantiated by the department.

“When you look at the report, look at it with an open mind. We are providing the number of complaints and what happened with those complaints, who filed those complaints,” police Chief Mark DiLuzio said. “I think they are very good statistics considering the number of calls and arrests made per year. Would I like to see them lower? Yes, but we are being honest and transparent and putting the numbers out there.”

The report also noted the gender and race of those filing complaints in the city of 76,370 residents, where nearly 60% are white, 29% are Hispanic and 7.5% are Black. Whites filed 65% of complaints; 17.6% were filed by Black complainants; and 15.2% were filed by Hispanics.

Although the information has always been available to the public, Tuesday was the first time the department issued a report on it, DiLuzio said.

During the time frame covered by the report, police responded to 216,489 calls to 911 and made 13,650 arrests.

The report doesn’t detail what discipline officers faced in cases where it was determined they violated department rules. In the report, DiLuzio says 11 officers either resigned or were discharged in the past seven years.

DiLuzio said two of those officers were arrested, though in both instances the behavior occurred off duty and wasn’t related to the officers’ job performance. For lesser violations, such as an officer acting rudely, they may be sent for retraining. If the behavior happens multiple times, they could be suspended without pay, DiLuzio said.

The majority of complaints were for rude and unprofessional behavior, with 70 such complaints logged. The second highest category was for disputes with the police, which had 21 complaints. A dispute can be any situation where the resident wants the officer to do something and the officer does not do it, the report says. For example, the resident may want a neighbor arrested.

As for use-of-force complaints, body cameras can be analyzed to verify if an officer’s actions were in compliance with the department’s directives on force. The report showed six use-of-force complaints last year, up from only one complaint in both 2018 and 2017. There were five such complaints in 2016 and three in 2015.

There was only one complaint about racial profiling noted in the report. That complaint was made in 2015. In 2016 there were five complaints about being targeted or harassed by police. Such complaints usually involved an allegation that an officer gave a ticket or made an arrest because the officer and the person had prior contact and the officer didn’t like the person.

“The majority of complaints filed against officers failed to show that the officer acted or performed contrary to department regulations or state law. Police body cameras, city surveillance cameras, in-car dash cameras and even videos from citizens were very important in the investigation of these complaints and allegations,” the report says.

When a complaint is received, it is reviewed by the department’s Professional Standards Division which is comprised of several Bethlehem police officers. The division is responsible for overseeing training and works with the state and national accreditation agencies on policies and directives.

If the complaint is minor, the officer’s immediate supervisor investigates. Such allegations could include that the officer was rude or failed to take action.

Serious allegations, like gross misconduct, excessive force, death or injury and violations of law are investigated by supervisors in the Professional Standards Division. Because of the serious nature of these violations, the district attorney’s office is usually involved.

When an allegation is filed against a supervisor, the police chief will assign the deputy chief, a captain or lieutenant to investigate, the report says.

“I want people to understand that we hold police officers responsible and accountable when they do something,” DiLuzio said. “If they break a rule or are upset with someone and are rude, they get disciplined.”

Esther Lee, longtime president of the Bethlehem NAACP, said she has yet to see the report on complaints but believes it will be discussed at the group’s meeting next week. She said she has not heard many complaints about the police department.

“Over here in Bethlehem we have a pretty good relationship with the officers. I think our police are very mindful of what they do,” she said.

The Kenosha alarm clock

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Kenosha 3

Second video emerges. For another look at the first one go here.

 

In a much more happy mood, for a week or two Gadfly suggested that we start our day with a Lehigh Valley anthem. Somber now, and recognizing that possible changes in Bethlehem policing are on our plate, Gadfly suggests we wake up in a different manner.

 

longer video of the Wisconsin shooting

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Scroll down in this story for a “better” video than Gadfly posted before:

“Video shows Wisconsin police shooting a Black man multiple times as he enters a car”

Bernice King, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter and the chief executive of the King Center, said on Twitter she was dismayed to see another video of a Black person being “brutalized and/or gunned down by police.”

“Anybody who doesn’t believe we are beyond a state of emergency is choosing to lack empathy and awareness,” King said.

Again . . .

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We hold our breath.

It could happen here.

But since nothing like this or near like this has happened in Bethlehem in recent history, Gadfly senses no groundswell over the past weeks to change the system of policing.

However, the information provided about police training at the August 11 Public Safety Committee meeting did not seem to go over particularly well in Gadfly’s opinion.

And Councilwoman Crampsie Smith and Councilman Callahan have voiced support for more training.

There would seem to be in general three ways to foster more training:

  • increasing the police budget
  • an internal change in the way officers are deployed to open up time for training
  • outside funding, grants, etc.

Waiting to exhale.

Michele’s suggestions for our reading list

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Good conversation builds community.
The Gadfly

Gadfly loves these suggestions of works for us to read.

It shows where people are coming from, what’s shaped their views, and gives the rest of us an opportunity to share another’s perspective on the world.

In her response to Cindy O’Brien’s public comment at the end of the August 11 Public Safety Committee meeting (Cindy was literally the last caller!), Michele Downing recommended three books.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Layla Saad, Me and White Supremacy

Ibram Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning (he who wrote How to be AntiRacist)

We can’t really give you text to read here, but the above videos will give you a sense of the authors and how their works and worldviews relate to systemic racism.

Great coincidence regarding Ta-Nehisi Coates. CBS Sunday Morning (which Gadfly considers the sanest show on television — ha! not that you care or asked) did an excellent piece on him this morning. View “Vanity Fair magazine seizes the moment.”

The coincidence was a sign to order Coates’s book. Gadfly did.

Got any suggestions for our reading list?

Peter suggests we read this: see what happened when modest and reasonable steps were enacted in a city that already has a successful program of specially-trained paramedics

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Good conversation builds community.
The Gadfly

Gadfly:

Much has already been written on this blog about both the quality of BPD as well as the known problems. Increased attention to anti-racist, less-violent, and non-punitive approaches will cost money. Unless we are suggesting a tax increase, shouldn’t funds for these improvements come from reductions in spending for the approaches that need to be changed.

Blowback from the so-called “defunding” proposals is to be expected, especially from those who have not encountered the problems or have other reasons for supporting the police no matter what. Read the following to see what happened when a series of what seem to be modest and reasonable steps were enacted in a city that already has a successful program of specially-trained paramedics to respond to mental-health-related situations.

Peter Crownfield

Austin City Council votes to cut police department budget by one-third.mainly through reorganizing some duties out from law enforcement oversight.” Texas Tribune, August 13, 2020.

The Austin City Council unanimously voted to cut its police department budget by $150 million on Thursday, after officers and the city’s top cop faced months of criticism over the killing of an unarmed Black and Hispanic man, the use of force against anti-police brutality protesters and the investigation of a demonstrator’s fatal shooting by another citizen.

Those criticisms coincided with protests across Texas and the country calling for reforms on police tactics and the “defunding” of law enforcement in favor of redistributing funds to social services and alternative public safety programs. The council’s move makes Austin the first of Texas’ four biggest cities to drastically cut police department funding. The share of the police department budget that was cut is among the largest percentage decreases in the nation this year.

These immediate cuts would include eliminating funding from three planned police cadet classes and reallocating funds to areas like violence prevention, food access and abortion access programs.

Another $80 million in police budget cuts would come from a yearlong process that will redistribute civilian functions like forensic sciences, support services and victims’ services out from under the police department and into other parts of city government. About $50 million would come from reallocating dollars to a “Reimagine Safety Fund” that would divert money toward “alternative forms of public safety and community support through the yearlong reimagining process.”

The council’s proposal also includes eliminating 150 vacant officer positions, so that the police department will begin fiscal year 2021 without any unfilled sworn positions.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that the council’s actions represent the triumph of political agendas over public safety, and vowed that the Texas Department of Public Safety will “stand in the gap” to protect Austin until the state Legislature can take up the issue next session.

“Austin’s decision puts the brave men and women of the Austin Police Department and their families at greater risk, and paves the way for lawlessness,” he said in a statement. “Public safety is job one, and Austin has abandoned that duty.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the Austin City Council’s decision to reduce the police department budget was a “political haymaker driven by the pressures of cancel culture” as Austin continues to combat violent crime.

“Unfortunately, the targets of this ‘cancelling’ are the brave men and women who selflessly put their lives on the line to keep our families safe,” he said in a statement. “The city council’s action to slash funding disregards the safety of our capital city, its citizens, and the many guests who frequent it.”

The Austin Police Association tweeted its opposition to the council’s plan.

“The council’s budget proposals continue to become more ridiculous and unsafe for Austinites,” the group tweeted. “They are going to ignore the majority who do not want the police defunded.”

The Austin City Council spent hours Wednesday listening to more than 200 speakers voice their opinions about cutting the police budget during its public comment period.

Sarah Hay, a District 10 resident, called in to express support for council member Greg Casar’s “Reimagine Public Safety” fund.

“Specifically, we support reimagining traffic safety and enforcement within this proposal,” she said. “We can easily divest over $18 million from traffic enforcement when most of these functions can be administered by unarmed civilians and is not required to be police work.”

But others said the council’s proposed plan to reduce the budget was not enough.

Two members of Undoing White Supremacy Austin, a local group that seeks to promote racial justice, read a testimony from Alicia Torres Don, an Austin resident who said she is concerned that the money from the police budget will not be redistributed quickly enough under the council’s plan.

City councils around the country have been voting to cut police department budgets, including Los Angeles, which voted to cut $150 million from its proposed $1.86 billion budget, and New York City, which slashed $1 billion from its nearly $6 billion budget. Portland’s mayor and school board said they would discontinue the presence of armed officers from local schools and reallocate the $1 million designated for these officers into the community.

from Jordan Smith, “Austin Police Budget Cuts Prompt Threats From State Officials | The Intercept, August 19, 2020.

“‘Reimagining public safety’ does not mean simply reorganizing departments or taking the same functions that APD currently performs and moving them, complete with their current staff and culture, to a civilian department,” the groups said in a joint statement. “When we say ‘reimagine public safety,’ it’s a step beyond defunding the police. It means imagining a world where we don’t rely on cops, cages, and other punitive approaches to keep us safe.”

Moore understands the frustration, but he believes Austin has taken a powerful step toward that future. “Either we ask for the big thing and we don’t get nothing and then we’re stuck in the same place, or we can start chomping away at the elephant one bite at a time,” he said. “I think we took a pretty good chunk out when council took the vote last week.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, state officials and other lawmakers from outside Austin were quick to decry the cuts and pledge legislative action against such “short-sighted efforts,” as a Dallas-area state senator put it. Gov. Greg Abbott pledged to have state police “stand in the gap” to protect the city, while George P. Bush, the elected state land commissioner, took to Twitter. He posted a video of a row of cars with broken windows in a parking garage downtown and implied that the vandalism had taken place the same night as the city council’s vote. “The need for police funding is as clear as ever,” he wrote. “This is a dangerous path to go down.”

The grandstanding was little more than transparent fearmongering. The city hasn’t cut any current positions, so there’s really no “gap” to stand in. Besides, the state police already play a big role in Austin, where they have jurisdiction over state property — including parking garages like the one where the vandalism Bush was decrying took place. State police said the vandalism actually happened on August 8, four days before the council vote, and was discovered during a routine patrol.

Moore is also ready to push forward. “I just hope we can try to break the barriers of everything that has been socialized within us so we can truly allow ourselves to imagine and get creative with things outside of boxes, outside of what the norm is, so we can come up with something pretty groovy,” he said. He notes that major shifts in U.S. history have been rife with uncertainty: abolishing slavery, women’s suffrage, desegregation. “We always had these assumptions that the most terrible thing was going to happen if we stopped doing the status quo,” he said. “Yes, there’s still oppression and people are still fighting … but because we’ve taken these big steps in history, it’s only made us better.”

What’s up in Allentown these days?

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Gadfly likes to keep an eye on what’s going on in Allentown. Been rocky there. But they have agreed to move forward to continue to talk about, to research some very significant issues.

Such as, for example, a citizen advisory board, availability of body camera footage, and, most importantly, in regard to what we’ve been discussing here on Gadfly lately, reconsidering how public safety is funded.

City of Allentown Resolution

from Andrew Wagaman, “Most of Allentown City Council supports latest resolution on police reforms. Here’s what it says.” Morning Call, August 11, 2020.

By voting for the resolution, council members voice support for:

  • Potentially creating a citizens advisory board for the police force.
  • Recommending the police department revise its use of force policy so officers are required to intervene to stop excessive use of force.
  • Prioritizing departmental spending on de-escalation training and implicit bias training.
  • A “public discussion” with city and police administrators on requiring police to present biannual performance reports to City Council on a variety of data, including use of force incidents.
  • Further consideration of legislation mandating community meetings following use of force incidents.

The updated resolution directs City Clerk Mike Hanlon to basically complete a research project by October on police reform efforts in Harrisburg related to:

  • Requiring body camera footage be made available to the public.
  • Requiring the state attorney general’s office or another third party to investigate all misuse of force allegations.
  • Requiring a shared statewide database of municipal use of force policies.
  • Banning stop and frisk and no knock warrants, and requiring statewide reporting of such incidents.

Next, the resolution authorizes city solicitor Matthew Kloiber and his staff to review — upon the subsequent request of at least two council members — the legality of:

  • Requiring the police department to place officers on administrative leave when they’re being investigated for misuse of force.
  • Punishing police officers, up to and including termination, for failing to use body cameras.

The final section of the updated resolution takes a different approach to reconsidering how public safety is funded.

Rather than specifically calling for the divestment of the police department’s budget, the updated resolution strives to tackle the broader issue of “priority budgeting and allocation of resources as they relate to community needs.” Council also promises to meet with “appropriate agencies and stakeholders” throughout the process.

“We’re all connected . . . You help me and I help you”

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Arts in Bethlehem logo

Gadfly proposes that we think of this song as a kind of anthem for the Lehigh Valley
and that we start every morning with it.

“Lehigh Valley be Free” is the work of the Lehigh Valley Song Project that premiered at Touchstone Theatre’s “Songs of Hope & Resistance” event on July 24.

———-

DONATE NOW to support the musicians, artists, and producers who made the
Lehigh Valley Song Project possible!

https://bit.ly/LVsongdonate

“Just like the bread we share . . . consciousness is rising too”

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Arts in Bethlehem logo

Gadfly proposes that we think of this song as a kind of anthem for the Lehigh Valley
and that we start every morning with it.

“Lehigh Valley be Free” is the work of the Lehigh Valley Song Project that premiered at Touchstone Theatre’s “Songs of Hope & Resistance” event on July 24.

———-

DONATE NOW to support the musicians, artists, and producers who made the
Lehigh Valley Song Project possible!

https://bit.ly/LVsongdonate

“Love we have to mention . . . The answer to all questions”

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Arts in Bethlehem logo

Gadfly proposes that we think of this song as a kind of anthem for the Lehigh Valley
and that we start every morning with it.

“Lehigh Valley be Free” is the work of the Lehigh Valley Song Project that premiered at Touchstone Theatre’s “Songs of Hope & Resistance” event on July 24.

———-

DONATE NOW to support the musicians, artists, and producers who made the
Lehigh Valley Song Project possible!

https://bit.ly/LVsongdonate

Important that elected officials don’t jump to conclusions and act without hearing from all sides

logo Latest in a series of posts about the Bethlehem Police logo

Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly,

I’ve been trying to keep up with all that is being written and said on this issue and how it relates to systemic racism in America. I’ve spoken with many people from a variety of backgrounds. My list of suggestions and observations is by no means complete. However, I believe there are some very fundamental steps that could be taken and explored. They are in no particular order.

Dana

Personally, I think there is too much rhetoric flying around and some people are not using common sense. Law enforcement is a necessity to maintain an orderly and safe society, period. So, calls to eliminate policing anywhere make no sense to me.

If I was the Mayor, I would be setting up community forums to receive commentary from all sides of the issue. I would make it as easy as possible for people to weigh in and would take steps to allow and encourage all voices to be heard so that the discourse is fair. Given the pandemic, these might need to be virtual meetings, but I think before anything is done we need to hear more from all corners of the city. Some residents and a business owner have expressed their concerns to me about retribution if they speak up in any way that might be construed as opposition to the current dialogue.

I don’t like the term defund because in my mind and for many others it has a negative connotation. I understand what is meant by it, but if this was a company trying to sell a product and they continually used terms that turned off their potential market and customers, their product wouldn’t sell. I think it frightens a lot of residents who recognize that we need law enforcement and that overall we have a pretty good PD in Bethlehem, but who also believe strongly in equal application of our laws.

That being said, I think we should always be looking for ways to improve the PD, especially in the area of relationships with all corners of our community.

More regular de-escalation training is a start. I don’t know the current frequency. I do believe that when any officer responds to a call their primary intent should be to maintain the peace. I also recognize that in some situations this may not be possible because of the heightened seriousness of a situation.

I think if there is a bad cop on the force, the process for removing them should be fair, yet swift.

If there is a way to mesh social services with law enforcement, I support that union in situations where it is applicable. Mental health issues have normally been the responsibility of state and county, so I’m not sure if cities have that capacity. I think it makes sense to hire police officers who also have a broader academic background such as in sociology as well as law enforcement. Perhaps degrees in criminal justice, of which I have no familiarity, need to incorporate a minor in sociology?

I think community policing has become a lost art in Bethlehem and would look to re-establish team policing and neighborhood bike patrols the way I remember and experienced them in the past. When the same officers worked in the same neighborhoods, they built relationships with residents and established a higher level of trust and respect between themselves and decent law-abiding citizens from all walks of life. A number of retired Bethlehem officers that I know feel those efforts achieved a great deal of success.

A former police officer has mentioned to me that the pressure-point training officers used to receive allowed them to better control a physical altercation. This would reduce the potential for the use of lethal force if that training was re-introduced and emphasized the way it apparently once was.

More minority hires would be helpful in law enforcement as I believe that a police force and the community are better served if they mirror each other in composition. From all I’ve read and been told law enforcement recruitment has become a challenge. What are those challenges, and how do you overcome them?

When I was hired by the city, all city employees including police had to be city residents. That was eliminated in 1988, so officers can now be hired from anywhere. Many new hires don’t have the in-place relationships with the community that generations of officers before them had. My personal preference would be to see some limits on where they must live, like in the city or in any municipality contiguous with the city as an example. This way they are more local and there’s a better chance for them to get to know the community than if they are living in the out-of-state or in the Poconos, as examples. I’m not sure how the FOP union feels about that, but I think it’s a discussion that should take place.

It’s my understanding that racial sensitivity training is already being done. Perhaps there can be more frequent or an updated method of training, if there are any alternative newer ways of looking at this. I feel very strongly as a lifetime resident of Bethlehem that my minority friends should be treated no differently than I would be, when interacting with a Bethlehem officer.

I’ve read that the school district and city are looking at whether school resource police officers are needed in our middle and high schools. The need for that has been raised by minority students. The data needs to be analyzed to see whether it’s effective or not

What I think is really important is that elected officials don’t jump to conclusions and act without hearing from all sides of the issue. Listening is critical.

We need to find the right balance between having effective law enforcement and meeting community needs and expectations. Knee-jerk reactions will not serve Bethlehem or any community well. The burden for achieving this doesn’t just fall on police; it falls on each of us because of the social contract we have in our free society.

 

Bad timing for Gadfly

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Yes, bad timing for Gadfly.

Tonight is the 3rd in the Bethlehem Area Public Library series “Dialogues on Racial Justice: An Introductory Workshop Series on Issues of Systemic Racism in the United States.

Same time as the long awaited Public Safety Committee meeting on the Bethlehem police use of force.

And tonight’s workshop subject?

You guessed it, “”Police Brutality: A Historic Perspective.”

Damnation. The perfect subject to be thinking about.

But this gives Gadfly a great opportunity to say again that one has to really admire the relevant educational programming coming out of BAPL.

And to give you an idea of the substantial impact this “Dialogues” series is having, I’d recommend taking a look at Hannah Provost’s article — “The Construction of Race and How Racism is Maintained: A Conversation Facilitated by Linda Wiggins-Chavis” — in “Southsider.” Yep, that there’s “our” Southside they’re talkin’ about in the title.

And while at “Southsider” be sure to browse around.

The site is stunningly beautiful and intellectually substantial. You’ll find a lot to like.

Gadfly found himself intrigued by Danny Digitall’s “Photography of Living Six-Feet-Apart.”

Enjoy!

Ochs on Citizen Review Boards

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Ever wonder about citizens involved in police misconduct matters?

Gadfly believes Allentown may be voting on a CRB tomorrow night. Will be interesting to see what happens there.

Gadfly was struck by such info on different forms of CRBs in the Rushin article discussed earlier: “Communities could elect civilians to a commission tasked with the creation of police disciplinary procedures, with recommendations from police management and union leaders. Communities could establish notice-and-comment procedures, similar to those employed by many administrative agencies, to promulgate disciplinary policies. Conversely, states could require communities to establish police disciplinary procedures in the same manner that they establish municipal ordinances—presumably through a public hearing and vote by local elected officials.”

Here are some notes by Prof Holona Ochs.

Ochs, Citizen Review Boards

Clips:

CRBs are committees charged with providing oversight of police compliance with the law and potentially offering transparency, accountability, and input regarding the administrative processes.

Members of the public cite the following potential benefits of citizen oversight:
(1) satisfy public concerns about the accountability of the police;
(2) reassurance that the appropriate discipline is implemented for misconduct;
(3) discourage police misconduct; and
(4) improvement in the public understanding of police work.

[There are] four models of citizen review boards that fall within the reactive approach.

The Collaborative Audit model [is a proactive model].

Effective procedures for public review of citizen complaints against the police require a fundamental shift in the traditional handling of citizen complaints, and a complaint process that makes consistent efforts to inform citizens of the review process and receive all complaints, that provides thorough and unbiased evaluations, and that is likewise subject to review is extremely difficult to establish and maintain.

CRBs should be structured to facilitate cooperation, and the results of the independent investigations should produce findings and recommendations that require a formal response from political and administrative authorities.

In order for CRBs to function as either a specific or general deterrent, the disposition would have to lead to discipline consistently to impact policing outcomes, and the extent to which the mechanisms of internal and external oversight provide consistent sources of management information determine whether or not oversight is mutually reinforcing or simply inefficient.

Citizen Review Boards (CRBs) tend to be reactively rather than proactively designed, which can lead to a backlash by police over time.

“Freedom from hunger . . . so all families can thrive”

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Arts in Bethlehem logo

Gadfly proposes that we think of this song as a kind of anthem for the Lehigh Valley
and that we start every morning with it.

A special tip o’ the hat to all the many organizations that our community has that are working to make sure everyone has access to healthy, abundant food.

“Lehigh Valley be Free” is the work of the Lehigh Valley Song Project that premiered at Touchstone Theatre’s “Songs of Hope & Resistance” event on July 24.

———-

DONATE NOW to support the musicians, artists, and producers who made the
Lehigh Valley Song Project possible!

https://bit.ly/LVsongdonate

Ochs: highlights from the Police documents

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Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday, August 11, 6PM: must register

Prof Holona Ochs:

Highlights from the BPD report (Mickel, Irons, & Strouse)

  • People of color make up 60-80% of incidents (compared to 44% of the city) and whites between 30-40% (compared to 60% of the city)
  • The single largest age range subject to use of force are 18-25 year-olds (an average of 37% of use of force incidents) . . . this range includes 18 and 19-year-old teenagers.
  • There are about 8-9 minors subject to force each year. In our view, subjecting minors to force is absolutely inexcusable.
  • BPD is quick to point out that incidents involving force are a small percentage of overall arrests. However, the majority of arrests in Bethlehem are for minor crimes like vandalism, drunkenness, and lesser offenses not even specifically named. Use of force in those incidents needs to be closely examined.
  • The Bethlehem Crime report revealed that 81% of Bethlehem cops are white men. (White men make up only about 30% of the Bethlehem population).
  • In addition, 70% of complaints to BPD are made by white people, which is again an overrepresentation. I recognize that it is less stark than the makeup of the police force, but it does speak to who feels that they have access to police as a safe service to call . . . and when viewed in combination with who is a police officer, this makes sense. ***
  • Bottom line: It’s white people calling a white police force, which overwhelmingly uses force on young brown and Black people.

*** Gadfly remembers a point made by Councilwoman Negron at last Council meeting, that the low number of Latinx complaints to the police department does not mean that all is good but that they are scared, do not trust the police. Real food for thought there.

Ochs graphs use of force incidents by reason

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Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday, August 11, 6PM: must register

Prof Holona Ochs:

This graph shows the purpose of the uses of force. It destroys the fallacy that police have to be forceful because their lives are at risk; instead it is most often just to make a successful arrest. In a context where Bethlehem primarily experiences nonviolent crime, one should question why police are using violence to complete their arrests of primarily nonviolent offenders.

It is also worth noting that the BPD use of force policy allows for very loose definitions of “threat,” and so the increase of using force to “defend” may be more about shifting ideas of what constitutes threat than a threat that you or I would define with all the facts in hand.

Ochs 4

Ochs graphs use of force incidents by race

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Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday, August 11, 6PM: must register

Gadfly’s been trying to cover a lot of context and background  for the meeting with the Police tomorrow night. Time, perhaps, to look at some of the documents provided for the meeting. Prof. Ochs is giving us some of her insights and that of her research team.


Prof Holona Ochs:

Ochs 1

Ochs 3

“We, as a community, need to imagine leadership differently”

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We, as a community, need to imagine leadership differently.

  • There is evidence that Black leadership can lead to more peaceful police-public relations.
  • There is also evidence demonstrating that women lead in the same ways and as well as men.
  • The inclusion of womxn in policing has a demonstrated effect on constructively addressing gender-based violence.
  • It is unconscionable that we do not have officers openly representing the LGBT+ community and no task force to assist officers as they try to improve their relations with the LGBT+ community as well.
  •  Addressing gender-based violence is inextricably linked to addressing white supremacy/misanthrophy.
  • Strong leadership is about active listening.

Prof Holona Ochs