What more could the Chief have done?

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It looked like that March 3 Public Safety Committee meeting was going to end with the police department and City Council butting heads.

The Chief said he issued directives on the 2018 marijuana ordinance, spoke at roll calls, spoke at platoon meetings, and etc., and felt that there was nothing more he could do to change officer minds, to make the numbers tell a different story.

But there was obvious sentiment from Councilfolk Reynolds, Van Wirt, and Waldron in particular that the Chief was the crux of the problem and that there was more that he could do as leader of the department.

What would that “more” be?

What if something like this happens in the future as we get into discussing the use-of-force directives and the Community Engagement Initiative?

There may come a time when we need to change officer minds.

What would we do?

We’d better be prepared.

Councilman Reynolds obliquely mentioned “tools” that the Chief might have.

To what was he referring?

Gadfly started to think of an analogous situation in his professional life.

The Freshman English (First-Year English) course at Lehigh U was a required course. It had about 40 sections. It had multiple teachers. Those teachers varied in their grading policies. Students were arbitrarily slotted into a section by the Registrar based on holes in their schedule. Students had no choice of section, thus no choice of grading standards.

How to be fair in such an arbitrary system, how to be fair to all students?

At one point in department history, we had “grading sessions.” All of us teachers would read the same student essay, give it a grade, then discuss how we arrived at that grade, trying to arrive at a consensus on the grade, on our standards.

Gadfly can vividly remember such a session in which the prof leading it spoke of a student essay that had been given an “A” as “the kind of writing that would make a yak wince”!

He was not very diplomatic.

Who can forget such articulation of the need to come together to arrive at some common standards to insure fairness for our students.

Was this called “norming”?

These sessions could be brutal. I remember being incensed as a full-of-piss-and-vinegar young Assistant Professor. Nobody was going to tell me what to do in my classroom, no sir. I mellowed.

But there was a need for fairness. And a need for our group to understand the need for balance between our independence and the good of the wider community.

And the way we did it was to come together and talk.

Can one imagine a group of police officers being presented with a scenario involving a small amount of marijuana — such as a traffic stop — and talking about what statute would be applied and why?

Perhaps these could be actual police reports with identifying data redacted.

The goal would not be to force behavior but to have peers work together to shape common standards.

City Council and the Police Chief discuss the city marijuana decriminalization ordinance (4)

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Marijuana Possession ordinance
Marijuana statistics
Marijuana Enforcement Policy March 11, 2020

The March 3 Public Safety Committee was courteous but tense.

Council was obviously frustrated that its progressive legislative move on the subject of small amounts of marijuana was somehow frustrated by Police practice.

Council members kept hitting the wall of the Chief’s belief that enforcement was in the hands of officer discretion and that he had no means or power to create change.

Fortunately, the meeting had a surprise happy ending. The Chief suggested that officers charge those caught with a small amount of marijuana under both the state law and the local ordinance — and the judge would sort things out at the hearing.

The Chief “buried the lead,” as President Waldron cracked. You could have saved us an hour if you had suggested this at the beginning, Councilman Reynolds said.

You could feel the meeting lighten up immediately. Here was an “out.”

The decision on enforcement was now “punted” to the magistrate.

And Council could review later in the fall to see how that was working out.

Crisis averted (for now).

Linked above are the original 2018 decriminalization ordinance, the statistics provided by the Chief (what do you see there?), and the actual police department directive on this what-we-might-call “compromise” new policy.

Not quite end of story.

Gadfly would like to go on one more step.

to be continued . . .

City Council and the Police Chief discuss the city marijuana decriminalization ordinance (3)

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Let’s move now to the conversation between President Waldron and Chief Diluzio at the March 3 Public Safety Committee meeting.

And let’s remember that we should be interested in the outcome regarding the marijuana ordinance in particular but also, more importantly now, in attuning ourselves to how interaction with police on a tricky issue works in anticipation of the upcoming Public Safety meeting responding to the George Floyd murder.

In this conversation, the Chief reiterates his belief that he can’t force his officers to use the city ordinance in the memorable “That’s like a totalitarian state. You don’t want your police like that.”

President Waldron asks two very important questions: what is the nature of the relationship between a Chief and a beat officer, and, thinking practically like a good Council president should, what can Council do to improve the situation?

President Waldron and Chief Diluzio

We have to have a lot of trust in the officers, said ARW, but we are looking at this in another way.  Officers use a lot of discretion in just about every interaction with the public. But, though we don’t know what the thought process is when faced with a decision about which ordinance to apply, this is certainly not what we on Council had hoped for. We would have hoped that every opportunity in Northampton County would have been met with the citation not the state law. And the question is why not? And the answer that we are hearing is fairness to people in the other county. The City wanted to make a progressive change, recognizing that there’s a sea-change in the country at large about marijuana and that Pennsylvania is a step behind. To which the Chief agreed that he believes in decriminalization and that he wishes the officers would use the local ordinance more, but he can’t change their minds and force them to. How to change the story that the numbers tell, the Chief asked? You just can’t order them to use the city ordinance. “That’s like a totalitarian state. You don’t want your police like that.” ARW asked about the relationship between a Chief and a beat officer — a Chief who says you should or must apply the local ordinance. What’s that conversation like, ARW asked? Wouldn’t the officers be following you and your leadership? “It isn’t that easy,” the Chief replied — I can’t tell them you will do this every time — every time is different, every case is different, every arrest is different. You have to let them use their discretion, their intelligence. The ordinance is not being used, but the officers do have a reason for not using it. Yes, ARW pointed out, the local ordinance is being used some times (19 out of 289) — if it were not used at all, the conversation would be totally different. Bottom line question for the Chief: is there anything Council can do to back up your wishes and to get the desired outcome we want? Trust the officers, the Chief replied. I stand behind them 100%, I do not look over their shoulders.

Gadfly would say that the answers to President Waldron’s two question are not satisfactory. The first question is really asking can’t you order the officer to do something. We are left with the feeling that an officer is pretty much left on his or her own. Hmmm. And the Chief again kind of throws up his hands in answer to the second question. Though, Gadfly must say teasingly, the Chief was playing possum, as they say, and does come up with a concrete suggestion for improving the situation, as we shall see.

to be continued . . .

City Council and the Police Chief discuss the City marijuana decriminalization ordinance (2)

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Gadfly kinda lost yesterday to his day job. He wanted to follow up on his Monday post and do a series of posts close together on the interesting Public Safety committee meeting March 3 concerning the police enforcement of our new summary offense marijuana ordinance.

That was an interesting meeting in itself because of the good comments by our Councilors. This was one of those meetings in which you can get a good sense of what each Councilor is made of, what makes them tick. There was good conversation.

But the meeting also now has heightened interest because of the scrutiny of police departments in the post-GeorgeFloyd era. In a sense, Council was calling the police department on the carpet for under-using the City ordinance, and we get an opportunity to see the police respond. In that respect, the March 3 meeting might foreshadow the upcoming (no date set yet) Public Safety meeting generated by the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith memo about use-of-force directives and a Community Engagement Initiative.

Remember from the last post that the decriminalized marijuana ordinance was only used by Bethlehem police in about 10% of the cases, thus subverting Council’s intent for the ordinance and creating unfairness compared to enforcement of the same violation on the Lehigh campus.

The Chief argued that he can’t control the officers out on the street, that the ordinance gave them discretion about which statute to use — harsh state or softer city — and that, though half the department believes in decriminalizing marijuana, almost all said it should be done by the state, and the current situation left them open to charges of bias.

We saw Councilman Reynolds pushing back on that, intimating without elaboration, that the Chief had tools at his disposal to foster more use of the City ordinance. Councilwoman Van Wirt goes much further down the road on this point, pretty clearly blaming the Chief in pretty direct and strong language for lack of leadership: They are not following what we enacted here because the tone is set by the leader.”

Lets listen in again.

Councilwoman Van Wirt and Chief Diluzio

Councilwoman Van Wirt began with a question, “Chief, do you believe officers’ own belief systems should enforce how they apply the law?” The Chief replied with a qualified yes and reiterated that in this instance we have given them discretion. PVW said we have given officers the excuse to follow two different laws. On the Westside (Lehigh County) they follow state law per Lehigh County D.A.s orders. But in Northampton County, “you [the officers] are very strongly encouraged by your Chief of Police, who sets the tone and leadership example for his policemen, to follow the will of City Council, who’s enacting the will of the people. . . . We have given them the ability and indeed the encouragement to use the decriminalization ordinance to apply the law over here. They are not going to get in trouble when they follow geographic boundaries.”  But, said PVW, assigning causation if not blame, “they are not following what we enacted here because the tone is set by the leader.” The Chief pushed back that he had talked with both D.A.s about our practice. In her second question, PVW then asked why we are applying the state ordinance to quantities less than 30 grams . There, she said, is the pivot point where we get unequal application of the law. PVW resisted the Pandora’s box argument the Chief has used to explain the difficulty the two different statutes have created. PVW said it’s clear what the law is on the west side of the Monocacy, and at the same time it is pretty clear what Council’s intent was on the east side. The Chief argued again that he could not order his guys to do something every time — they are not robots  — and that in some cases the officers will make a compassionate decision and throw the marijuana away. “I can not order everybody to do one thing.” PVW ended with “These numbers are telling a very troubling story about the use of the state ordinance especially when compared with what Judge Matos Gonzalez highlighted over at Lehigh University. . . . I hope you can understand why this Council is deeply concerned. . . . We’re not waiting for Harrisburg. We believe in local power. . . . I hope you can consider the will of Council. . . . This is unequal justice.”

Getting the picture? Our ordinance gives the officer discretion. The officers by-and-large are using that discretion to not apply the local ordinance and for an understandable if unwelcome reason. What to do if you are the frustrated City Council?

to be continued . . .

Police need to get to know the people in their community

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Gadfly’s been inviting stories about police/community relations as we approach a Public Safety Committee meeting on our use-of-force directives and a Community Engagement Initiative . . .

from Dana Grubb, “Racism: One man’s thoughts.” Bethlehem Press, June 30, 2020.

When he was only 4 years old, Frankie West’s parents decided to move their family north and ended up settling in Bethlehem. They had suffered one of the ultimate discriminatory experiences when, because of the color of their skin, they were refused admittance to the beach at Myrtle Beach, S.C. That was when they decided to move. West carries that scar deep inside and has only returned to Myrtle Beach once since, to watch his niece play basketball in a game at Coastal Carolina University.

West would attend Liberty HS, where he starred in basketball and football for the Hurricanes. He has worked with youth since, at both the Bethlehem and Easton Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as coached young people in basketball. He believes he may have been the first African-American assistant basketball coach at Liberty, serving under head coach Richie Wescoe from 1985 to 1987.

He has participated in Bethlehem’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Civil Rights March since he was a teenager, and today is the lead organizer for the event. That march ends in Martin Luther King Park on Bethlehem’s Southside, where he recently sat down to discuss the murder of George Floyd, racism, his experiences, recent protests for racial equality, and offered some thoughts on how to improve relationships between white people and African-Americans.

“My sadness is that two officers just stood there and did nothing,” West started out about Floyd’s murder. “That’s bull; you don’t see a cop doing that to a white man’s neck,” he said. “I watched it, shook my head, and said that’s not fair.”

“Some of them get a badge and they think now we’re in charge,” said West, adding that he’s not really had issues with the Bethlehem police. “We have had good police in Bethlehem and if they showed up at your door, you know you were in trouble with your parents, too.”

But, he did have an exchange with police on an occasion when he was walking back home from his job at the Easton Boys and Girls Club. He noticed one police car following him and before he knew it there were three. An officer stopped him wanting to know who he was and where he was going.

West said he questioned why the officers didn’t know him, since he was working with youth in their community. Things got a little testy with the officer, whom he felt was not being respectful.

The police need to work with the youth even more, West said, and they need to get to know the people in their community. They need to work harder at conveying the message, “If you need us we’ll be there” to the people in their community.

“Cops need to protect themselves, but they don’t need to kill people,” he finished his thought.

Regarding peaceful protests, West said, “We should keep protesting until we get the change.

“African-Americans are angry,” he said. “Where’s the change? It’s going to get worse if we don’t do something.” He respects the protesters, he said, but due to Covid-19, he has not joined them.

He said he laments the fact that nobody has come to Martin Luther King Park to protest.

“Why not here instead of at City Hall? The man who really fought for you is right there,” he said, motioning to the MLK Monument at the park. West said King wanted to do it the right way by obtaining equal rights for everyone.

As far as the violence and looting associated with some of the protesting, he wants to remain peaceful about bringing attention to the issues.

“Why are you screwing up your town?” he asked.

While some things have changed since Dr. King, West cautioned, “A hell of a lot of things need to change.”

He questions why more minority vendors aren’t seen at area festivals and events. More minority coaches are needed in scholastic sports, he said, and mentions his two mentors, Art Statum and Willie Howard.

“They said it like it is,” he said.

West remembers the ‘Brotherhood Club’ at Liberty and recalls that it was a great way for young African-Americans to learn more about people like Dr. King. He’d like to see something like that return.

He’d also like to see more interaction between the police and residents, noting that family dynamics have changed greatly since his time growing up in Marvine-Pembroke. He said he thinks police officers need better training for how to respond to different situations.

Finally, West said everyone needs to do a hard self-check.

“When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror ask yourself, ‘Am I prejudiced or am I real?’

“We want to be treated fair and honest,” he said. “Give us a chance.”

Gadfly says remember to support the Bethlehem Press!

City Council and the Police Chief discuss the city marijuana decriminalization ordinance (1)

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Gadfly is anxiously awaiting news of the Public Safety Committee meeting on the police department use of force directives and on a proposed Community Engagement Initiative.

But thinking of the upcoming meeting reminded him of a previous Public Safety meeting on March 3 about police department application of the relatively new city ordinance decriminalizing possession of a small amount of marijuana.

Bethlehem is one of 7 cities in the state to have a local summary offense ordinance that can be used in certain circumstances instead of the stiff state misdemeanor charge that can have severe and long-lasting consequences for someone caught with a small amount of marijuana.

Southside district judge Nancy Matos Gonzalez triggered the meeting by her concern about the difference between the way Lehigh students and Southsiders were being charged for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Gadfly shelved discussion of that meeting when the pandemic caused things to go to hell, but he returns to it now as we are thinking in great depth about the relationship between the police department and the community.

It turns out that, though City Council voted 7-0 in favor of the decriminalizing ordinance, the police department was only using it in about 10% of cases. Council wanted to know why.

It was a very interesting meeting, and Gadfly will spend 2-3 more posts on it.

Chief DiLuzio opened the meeting providing statistics that City Council asked for. Gadfly hopes to provide you with a full copy of those statistics, but the one that catches your attention right away is that in the period since the city ordinance was enacted there were 289 arrests for minor marijuana possession and in only 19 of those arrests was the city ordinance the charging statute — a pitiful 10%!

That was certainly not what City Council envisioned as the consequence of their ordinance.

Here’s the Chief.

Chief DiLuzio

The new City marijuana ordinance went into effect July 2018, and the Chief had statistics through January 2020 — about 1 1/2 year’s worth. There are between 150-200 minor marijuana possession charges a year on a force of 154 officers. The numbers show we are not actively pursuing marijuana arrests. Average of 1.1 arrests per officer per year. Charges usually are made related to something else, such as a traffic offense, or if they smell it and thus have an obligation to act. Lehigh University had only 5 such arrests during this time. During this period there were 289 total minor marijuana arrests: 270 charged to state law, 19 to the City ordinance. 127 arrests were made on the Southside, of which 9 were charged to the City ordinance. 47% of arrests were made on the Southside. The largest age group is 25-34. 71 arrested were black, 121 Hispanic.

Councilman Reynolds asked Councilwoman Negron to state the rationale for her ordinance and then probed for the reason why the city ordinance was not being used as it was imagined. First of all, the choice of whether to use state or city law was left to the discretion of the arresting officer. The Chief surveyed his department, found that about 50% of the officers were ok with the decriminalization ordinance but that almost all felt that such an act must come from the state and be universal in the state. Otherwise, they — the officers — were in a tricky middle ground where they could easily be accused of bias. The Chief seemed to feel that he was handcuffed (bad pun on Gadfly’s part) and couldn’t legislate officer behavior. Councilman Reynolds firmly but respectfully pushed back against that, feeling that the department could do more to foster use of the city ordinance.

It’s a good conversation. Listen in.

Councilman Reynolds and Councilwoman Negron and Chief Diluzio

Councilwoman Negron went over the rationale for the City ordinance. Councilman Reynolds asked the Chief to comment. “Is that a rationale that you agree with?” The Chief’s in the “middle of the bridge.” His “professional opinion” is that he’s ok with the officer using either option. His “personal opinion” based on extensive experience is that marijuana should be decriminalized but at the state level. The push has to come from Harrisburg. Right now the situation is creating problems for local police. He doesn’t want to see the police caught in a political issue. The Chief did a survey (117 of 154 officers responded) in the department, and there was a pretty even split — about 50% for decriminalization and 50% against (specifically, 44% yes to decriminalization — 56% no). The Chief describes the 6 question survey. For instance, 97% said the state should do the decriminalizing. They want the law to be universal across the state. The feeling is that it is not fair that people caught elsewhere get a stiffer penalty. The door is open, for instance, to somebody claiming I got a misdemeanor citation because I’m black, when a block away someone else — white –got a summary offense. Officers are afraid to use the city ordinance because they can be subject to a claim of bias. Nowadays anybody can make such a claim, and all of a sudden the officer’s name is splashed all over the papers. There are 7 cities in the state with a city ordinance. JWR indicated that in Phila, for instance, the number of uses of the state law went down because the Philly police took a strong view for the city ordinance. JWR asked directly whether the Chief sees a problem in the fact that the officers are choosing the state law 90% of the time. The Chief said that honestly he would like to see the city ordinance used more but that he is not out on the street when those decisions are made by his officers. Has the department considered changing the directives to make them stronger? The Chief said the factors for use of the City ordinance are already in the directives and that he has talked with the officers at roll call and platoon meetings. “It’s up to the officers to use this.” We are at the “stumbling block” of state v. city law. JWR intimated that there are “tools” the Chief as leader of the department could use, but he didn’t go further. JWR said when comparing with Lehigh, it’s hard not to see the “troublesome implication” there between what happens when you caught at Lehigh and a few blocks away in the city. The Chief said Lehigh is a different department serving a different community. The answer/solution to the disparity is a decision at the state level. JWR said he respects the Chief, but he thinks we could do more. JWR expressed his disappointment. The Chief said he can’t change the inner feelings of people or tell them how to do their job when they are on the street. The police can’t be robots. JWR: “I think we can do more. I think we can come up with stronger directives,” but he respects the job the Chief has to do.

to be continued . . .

Look what Minneapolis is proposing: a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention

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We have a Public Safety Committee meeting coming up to discuss Police department policies and the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith Community Engagement Initiative. ‘Tis being planned. No date announced yet. Or format. Councilman Colon chairs the committee, with Councilwomen Negron and Crampsie/Smith as members.

Gadfly’s excited.

He loves the idea of a community gathering. It’s a chance for us to talk, to exercise our citizenship, to influence local government policy, to have some input on the quality of our lives. “Good conversation builds community.”

He also likes planning. “Planning,” like “community,” is one of Gadfly’s aphrodisiac words. Planning is foreplay, a key step in the continuum of creativity, and creativity — bringing something to life that did not exist — is the quintessential human activity.

But at the moment Gadfly doesn’t know what to plan for.

Mainly because he doesn’t have a good grasp of the problem, if there is one, locally here between the police and our community, or with some segment of our community.

He has asked for stories. And he got one. And he hopes for more, many more. Please help him with that. For he feels that it is only on the basis of those stories that we will know what to plan for.

There might be problems more or less severe that need to be tended to. Or the murder of George Floyd just might be a ripe moment to reflect on and review what we are doing well under the headlight of the new ideas that problems elsewhere are shining on how police departments and local criminal justice systems do their work.

So while Gadfly treads water a bit waiting for that meeting to call us to order and to focus our attention, he pays attention to the more radical ideas percolating out there. He has called attention to Governor Cuomo’s plan for community engagement.

And here below is what is envisioned in Minneapolis — a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention — which, of course, may be no model for us because of the long history there of rupture between police and the community.

Note that the Minneapolis City Council has been hanging together with 12-0 votes and that in the envisioned new system the City Council manages the system. Which would mean the equivalent of 4-5 more sets of twins for our president Waldron.

Food for thought here.

from “City Council OKs charter amendment to remove Minneapolis Police Department.” Minneapolis Fox 9 News, June 27, 2020.

The Minneapolis City Council on Friday unanimously approved a proposed amendment would remove requirements for the city to maintain a police department from the city’s charter. The 12-0 vote is step toward putting the issue in front of Minneapolis voters on the November ballot.

Under the current charter language, the city council is required to fund a police force of a size proportionate to the city’s population. Changes being considered in the amendment would remove that requirement along with an entire section on the police department.

The proposal replaces that language with a new department: the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. It would be managed by the City Council, marking a key power shift for a council frustrated with limited authority.

“Using the bully pulpit, using the budget, using the chief’s appointment to try move things around a little bit, but I don’t think we’ve had the kind of policy-making participation that we should have,” said Council member Cam Gordon.

The changes also remove minimum officer requirements within the new community safety department, instead saying the council is responsible for “adequately funding” the replacement department.

Along with the department of community safety, the amendment would add a Division of Law Enforcement Services, which would be composed of “licensed peace officers” under the purview of the director of the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.

While the current charter language gives the mayor complete control over the police department, including hiring the chief, the new proposal would put the mayor in charge of nominating a director for the new department that would be appointed by the city council.

That person would be someone who has “non-law enforcement experience in community safety and violence prevention” which could include “public health and restorative justice approaches”

The appointed director would in turn choose the leader of the Law Enforcement Services Division.

Mayor Frey has previously shared that he does not support disbanding the police department – a stance which led to him being booed at a rally. After the vote Frey stood by his previous remarks saying he supports “deep structural reform” and “complete transformation” of the policing system. He criticized the amendment for lacking clarity moving forward.

“This amendment to our legal city charter does not provide clarity. There are more questions I have regarding this amendment than answers,” said Frey. “If this amendment passes will we still have police? If you vote for this, are you voting to abolish the police department? Or is this merely a cosmetic change where you add a bureaucratic layer, you change the name to peace officers and give them different uniforms?”

he Board of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis put out statement in response to the vote and criticized the amendment for lacking clarity.

“Public safety is a primary role of city government and the politicians in charge of the Minneapolis City Council are not putting the safety of residents and visitors to the city at the core of their actions. This charter amendment fails to clarify questions about what replaces the police department, how it will work, and what actual steps will be done to address and prevent crime.”

Bethlehem to review School Resource Officer program

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Everything dealing with the police is on the table in the post-George Floyd era. We’re looking at a meeting on a Community Engagement Initiative in the near future. It promises wide-ranging discussion.

Even School Resource Officers (SRO) are on the table, under the microscope.

Gadfly noted the review of the SRO program in Dr. Roy’s fine Op-Ed last week.

There were no police or SROs in Gadfly’s educational background.

In elementary school, Sister Helen Regina patrolled the halls, Bantam Weight champion of the North American Order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart. Given her diminutive height, she was perfectly positioned to use her pointer to poke boys in tender areas.

In high school, Father Alfred Monte patrolled the halls. He was rumored to have undergone torture in a Pacific theater POW camp, apparently a uniquely valuable experience for a Head Disciplinarian.

Gadfly watched himself.

But he has no experience with which to judge the impact of SROs on students of color in inner-city schools.

While reading the article below in today’s print Morning Call, his mind wandered to the presence of an officer at our City Council meetings and other places/occasions where there is a police presence.

Gadfly’s not sure how to think about this issue. Dr. Roy is listening to arguments against the program and will put in writing, for the first time, a statement of its purpose. Good. Gadfly would like to hear arguments on both sides in more detail. He knows there are teachers among his followers. He knows that there are parents of school-age children among his followers.

Feels like a subject on which good people can differ. But Dr. Roy (and the BASD board) will need to justify their position.

Probably a delicate writing assignment.

Thoughtful discussion invited.

from Jacqueline Palochko, “‘I’m listening to the argument that police don’t belong in schools’: Allentown and Bethlehem reconsider resource officers.” Morning Call, June 27, 2020.

For children growing up after the 1999 Columbine school shooting that left 13 people dead, seeing an armed officer patrolling the hallways is a common part of the school day.

Bethlehem Area students start encountering officers in school in sixth grade. All together, the district has seven school resource officers — two at Liberty High, and one at Freedom High and each of the four middle schools.

All seven wear a police uniform and carry a gun. And Superintendent Joseph Roy believes the officers, six of whom are employed by the city police department and one by Bethlehem Township, are the best of the best. After school, they coach basketball teams, organize clothing drives for students and run clubs.

“They do what you would want a [school resource officer] to do as far as being embedded in the school community and getting to know kids,” Roy said.

But as the nation examines police violence following the death of another unarmed black man by a white police officer, many districts are reconsidering the decision to put armed officers in schools.

“I’m listening to the argument that police don’t belong in schools,” Roy said. “For students coming from communities that don’t have the best relationship or the police aren’t viewed in a positive place, having a police officer in the school might not make them feel safer.”

The district will review the purpose of its school resource officer program, Roy said, and put that purpose in writing, which is something the district has never done.

It’s a shift in the conversation after 20 years of placing armed officers in schools to keep students safe from shootings. Now advocates and many students believe policing does not belong in schools and contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline, especially for Black and Hispanic children.

Allentown and Bethlehem, the Lehigh Valley’s two largest districts, have the highest percentage of students of color. In Allentown, more than 85% of its 17,000 students are Black or Hispanic, while more than half of Bethlehem’s 13,600 students are.

After Columbine, other Lehigh Valley districts added officers, some picking up the tab and some applying for grants to cover the costs. Bethlehem’s school resource officers were paid through a federal grant, but when the grant ended, the city and district split the tab. The district pays $400,000 for the six city officers.

Roy believes the solution of armed officers in schools is likely somewhere in the middle.

“You have to find that balance between the feeling of safety you want from an external intruder and then the internal school climate you want where kids feel comfortable and safe in school,” he said.

The state Education Department collects school safety data, including how many officers are posted at schools. For the 2018-19 school year, there were eight school police officers, 14 school resource officers and 65 security guards in Lehigh County schools. Northampton County schools had 31 school police officers, 11 school resource officers and 32 school security officers.

School police officers are typically those employed directly by a district, while school resource officers are usually from municipal departments. Unlike police officers, most security officers are unarmed.

Some districts, such as Easton Area and Northampton Area, operate their own police departments.

But after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis, was killed on May 25 when an officer pressed a knee into his neck for more than eight minutes, the conversation about police brutality spread to schools.

Several large districts, such as Seattle and Minneapolis, recently promised to end contracts with local police. On June 18, the American Federation of Teachers, one of the country’s largest teacher unions, passed a resolution calling for the separation of school safety and policing.

Some also argue that instead of officers, schools should employ more counselors to help students.

“When you have mental health issues and other social issues that would require counselors or therapists, is a school resource officer being a first responder for those instances?” he said. “Because if they are, then that’s maybe a problem.”

In Allentown, Dieruff High student Nasheera Brown, who organized Tuesday’s rally, said, “A lot of students feel they shouldn’t have to have police on their backs.”

Brown believes students should be disciplined for misbehaving in school, but minor incidents should not involve the police. She thinks that the district should also employ more staff members with a better understanding of Allentown students, most of whom live in poverty.

“We have some great leaders but some of our leaders don’t understand what we go through, and we need more understanding people to enforce positivity,” she said.

According to numbers the Allentown and Bethlehem districts provided to the state, 74 Allentown students and 95 Bethlehem Area students were arrested at school in 2018-19.

Bethlehem school Director Winston Alozie agrees with Roy’s call to review the school resource officer program.

“I want to make sure that teachers and administrators understand the roles of SROs because I feel like sometimes that area can get very gray very fast and maybe lead to situations that shouldn’t happen,” he said. “You don’t call an SRO if a kid isn’t listening to the teacher. That’s not an SRO call.”

Alozie said when he ran the Boys and Girls Club in South Side Bethlehem a few years ago, he heard students talking about an officer using a stun gun on a Freedom High student.

“I remember them talking about that and the indelible impact that was left on their memories,” he said. “As a school community, you need to ask how something like that can happen.”

Since the protests against police brutality started, including marches and rallies every week in the Lehigh Valley since late May, Roy has met with current and former students who told him they don’t think officers belong in schools.

Roy believes school resource officers should be used only for matters that school officials would call the police for, such as weapons in schools or assaults. They shouldn’t be pulled into theft and other cases that school officials can handle.

The argument students at Tuesday’s rally made was that when resource officers get too involved with enforcement, schools start to resemble prisons. And that’s the last message Roy and Parker want to relay.

“The possibility is always there when there is a police officer nearby that they get pulled into things that we wouldn’t otherwise be calling the police for,” Roy said. “If it’s a child that’s a Black or Latino child getting into the system, that’s not what we need.”

Crownfield trifecta on the police and community trust issue

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Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

ref: “Is the trust between police and community broken in Bethlehem?”

I still think the real question is still I posted as a comment on your ‘Now is the time for listening’ post: Why do we want to have a meeting instead of getting out and working with people one on one?” Or is real community engagement too much work?

ref: First-person testimony necessary

It would be illuminating to learn about people’s experiences — but what’s really needed is someone willing to listen. And willing to rethink things based on those people’s feelings and thoughts. (Not to learn facts so we or BPD can decide what’s right.)

ref: Rockwell revised 2020

Just to confirm that this is not just a joke — About 20 years ago, when I was involved in a community assessment in the ‘West End’ of Plainfield NJ, I heard one community leader ask a young Black man what he expected to be when he was 25. His answer was ‘dead’.

Peter

Trust between police and the community is not as strong as it could be or needs to be

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ref: “Is the trust between police and community broken in Bethlehem?”

Gadfly,

An African-American friend recently made the point that the police don’t know the people in the communities they’re serving. How can any relationship, let alone trust, be developed? He and I talked about this at length because years ago every cop seemed to know mostly everyone else, and vice versa.

Why isn’t this happening today?

Perhaps because Bethlehem cops all used to be Bethlehem residents. There were residency requirements for city employees up until 1989. A retired Bethlehem cop I spoke with also mentioned another reason for this happening. He feels our population is also more transient, so you don’t have time to develop any connections between law enforcement and residents.

In answer to your question, I think it depends on where you live in the city and what your experiences have been. That being said, I don’t think it’s as strong as it could be or needs to be. What is called community policing today isn’t as integrated into neighborhoods as the team policing of the past, nor as the prominence of sub-stations in various city neighborhoods used to be.

These community relationships need to be strengthened and that starts with honesty and openness, positive experiences between law enforcement and residents, and developing trust.

Anon.
The writer is known to Gadfly but prefers to remain anonymous.

First-person testimony necessary

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Gadfly wants to hear all that Councilwoman Negron hears.

Why in God’s good name would he want that?

For he has described her as a giant ear into which all the anguish of the Hispanic community pours. ***

Not so nice.

The reason he wants this crazy thing is because he needs data.

We will be talking about a Community Engagement Initiative because, so the proponents say, “a level of trust is still lacking” between the police department and the community — and for our purposes here, let’s focus on the Hispanic community that makes up about 30% of our population.

How is Gadfly — who is white, middle-class, old, sedentary, a Northsider, for whom the police are more or less invisible — how is this Gadfly to know how to feel about such an endeavor without data?

Data. Evidence. That proves there is a problem. That proves such an endeavor is necessary.

Yes, certainly hard data like number of citizen complaints, law suits, and police department discipline cases relating to racial issues.

But, yes, also — and what is more powerful to Gadfly — to what might be called soft data in the way of stories, personal accounts — first-person testimony.

The Community Engagement Initiative memo speaks of giving “louder voice to issues of injustice.”

Gadfly would like louder voice given to those who suffer injustice.

Let’s not talk of such serious issues as racism and discrimination and criminal justice reform in the abstract.

Where all this starts is with people in pain, in anger, in fear. Let’s make sure we hear them.

How are we to gauge if we have a problem, how are we to gauge the scope of the problem, how are we to gauge the nature of the problem without . . . testimony?

But how are we to get such first-hand testimony?

Members of minority communities are sometimes reluctant to come forward officially. Instead, they will pour into willing ears like Councilwoman Negron’s.

If you agree that such testimony is crucially important, help me — what are your ideas?

  • There may be letters, statements in the police department complaint file.
  • We could set up an open mic at a Public Safety meeting, such as was done at the 2016 NAACP forum, at which some stories reportedly did come out, though it would take great fortitude for most people to make such statements, naked in a sense, in a Liberty auditorium perhaps even in front of the police.
  • We could recommend the City hot line –610-865-7266 — on the Controller page, where people can report anonymously, or establish a hot line specifically for this purpose.

Or here’s another idea. Refer people with complaints over racial issues with the police to Gadfly, who will, all in confidence, interview them, log their accounts, and publish them anonymously.

Mrs. Gadfly just said that is one of the worst ideas she has ever heard.

She may be right.

Mrs. Gadfly didn’t raise six sons without some (un)common sense.

But, if there are problems that must be addressed, the real plight of real people, people who are our fellow residents as well as fellow human beings, is a powerful motivator for reform.

If there is a local Bethlehem problem, it is, frankly, not real for Gadfly yet, though it may be for others.

He sensed a problem in the way the Hayes St. case was handled, but he needs more.

Pass the word about the Gadfly suggestion if you think it makes any sense.

*** This Gadfly image of Councilwoman Negron deserves a treatment. Is there an artist out there, a caricaturist who would take a crack at Councilwoman Negron as a giant ear? Gene Mater, where are you?

Is the trust between police and community broken in Bethlehem?

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Gadfly listens to Governor Cuomo a lot.

In announcing a program for New York that might be a model or partial model for our Community Engagement Initiative, Cuomo says, “There is no trust between the community and the police.”

Is that true in Bethlehem? Or in parts of Bethlehem?

In a CNN interview Monday Cuomo said, “There’s been an international swell of outrage. . . . It’s not ‘Are the police right? Are the police wrong?’ Once the community stands up and says, ‘We don’t trust the police. We don’t respect this type of policing,’ the game is over because it’s a relationship. And the relationship is now breached, and it only takes one side of the relationship to say this relationship doesn’t work for me.”

In that same interview, Cuomo says, to make fundamental change “requires a united, consistent voice of outrage.”

Is there a sense of outrage in Bethlehem about local policing? Is it game over in Bethlehem?

So, where exactly are we in our thinking about the relationship between police and our community, or certain communities within our community?

The first question on which Gadfly would like to focus is “Is the trust between community and police broken in Bethlehem?”

What’s yours?

Gadfly forgot when he gave you homework last time that he has already written on this subject: “How would you characterize the relationship between the police and the community?”

“the perfect opportunity to ask bigger and deeper questions”

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Good article by Nate Jastrzemski in the print version of the Bethlehem Press this morning, and good not just because he found in ouroboros the absolutely perfect image for our life these days. Most days it simply feels like we are eating our own tails, doesn’t it? Gadfly couldn’t find Nate’s article online, so he typed most of it here for you.

The image of Bethlehem as “sitting quietly amid the tumult,” a Bethlehem “quiet and lucky,” a Bethlehem “fairly peaceful” evokes Gadfly’s fantasy image of beneficent and Rockwell 1caring small town police/community relations in our town captured in Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Runaway” painting. The way Gadfly would like to see it.

But “would it take only one incident [here] to light the fire?” Frankly, that’s what’s been on Gadfly’s mind as he recently wrote about what he will call for shorthand the “Hayes St. case,” the traffic stop of the Hispanic man.

from Nate Jastrzemski, A balance is needed: law enforcement and healthy living.” Bethlehem Press (print edition), June 24, 2020.

We now live in a world of pandemic and protests.

Together, they are an ouroboros of social anxiety, a circular inflammation of pain and loss, feeding each other and off each other. While we strive to keep ourselves healthy, the police work to keep us safe. But from what threats?

Worldwide protests demanding massive reforms in legislation and the daily practicalities of justice and law enforcement demand we ask bigger questions, and we fact is we are fairly helpless against the coronavirus, but over-reactive and violent policing is a manageable human, institutional failing.

Sitting quietly amid the tumult of neighboring East Coast metropolises, the Lehigh Valley, and Bethlehem in particular, has been blessed with small, peaceful demonstrations calling for reforms and solidarity. They have not been inflamed by bitter memories and pain from a local history of civilian deaths at the hands of police officers. But would it take only one incident to light the fire?

While supportive and appropriate [statements by the Mayor and the Chief], these messages did not address deeper systemic parts of our national conversation. They speak — importantly — of overcoming bigotry, but they do not speak of structural racism; of unequal housing, healthcare, employment and education and a national preference for spending on police departments over social programs.

When questioned about the feasibility or efficacy of defunding police — which does not mean eliminating them, but reallocation some of their resources toward other programs — no one [Mayor, Chief] answered. . . .

In fact, inquiries on this subject to police, administration official and several city council members, including President Adam Waldron, resulted in only a single response.

Councilwoman Olga Negron . . . likewise remained silent on the matter of defunding, but said of the Justice Policing Reform Act of 2020, “I’m so proud of our Senator Casey for joining the brave ones in the senate. It’s time for reform; it’s time to reflect, to speak up and change. Enough is enough. . . . It’s very clear that it took a BPD deadly raid to create change [in] the department, but that is far from saying we have a squeaky clean department. . . . Training is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Diversifying the police is a must, and community policing should be the number one priority of every police department. Creating transparency and accountability is is something easily said but not easily done. The fact that we have police body cameras as well as cameras on police cars is a good start, but what’s done with the footage is when the transparency and accountability really comes in.”

{The initiative by Councilpeople Reynolds and Crampsie Smith] may be the perfect opportunity to ask bigger and deeper questions.

As parts of our country cry out for justice and equality in televised bouts of demonstrators versus heavily armed police, Bethlehem is quiet and lucky. Perhaps now is a time for introspection, to analyze what other, less fortunate cities are doing correctly or incorrectly. Should we analyze the cultural, legislative or financial options of the police department before we join the daily headlines?

Bethlehem remains a fairly peaceful community, with little crime, despite our increasing use as a national delivery hub and waves of millions of visitors — in less fraught years. But with jobs down, businesses closing and people trapped at home for months on end, frustrations are high. Friction can start a fire.

City leaders agree we need to work together, but do they believe anything needs to change?

FOP president to Council: “If you want to work together to make our community even stronger, we’re here to work with you”

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Here is the second part of Bethlehem’s FOP president Officer William Audelo’s presentation at the beginning of the June16 City Council meeting. Find part one of the Officer’s talk here.

Read for yourself, and send comments. Gadfly will comment in a later post.

———-

“There is real racism in our country. We do not need to create events when it is actually occurring.  I know that our police as well as members of our city government must be held to a higher standard. The FOP is here for any conversation regarding inequality. Well before the murder of George Floyd we have worked with our community to build a better and stronger Bethlehem. We are proud to support our great NAACP personally and financially for years. I even spoke at this year’s Dr. King celebration. and I consider it one of my greatest honors as a police officer. Councilwoman Negron, you’ve come to me several times for feeding our seniors at the Hispanic Center, for donations to the Lynfield Public Housing Community Center. Councilman Colon, we’ve read Dr. Seuss to the amazing kids at Marvine Elementary for years, and we’ve seen firsthand the incredible work that school is doing for our young people. Councilman Callahan, when you asked if a police officer would compete in a boxing match to benefit at-risk youth and gun violence, I trained for three months before Covid-19 forced the event to be canceled. And the FOP doesn’t act just when people ask for help. This past winter Officer Shea, who will soon be a mother, met an African American woman who did not have a refrigerator but did have a list of health problems. The FOP purchased one for her and delivered it to her. I’m sure you didn’t read the press release, but that’s only because it was kept private. The females stated that her neighbors might not be as appreciative of the police, and she feared retribution. Last year we were dispatched to the Southside Little League garage because someone decided it was worth their time to vandalize the property. I got a call from the officer on the scene who said someone damaged the Little League’s stuff and the FOP is going to pay for it. I said ok, consider it done. And, again, you wouldn’t have known because we didn’t make it public. The money for these donations comes directly from the paychecks of your city police officers. This is not the police department; these are your police officers. Now I know there is a stigma in our minority communities with the police, just like I know there are social and economic injustices within our minority communities. Our officers can not come close to healing the pain caused by the murder of George Floyd. Nor can we take responsibility. We can’t change ________ about our city. We can’t change the fact that the majority of public housing is made up of a majority of our minority residents. Or the fact that an overwhelming number of our runaways are minorities. Ask Liberty High School for a breakdown of their expelled students by race. Your police officers are the band-aid of society. Councilwoman Van Wirt, last week you stated the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I can assure you that I’ve seen enough evil for several life-times. I’ve held your loved ones up as my partner cut the electrical cord, holding their lifeless body. I’ve performed CPR on a 20 -year-old female with a gunshot wound in her head. I knew I couldn’t save her. But I also knew that her family would want me to do everything I possibly could. I heard a 5-year-old boy describe his rape as being tickled, because a child doesn’t comprehend what’s happened to them. Your police carry the memories of these things every day of their lives. To the point where we seem to be unaffected by it because it has become our norm. And I hear from the naysayers, well, you signed up for this. No one’s forced me to be a cop, fair enough. I ____________ rape my mother, and it’s accepted by everybody in this room, then it’s just part of my job. And I still love my job. I can’t exactly start selling insurance after living this life. We’re blessed to have this police department we have. We’re blessed to have this city we live in. We’ve had your support in the past, and I’ll continue to try and earn it. I can’t promise you perfection. At the end of the day we’re just imperfect people like everyone else. But if you want to work together to make our community even stronger, we’re here to work with you. The people in this room might not be able to change the country, but we can be an example for other communities. Hard work and a reasonable amount of hope can accomplish great things. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you here tonight. . . . Thank you generally to you all for letting me be here with you and speaking tonight, and please know you can reach out to me at any time, and we might disagree, we might, but I’m absolutely dedicated to working with you for whatever issue we can resolve. Thank you.” 

“This guy just doesn’t get it”

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Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.

Gadfly,

You raise important questions. You are also kind for not pointing out the parts of Mr. Audelo’s comments that I personally found offensive and insensitive, such as referencing charitable work by the BPD as evidence that there are not significant problems of racism and racial insensitivity in the BPD, and referencing the prevalence of crime in areas where low-income POC live as a reason justifying why police officers might engage in behavior that some of us think looks a lot like racial profiling. And what precisely is so ironic about the “Brown and White” newspaper covering a story on what you are referring to as racial insensitivity? But setting all that aside, I am mostly writing to say that I don’t think everything problematic about the incident Mr. Audelo was discussing is available on the bodycam footage. In particular, I recall the aggressive refusal of the police officer to take the operator back to his car after wrongly accusing him of evading an immigration warrant, and consequently dragging him into the police station. I’m really happy I was not someone who actually needed the help of the police while they were so diligently working to root out illegal immigrants in my community.

More generally, the defensive nature of Mr. Audelo’s comments are precisely what makes people like me — who are not the victims of police violence and insensitivity no matter how many times we roll through stop signs — think there is something wrong with how we accomplish public safety in this country. Why would someone have any reason to come forward to report an instance of insensitivity or profiling if there is such a refusal to acknowledge the problem? It’s hard for me to watch this and think anything except, “this guy just doesn’t get it.” I’m grateful to all the officers who treat people better than the operator claims he was treated, and I think all those officers would be better served by a discussion of this that didn’t just attack others for lying and then ask us to trust that he is telling the truth even though we can’t see any of the evidence. How about submitting the bodycam footage to an independent panel comprised of people who we can trust are genuinely interested in the treatment of people of color? The words of Mr. Audelo — whose job it is to protect police officers — hardly counts as the kind of independence called for in these and similar situations. His reaction is just confirming the nature of the problem we have here in Bethlehem. I hope ALL of our elected officials are starting to see it, and that they will also start to think about what they can do to listen to the people who have something to lose in talking about it.

The FOP president defends his officer

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“Marijuana mayhem: Bethlehem struggles with decriminalization implementation,” Brown and White, Lehigh University, February 23/March 4, 2020.

Officer William Audelo, head of the Bethlehem Fraternal Order of Police, addressed City Council at the beginning of the June 16, 2020, meeting.

Audelo’s 9-minute address was very forceful. You must listen.

Audelo’s address was broken into two parts: 1) a specific response to the possibility that there was a racial issue surrounding a traffic stop, and 2) a general response to the quality of the relationship between the police department and the community.

Gadfly would like to look at each part individually, beginning with the approximately 4-5 minutes addressing the traffic stop. He will look at the other part in a subsequent post.

———-

Officer Audelo said he was responding to June 3 allegations of racial profiling (physical and verbal misconduct) by Councilwomen Van Wirt and Negron about a September 11, 2019, traffic stop of an Hispanic man at 6th and Hayes. Followers will recognize that Gadfly has been troubled about the way this stop was handled and has written extensively about it (go to Police under Topics on the right-hand sidebar and scroll back to February and March). Officer Audelo referenced the Lehigh University Brown and White article of February 23/March 4 linked above as the source of the public controversy over this event.

Almost all the material in the Brown and White article is familiar to Gadfly and has been reported to you here in the past. Except a quote attributed to the operator: “(The officer) was aggressive and rough with me,” [the operator] said. “I was thinking of my son, I was thinking of my wife . . . I’ve never had any situation with any police officer, never been in any trouble here. It was a very bad experience.” I don’t remember seeing that quote before, and the Brown and White does not give its source. (Parenthetically, would you agree that we’ve heard these words dozens of times in reports of minority residents stopped by police?)

Let’s listen. You must listen. Gadfly says always go to the primary source. Form your own opinion.

“I am here today to say publicly that the allegations concocted by this male are not only false but a work of fiction. The Brown and White article . . . was based on a lie. An article on the world being flat would have been more accurate than the account between that gentleman and our officer. The insinuation that the traffic stop was based on the male’s race was absurd. The officer was parked monitoring an intersection from about seventy-five yards away with no street lights. When the male very clearly drew (?) through the stop sign, it would have been impossible for anyone to determine the race of the driver. I understand that those who rallied to the gentleman’s story had their hearts in the right place. But they were duped. In fact, the most serious policy violation was when the officer offered to park the man’s vehicle so it would not be towed. The officer did park the male’s vehicle — I don’t believe anyone here would like to see him punished for it. The male who lives in West Bethlehem told the officer he was just going for a drive and for some reason just decided to drive the back streets of the Yosko Park area, one of our highest crime areas, with burnt blunts under his seat. During the interaction the officer was alerted to an immigration warrant for someone with the male’s name and even the same scar on his wrist. During the entire interaction between the police and the male, the officer was professional, polite, and treated the male with the same dignity and respect that I would expect my family to be treated with. This allegation came as a surprise to many of us because the involved officer is one of our finest. The officer just finished three months of field training with one of our newest hires, who was a proud Puerto Rican born American. And I am aware what occurred during this training because I was the training sergeant responsible. . . . When the involved officer was hired, he was also trained by a minority. I know for a fact that he was trained to respect every one of our residents because I trained him. And, you see, I’m the first-born son of a man who came to this country illegally from Mexico. . . . I know what it means to come from nothing, and I know never to underestimate the struggles of a stranger. For these reason I find myself so angry that the man would fabricate this story and pass it off as true. . . . Personally, I believe the man should be arrested for false reports to law enforcement. There is overwhelming evidence to convict him. I can assure you that if this was another person that did not have the political backing and proceeded to accuse someone of a crime, there would have been charges. Tonight I respectfully request that we work together to rectify this situation. As you know, police officers in our city wear body cameras as well as dash cams. While I don’t have the authority to release the footage, I can assure you any concerns regarding the incident can be found in the footage. If you have the opportunity to watch the video and find no issues with the officer’s conduct, I ask that you publicly rescind the allegations of racial profiling by the officer. I ask that you condemn the man who made the allegation.”

Let me make two preliminary observations:

  • To Gadfly, the issue was never racial profiling but “racial insensitivity.” Not using race as a pretext for making a stop but racially insensitive behavior during the stop. Officer Audelo addresses both profiling and insensitivity, but to Gadfly the latter possibility was the key one.
  • Officer Audelo indicates the operator has made charges and allegations and wishes him condemned for lying and fabrication. Gadfly is not aware that it is so that the operator has made charges and allegations. As far as Gadfly knows, this situation became public only after the operator talked to the judge who then discussed it with the arresting officer — and this was approximately six weeks after the incident. As far as Gadfly knows, the operator never made a direct charge or allegation. Since the City shut down inquiry, Gadfly can not even be sure that the operator was interviewed as a result of the internal investigation. If the operator himself made charges and allegations, when and where did they occur? The judge, however, did make a formal complaint against the officers. That’s the judge who did that not the operator and not even on the operator’s behalf. But Officer Audelo is not aiming his condemnation at the judge. But even in his complaint letter to the Mayor of December 20, the judge is measured in his approach, saying he’s “not in a position to verify whether this officer engaged in racial profiling or ethnic intimidation.” Gadfly is quite troubled by what seems to him to be misfiring by Officer Audelo and would like to be straightened out.

Now, to make a long story short (or try to), the key point in Officer Audelo’s statement is his claim of what can be found in the videos: “I can assure you any concerns regarding the incident can be [resolved] in the footage.” 

Videos we can’t see.

Everything else is beside the point. Officer Audelo’s comments on the officer’s past record and his prior training mean nothing to the resolution of the controversy here. Officer Audelo’s comments on his personal and family history mean nothing to the resolution of the controversy here.

All beside the point.

Blowin’ smoke.

Resolution rests on the videos. That simple.

Precisely the point of Councilwoman Negron’s comments at Tuesday’s Council meeting and explored in Gadfly’s previous post.

Let’s look at key points the videos might/would resolve:

  • The operator says he was on New St. when he noticed he was being followed by police, causing him to detour a bit into a high crime area. Officer Audelo says the arresting officer was parked “monitoring” an intersection. Who is right? Were there cameras on?
  • The operator says, “(The officer) was aggressive and rough with me.” Officer Audelo says, “the officer was professional, polite, and treated the male with the same dignity and respect that I would expect my family to be treated with.” Let’s see the tape, and we’ll make our own judgments.
  • Officer Audelo says the operator has the “same scar” as on the immigration warrant. Gadfly was led to believe the operator had no scar. Let’s see the tape in which the officer verified the scar. We should be able to see the scar.
  • The operator indicated that he didn’t give consent for the search. The police report describes a “consent search.” Let’s see that interaction. Gadfly understands (he just plays a lawyer on the blog!) that there are certain conditions that permit a search. Let’s see the reason given for the request to search. There is none on the police report.
  • Did the officer park the operator’s car? There’s disagreement on that. Let’s see the tape.

“Tonight I respectfully request that we work together to rectify this situation” of a false report against a police officer, says Officer Audelo.

How in god’s good name can Officer Audelo expect that to happen without the video evidence that he sees but City Council can’t.

Doesn’t make sense.

Officer Audelo, respectfully, you don’t make good sense here.

Do you not see the problem too?

Councilwoman Negron has said she would apologize for doubting. Gadfly has said that too. He bets even the judge would jump on the apology train.

And we would take the operator behind the barn and verbally thrash him.

If video evidence showed proper police behavior.

Something has to be done.

As indicated above, Gadfly will comment on the rest of Officer Audelo’s address in a subsequent post.

Some further questions about the use of force policy

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Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Paul Muschick, “Amid calls for police reform, Bethlehem police went beyond call of duty.” Morning Call, June 19, 2020.

Gadfly:

Kudos to BPD for releasing this! [The use of force policy] As I said before, it is, in my opinion, better than some others I have seen. It does however raise some questions.

The document lists chemical weapons, impact weapons, and electronic control devices as “intermediate weapons” in the continuum, but while these are usually not lethal, all can be lethal for some people under some conditions. There are many documented cases of serious injury from “less-lethal” weapons tear gas & pepper spray, from “flash-bang” devices, and from tasers

It’s not clear from this document whether BPD has or is prepared to use “rubber bullets” that we have seen used this month by police in some cities. (These are usually steel coated with rubber or plastic.) These too have caused many serious injuries (such as permanent blindness and brain injury) and some fatalities.

I won’t go into detail here, but I assume all officers are trained to recognize how these “less-lethal” weapons can in fact cause permanent and sometimes fatal injury even if used properly.

There is also the question as to when some provisions are added. BPD should also release the previous version and show when it was modified.

Peter

Regarding the last point, this is the second time Peter has made it. What is he getting at? The Muschick article linked above says the policies are reviewed annually.

“Communication doesn’t seem to be as important as it really should”

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Gadfly loves your voices.

An important thing that Gadfly has tried to do is amplify and disseminate citizen comments, to give them more “hang time,” and thereby to provide models of participation, encouraging others to civic engagement.

In that respect, one of the casualties of the pandemic has been the shrinkage of citizen comment at City Council meetings. Council has provided us with the means to comment, but the numbers have dwindled.

But Gadfly would call your attention to the comments of Greg Zahm at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Please listen to the recording; don’t just scan Gadfly’s summary text. Hear the voice of the thoughtful, concerned resident. Gadfly misses being able to take and post close-up videos of such presentations to enhance the impact of such words on us.

1) Mr. Zahm asked the 6 questions that he asked of the Mayor and Council in a letter of June 3, a letter, he said, that has not been answered:

1) What are we doing in our city to insure justice, care, and protection of and from Ben Franklin’s “unaffected” — mentioned by Mayor Donchez — for our affected brothers and sisters who still suffer with incredible resilience?

2) What changes have been instituted since the last time we met after the violent death of a black man at the hands of the police in America?

3) What leadership messages are we sending based on our actions within and based on our direct communications with the outside, my point being that I really feel like communication is lacking?

4) Will you ask the affected what they need?

5) Will you identify the affected directly? As far as I am aware, they remain unnamed.

6) So what changes do the City leadership recommend now on behalf of our very diverse family? And when will leadership speak with all of its people? . . . Something should have been said to the public much more broadly and loudly. I get the feeling the City has not expressed urgency on behalf of a large part of our family.

2) “Why were Councilman Colon and Councilwoman Negron not a party to that June 9 memo [of Councilmembers Reynolds and Crampsie Smith]? That’s a little shocking to me. Hopefully they were, but I’d like to hear that. Why doesn’t Council already have the requested information? Why is that information not already available to the public?”

3) “What does the City leadership have to say in response to the Bethlehem Gadfly post of Lehigh’s Ms. Breena Holland? She asked numerous questions regarding the treatment of Bethlehem citizens. I’d like to hear those questions answered publicly.”

4) “I’d like to know what minority candidates were considered for those positions [up for appointment at the meeting]. If for privacy reasons you can’t say who, of course, well how many were considered? How many resumes were received? I think this is a real serious issue. And how are they solicited resumes? And should these methods be reconsidered?”

“So ultimately probably the theme of this is communication. I’m really kind of stunned that while things are unfolding and still are that communication really doesn’t seem to be as important as it really should.”

Lot to chew on here from Mr. Zahm. As Gadfly said at the June 3 Council meeting, Mayor Donchez has a quiet style, he’s a quiet leader, but if too quiet, that can feel like non-leadership. Gadfly has several times expressed the wish that the Mayor would “step out” more — ha! Gadfly better watch what he wishes for! The issue of candidates for committees was raised vigorously by Councilwoman Van Wirt at the meeting, so look for a later post on that. Related to that issue, Gadfly has been thinking about the 2021 elections and hoping for minority candidates. “Communication” = same root word as “community,” Gadfly’s aphrodisiac word. Good stuff here.

Should the public have access to police body cam and dashboard cam footage?

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

Under new business at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilwoman Negron asked this interesting question related to the ongoing discussion of police procedures in the wake of the shootings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. The Mayor promised a response to Councilwoman Negron the following day. Gadfly hopes she will share it with us.

  • We’ve had improvements with cameras, both dashboard and body cams.
  • But how is that really helping the citizens?
  • Is there a process by which a citizen can request the footage when they have been stopped?
  • I would like to see the footage of a few individuals who have been stopped and told me bad stories.
  • If what I have been told is a lie, I would be the first to apologize.
  • But I have heard too many stories otherwise, and we need a mechanism, a right-to-know request or something, that would be a better fix for both the officer and the subject.
  • Just like we can request a police report for a car accident, we need to be able to request the footage.
  • As a Councilperson, I hear stories, and I would like to see if what the people are saying is true. It would hold them accountable. Are they lying to me? It would hold the officer accountable too.

Gadfly finds this question of access to police videos very interesting.

Councilwoman Negron hears a lot of stories about police/resident interaction. She’s trusted. Gadfly imagines her as a giant ear into which all of the anguish on the Southside pours. Not an enviable position.

It probably does not surprise you that Gadfly hears a decent amount about police/resident interaction too. Comes with the territory. But the stories kind of paralyze him. The people will not come forward. What do they expect him to do? Publishing one side of an event makes him feel very uneasy. And, frankly, he leans toward trusting the police.

As followers might remember, Gadfly did get his shorts in a bunch over the traffic stop of an Hispanic man on September 11, 2019, at 6th and Hayes — a stop that made blog news in February and March after the arresting officer felt that the local judge was accusing him of being a racist. One thing that bothered Gadfly was what seemed to be the Chief’s premature action in supporting the officer without interaction with the complainant (who was not the subject of the stop) and, in return, accusing the complainant of unethical behavior to his superior.  It turned out that significantly later the officer was cleared in an internal investigation based mainly on camera evidence. The question naturally and logically followed about why the Chief did not cite that camera footage immediately to the local judge and his superior, offer to review it, and have a conversation about whether there was any racially insensitive behavior on the part of the officer — and thus perhaps totally avoid the ugly brouhaha that ensued. It seemed like a game of I have the evidence, you don’t, and I’m not going to show it to you. Fair? It may be beside the point now, but the letter about this matter hand-delivered by the judge/complainant to the Mayor and City Council on December 23, 2019, has, as far as Gadfly knows, not received either acknowledgment or response.

Relative to Councilwoman Negron’s point, there was camera footage, and it was only available to one side.

Now at the very beginning of the Tuesday City Council meeting, Officer William Audelo made a long and passionate statement. Gadfly will post about this shortly. Gadfly is not quite sure at this time if Officer Audelo was referring to the same case mentioned above, but he was angry and frustrated at allegations against an officer. Gadfly needs to and will refresh himself on the Officer’s statement, as well as provide it to you for your own judgment, but, as he remembers it, Officer Audelo says he has seen video and if we could see the video we would see how wrong the charges are.

Yes. Councilwoman Negron’s point exactly. And Gadfly agrees with her that he would be the first one to say sorry and even do penance (Catholic upbringing!) if shown that evidence so compelling to others. But, cloaked in secrecy as the handling of that case was, there was no closure. There could be no trust.

Is there a fair way to stop this game of we’ve got the evidence and you don’t? This game of “Trust us.”

Good question, Councilwoman.

to be continued . . .

Bethlehem, first Lehigh Valley city to post police use-of-force policy

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

Memo to Councilpersons Reynolds and Crampsie Smith
BPD-Directive-3-1-1-Use-of-Force

We knew this already. Gadfly will be posting more on this topic from Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

from Christina Tatu, “Bethlehem Police Department becomes first in Lehigh Valley to release its full use-of-force policy.” Morning Call, June17, 2020.

Bethlehem took the unusual step of posting on its website an unredacted version of the police department’s use-of-force policy Wednesday, becoming the first of the Lehigh Valley’s cities to do so.

The city released the 12-page policy a week after police Chief Mark DiLuzio provided a heavily redacted version to The Morning Call. He said then that making the full policy public “would compromise the safety of individual officers and the public and make it easier for criminals to elude prosecution.”

The city released the policy along with a response to a memo Councilman J. William Reynolds and Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith sent to DiLuzio last week, asking for details about the use-of-force policy and officer training requirements.

Reynolds and Crampsie Smith also have proposed a community engagement initiative involving residents, police officers, school representatives and social justice organizations.

“Up until this point, no one really asked for the policy,” DiLuzio said Wednesday. “It was always there. We have hundreds of policies. It’s a good use-of-force policy. We update it every year.”

In the memo, DiLuzio, Deputy Chief Scott Meixell and Mayor Robert Donchez acknowledged that while no policy is perfect, they believe the department’s use-of-force policy exceeds standards.

It already includes the recommendations in the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign, which are points reformers have asked departments across the country to adopt, including: banning chokeholds, requiring de-escalation techniques, warning suspects before firing, using alternatives to guns, and requiring officers to intervene when force is inappropriately applied.

Bethlehem’s policy instructs officers to use “the amount of force that is necessary and reasonable to effect the arrest.” It notes that in some cases, a tactical retreat may be a better option.

“It is not the intent of this policy to require officers to attempt to exhaust each force level before moving to the next so long as the level of force used is necessary and reasonable under the circumstances,” it reads.

An officer should consider deadly force, the policy says, only when it’s reasonable to believe it is necessary to protect an officer or another person from imminent danger or death. It says imminent danger may exist when an officer has “probable cause to believe” a suspect has a weapon. The policy notes, “A subject may pose an imminent danger even if he is not at that very moment pointing a weapon at the officer.”

It explains that among the things officers have to consider before using force — such as a gun or Taser, chemical agents like tear gas, or a K-9 — are: the seriousness of the crime; the subject’s age, size, weight, medical condition and mental state; and whether the subject can be recaptured at a later time.

Officers are not permitted to use deadly force if there is a reasonable alternative that will avert the danger. They also can’t use it to subdue someone whose actions are only destructive to property or only injurious to themselves.

In Bethlehem, officers are responsible to speak up if they see a fellow officer violating the use-of-force policy, and they are required to intervene to keep an officer from misapplying force.

In the redacted version Bethlehem police provided last week, sections were blacked out on justification for use of force, the use-of-force model, levels of resistance and control, use-of-force considerations, use of deadly force and restrictions on use of deadly force — seven of the report’s 10 sections.

Reynolds thanked DiLuzio and the city’s administration during a City Council meeting Tuesday night for sharing the department’s use-of-force policy.

“I do think this is the time for a much bigger conversation,” Reynolds said, adding that he and Crampsie Smith have heard from people in the community asking for a public conversation about local policing and how to prevent issues of racial discrimination.

Councilman Michael Colon is organizing a forum for the city’s next Public Safety Committee meeting. The event will be held at Liberty High School, but a date has yet to be chosen, he said. It will likely be held within the next two weeks.

Esther Lee, the longtime president of the Bethlehem NAACP, said she had not personally been informed of the meeting but that her group, at the recommendation of the National NAACP, set up its own meeting with city officials and police officers earlier this week.

Council follows up on the Mayor’s report

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

The Mayor’s response to the R/CS memo at City Council last night generated this response from Council members. The Chief again feels confident in his department policies, reiterates belief that the criminal justice system needs reform, is all-in to cooperate with Council, and affirms getting back to community policing.

Councilman Reynolds elaborates a bit on the Community Engagement Initiative and distinguishes it from the just previously announced Citizen Advisory Committee with the NAACP.

Chief Diluzio (min. 0:30):

  • Most of the stuff we already do.
  • Everything is documented.
  • Do we have issues, and can reform help us? I think reform can help every police department in the country. Criminal justice reform can go around this country and we need it.
  • We have an out-dated criminal justice system.
  • Is there racism in it? Yeah, there is also racism in every type of occupation.
  • If we’re going to do this, let’s do it correctly. Let’s put everything on the table. And let’s look at it and do it right.
  • The 8 things in 8 Can’t wait — honestly, I support all of them.

Councilman Reynolds (min 3:30):

  • I’m happy to hear that the Mayor talked about his advisory council, but I do think that this is time for a much bigger conversation.
  • The idea of the Community Engagement initiative is that we need to expand these conversations.
  • What we’re hearing  . . . is that people want a public space for this conversation . . . a consistent public space for discussion and action items on systemic racism, discrimination, and social justice.
  • We also need to have discussion about prioritization of the allocation of resources within the police department.
  • [prior plan to take one police slot and use that money for community engagement]
  • We need to listen, we need to provide space for the different groups in our community to have that opportunity for discussion.
  • I also think there should be some public conversation within this initiative about organizing these non-enforcement events in neighborhood communities.
  • I’m not sure . . . that everybody in the police department buys into the values of these non-enforcement, trust-building activities.
  • Not only could you, but you should have employees in your police department that are not traditional police officers.
  • We need to look at how we are organizing law enforcement.
  • I think it’s more powerful if we have monthly, regular get-togethers . . . not just the leadership, the rank-and-file.
  • The power that we have in City Council is to help set the structure and space in which these groups have a voice, and that’s what the Community Engagement Initiative is about.
  • [Look for a resolution at the upcoming Public Safety meeting.]
  • We’re the ones who set the budget, we’re the ones who allocate the resources . . . and there is a lot of room here . . . for discussion about how we are spending this money.

Chief DiLuzio (min. 9:36):

  • I think community policing is very important. Community policing . . . is what we should be getting back to in this country.
  • Police, social services — everyone needs to be involved.

Councilman Reynolds:

  • It’s not just the idea of community policing, though, it’s also about teaching our police officers about the intersection of all of these different issues.
  • Part of the challenge is getting buy-in from everybody in our police department.

Councilwoman Crampsie Smith (min. 11:00):

  • I’ve seen how policing has evolved . . . My dad was a true community police officer . . . Those days are gone in many ways. And we really need to get back to some level of community policing.
  • The people of Bethlehem have spoken . . . We need change.
  • [converses with the Chief on the force directives: choke holds, duty to intervene, training]
  • Systemic racism does exist.
  •  . . . giving the community a voice, because that is the right and necessary thing to do.

Councilwoman Van Wirt (min. 25:15):

  • How is the Civil Service Board involved in complaints a gains officers?

Councilman Callahan (min. 26:35, transmission lost at end)

  • Racism is everywhere.
  • Small percentage of officers out of line.
  • We can be very proud of our police department.
  • [culture shift, teachers can’t touch students, same being applied to police]
  • Police departments have become more weaponized.
  • [Police have a right to defend themselves, but what happened in Atlanta not right.]

Councilman Callahan repeated his remarks later in the meeting under new business, and they can be heard better here: