Allentown Councilman Siegel: “We can both praise the cops for doing good work and also re-imagine public safety”

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Allentown City Council meeting July 29, 2020, video
mins. 3:10:05 – 3:16:00

Gadfly reminds you that we’ve been following the Allentown discussion on police matters triggered by the murder of George Floyd. His purpose, as always, is to lay out all the voices on an issue to aid us in making up our own minds.

We end here with the spirited conclusion to the meeting by Councilman Siegel, the co-sponsor with Councilwoman Gerlach of the Allentown resolution, the most spirited segment of the meeting.

Gadfly invites you to reflect on what you saw, on what we can learn from the Allentown proceedings. What issues, what arguments, what “styles” caught your attention?

Councilman Siegel:

This is unfortunate in our country that we constantly refer to ourselves . . . immediately revert to the ideological ways of framing our world . You’re anti-cop, you’re pro-cop, liberal, you’re a Republican, you’re progressive, you’re not, it’s all frankly BS, and it’s a way to just structure the world in a way that pits us against each other. I’ve been called a hypocrite in previous weeks, and frankly it’s a crock of crap. I’m not a hypocrite. I think we can both praise the police department for the good work you do when you guys catch criminals, when you take drug gangs off the streets, when you take drugs and guns off Siegel 2the streets, that is keeping us safe and you deserve every bit of praise for doing it. But don’t think that that insulates institutions and organizations from criticism for things that they do wrong. You can do both. We can both praise the cops for doing good work and also re-imagine public safety in this country and look for ways in which we can spend our money better. Maybe that means making sure when you think you’re having a mental health crisis or you’re going through a social issue or a substance abuse issue that the cops aren’t the first freakin’ call, the first person on the scene. And, by the way, there are models in this country that work, are models that we can apply to Allentown. Yes that we need to adjust. Yes we must adjust to the fact that there might be language barriers or racial discrepancies but when Eugene, Oregon, can do Cahoots [?], when they can take care of 17% of their call line for 2% of their police budget and last year there were 24,000 Cahoots calls and only 150 of them required police back up, I’m sick and tired of people mischaracterizing these incidents as devolving into violence and chaos. We heard some of these letters tonight, I just hear the vitriol and the racism and the freaking backwards thinking that comes through. To insinuate that I want to divest money or redirect money . . . that I am in favor of rape and murder and gangs, are you kidding me? What kind of deranged, delusional, paranoid mindset does that emanate from? That’s not healthy, that’s not contributing to the conversation. I’ve had many people email me over the last few weeks, called me names, called me derogatory things. You know what, I emailed them back and had honest, frank, and genuine conversation trying to find consensus with them . You know, with a lot of the people we found common ground. Everybody in this country deserves respect, and I’m not going to draw a false equivalency between the racist and vitriolic statements that we have gotten . . . spray the protestors down with hoses . . . they said they’re all on welfare. Absolutely freakin’ not. I’m not going to draw a comparison between that and people who have faced 400 years of structural oppression and death and violence and say that’s the same thing as their yelling at the cops and these people are calling them animals. It’s not the same freakin’ thing, we should not draw that false equivalency. We should not cast them in the same way as people who show up with American flags with crosses on them, we know what that means, we know what they’re getting at, we know they are white supremacists who try to infiltrate that, we know where one side is coming from. Ok, we want to have an honest conversation in the city, I’m more than ready, and Chief I’m prepared to work with you in any way I can. I want you to be a partner in this, I want you to be an ally. I don’t hate you, I respect you, I think we can be friends, I’ve never said anything bad about you. I want you and I to be partners and friends but at the same time recognize that change and real leadership is about confronting institutions, it’s about having uncomfortable conversations, change is not doing what we all agree on, change is not saying these are the things that don’t offend any of us so that’s what we’re going to do. That’s not change, that’s the illusion of change., that’s symbolic justice, that’s us flying the Pride flag but behind the scenes saying transphobic stuff, that’s companies in America tweeting Black Lives Matter but then not fully paying their taxes to fully fund our schools. We’re done with symbolic justice in this country, we’re done with symbolic gestures, we’re going to actually put our money where our mouth is as a city because the world is watching, the country is watching, and you’d better believe the citizens of Allentown are watching, and they’re gonna have their voices heard. And I’m more than prepared to keep an open mind. As we talked tonight I realized there are things that I put on this list that we thought might have been possible and they have a state dynamic. I’m more than willing to understand that I was wrong about how we could do some of these things. I thought there was a local dynamic, clearly there isn’t. I am an open-minded individual, I evolve, and I change, and I respect that I’m not always right. I was wrong about some of these things, we adapted and adjusted, and now we’re going to do a state-wide approach, but the things we can do at the local level, you better darn well believe we are going to. I have 4 years, I may only get 4 years, the people of Allentown may keep me from doing what I’m doing, but I’m going to do what I think is right. And I’m going to work in every capacity that I can from this day and the day I may be removed from office but I’m going to do what’s right. And I want to say to everybody on this stage that you might not like me, you might not like what I stand for, I respect you as my colleagues, I respect you as professionals that I will work with, but, believe me, I’m going to hold you individually accountable, when I disagree where we are ideologically. That’s all I’m going to say. I will never call people names. I will never besmirch your personal character, but I will call you out when we are ideologically different, and I will push you to be on the right side of what I think the issue is, and I hope you can understand that. That’s the nature of politics, that’s the nature of elected leaders, that the nature of being leaders. We will butt heads because we have strong values and convictions. And I just want to make that clear that now is the time for real action and that’s going to make people feel uncomfortable and I’m sorry. It’s easy to run for office  . . . the hard part comes when you have to start making the changes . . . I apologize to you for the email, for what I did it was wrong . . . should not have released  your phone number, I fucked up, shouldn’t have done that, that was my fault, it’s on me, I own that mistake, shouldn’t have done it . . . me being a man, I screwed up, I violated your trust. That reflects poorly on me, I get that. But at the end of the day we all have a job to do. I’m gonna close with this. John F. Kennedy said we should not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, let us find the right answer. Let us not blame the past but all collectively accept responsibility for the future. And that’s what we have to do. This is not about partisanship, not about who we are but finding the right answer, that means putting aside our emotions and our egos and following the facts like you said Chief, what works, what’s evidence based. And that’s it.

Councilman Siegel’s rapid delivery presented a challenge here and there for transcription. Gadfly apologizes for any errors.

Allentown Councilwoman Gerlach: “this needed to come up . . . we could not do nothing”

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Allentown City Council meeting July 29, 2020, video
mins. 3:04:08 – 3:09:05

After a lengthy procedural discussion about the next step — looks like another special meeting August 12 — both Councilpeople Gerlach and Siegel made concluding statements — and things got more fiery.

We’ll take Councilwoman Gerlach first.

Gadfly always suggests that you go to the primary sources. Hear the voices for yourself.

Councilwoman Gerlach:

I just want to thank everyone. If there are still folks alive outside on both sides, Back the Blue people, the Black Lives Matter folks, I haven’t read anything, anything went down, so it’s great to see that two sides can come, do their thing, advocate, make your voice heard, and then go home and hopefully relax. And I would like to thank my fellow members of Council for entertaining this for discussing this, and thank the Chief, thank the Mayor, the Solicitor, thank everyone because we couldn’t be silenced.  Even thoughGerlach 1 this may have caused a lot of division, this needed to come up. We cannot during this time of national outrage, when buildings are burning, rubber bullets are flying, riot gear is in full force, we could not do nothing. So that’s why this came about. And what passes is what passes. But at least we’re having the conversation. And I’m hoping that at some point we can get beyond this divisive you’re either anti-cop if you want reform, or you are a hard-core KKK member if you don’t want reform. There’s gotta be a way that we can start having these conversations in a civil way without pigeon-holing people. Calling people scumbags, saying that we need hoses placed on us. Ridiculous, ridiculous. That doesn’t get us anywhere. We’ve got to be able to have comfortable, direct conversations about tough topics without resorting to disrespectful name-calling, threats, towards either Black Lives Matter, protestors, calling people thugs, that’s a racist term, to call someone a thug. We’ve got to stop that, it breaks down conversations when you start using those terminologies. And I just hope that as we continue to dive into these bullet points, these issues, that we can do some internal soul-searching. I have biases, we all do, we have to start thinking how my world view, how I grew up, makes the skin I’m in, how it affects how I view these situations, because it is easy for some folks to say that it’s not my problem but maybe someone with a different life-path, a different skin tone, a different sexuality, maybe for them it is. Thank you for having this tough conversation. It’s going to get tougher when we actually have to pass things. But I needed to say that, and I don’t know who is still out there at this point, but we gotta stop using racist language. There has been racist language used toward people of color in this town and towards me, and I’m sick of it. If you want to back the blue, back the blue, go all out, buy a big flag, do what you gotta do, but there is no room for racism. There is no room, not in Allentown, that crosses the line. So that’s it. Thank you . . . . Never said that. . . . Well, I didn’t make those remarks, so please don’t accuse me of doing that.

Councilman Siegel’s response next . . .

Allentown Council discusses the resolution regarding the police department (2): divestment and defunding

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Allentown City Council meeting July 29, 2020, video
Mins. 2:24:40 – 2:40:20

Now we get to the heart of the matter.

Councilpeople Gerlach and Siegel are the ones behind the resolution.

No one else on Council supported the divestment and defunding proposed in the last clause of the resolution.

No one.

The Mayor said the City “needs help” from the county in regard to some of the services to which the “defunders” would like to see money reallocated. The county must “step up to the plate.”

Social workers aren’t going to respond to the call of a man barricaded with a gun.

No way hospital personnel were going to respond to the man, given the state he was in, in the recent Sacred Heart Hospital episode.

There was a recent major fire in Allentown — the police responded first.

Fire fighters say they depend on the police for their very lives and plead that the police not be cut.

The Police are out there disregarding their own safety during this pandemic.

“Our lives depend on the police department.”

Defunding “is going to turn into a disaster.”

Domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous calls there are — and not for social workers.

The police department had 242 officers in 2003, 216 now. It is not now adequately staffed.

“Our city is not shrinking,” we need more police not less.

Social service agencies already exist, with lots of money.

What we should do if we are going to do it right, is do research, partner with someone and study what’s right for our community. Such models as Eugene, Oregon, and St. Petersburg not transferable.

Need data-driven approach.

To cut the department now would be to cut (seniority basis) the most diverse part of the department — would make no sense.

What can’t the police department do without? Training. You wouldn’t want to cut that.

The department budget has been cut but even so it is now running under even the diminished budget. We’re running a good ship. Good stewards of our resources.

I support Black Lives Matter, and I support the Police Department.

Nobody supported divestment or defunding.

Say again, nobody supported divestment or defunding.

How did the proposers of the resolution respond? See next.

Allentown Council discusses the resolution regarding the police department (1)

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Allentown City Council meeting July 29, 2020, video
mins. 56:00 – 1:06:00 and 1:17:25 – 2:24:40

Bethlehem has now formally announced the August 11 Public Safety Committee meeting, and we are taking advantage of the fact that Allentown is in a sense a step ahead of us —  their City Council having had a meeting this week with the Police Chief — to see how they are handling a resolution regarding the department.

The Allentown meeting Wednesday night (and on the video you can hear protestors banging on the exterior of the building) was a Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss a Gerlach/Siegel resolution at which no vote was taken.

Find the resolution here.

We have posted about the public comment before the meeting here.

Now we are ready to listen to the discussion among the Councilors and the Police Chief.

We’ll break that listening into two posts, holding off focus on the defunding part of the resolution to the next post.

First, let Gadfly say that the discussion, while robust, was — except for the defunding section that we’ll look at in the next post — was low-key and cordial.

Councilwoman Gerlach started discussion of the resolution by saying that it was not anti-cop, that, though the final clause about divesting and defunding was surely to captivate attention (and we’ll get to that in the next post), the resolution was 90% about accountability and transparency (mins 56:00 – 1:08:30).

She broke the several bullets/clauses in the resolution into 4 parts:

  • reporting: communication between the police, council, and the public
  • the use of force
  • transparency, community participation
  • divestment and defunding

The Mayor and the Police Chief then took about 10 minutes for general context and background (mins. 1:06:00 – 1:17:25) before the Council president gradually settled into the format of working in order down the list of bullets/clauses in the resolution to get an idea which ones might be disposed of and which would need further discussion (mins. 1:17:25 – 2:24:40). So if you are interested in discussion on a particular item, use the bullets in the resolution as a chronological table of contents, and you should be able to find it easily in this section of the video.

Gadfly can give you the highlights:

Overall, we learned that much in the resolution was already being done or couldn’t be done (more on that below).

The Chief readily agreed that resolution requests for reports/statistics can be accommodated.

The Chief agreed with the first bullet about mandating body cam use.

The stop and frisk bullet (e. g. racial profiling) got extended discussion.

The Councilwoman looked for stronger language (in effect, certain immediately fire-able offenses) and more explicitness (racism, sexism, etc.) in directives on discipline, which occasioned discussion of officer rights.

The Chief saw difficulties with a civilian review board but was open to a citizen advisory group.

Several bullets (for instance, removing exceptions for choke holds) ran into the wall of state regulations. The local level is limited and cannot supersede state regulations. Discussion on this issue of jurisdiction resulted in a desire by the proposers to keep these items in the resolution but to use the resolution as the opportunity to advocate for change at the state level.

Overall, the discussion seemed to establish which items in the resolution needed more thinking than others before and at the next meeting.

Gadfly certainly encourages you to listen in here not only for discussion of topics that we will probably take up as well but also for the positive general tone and demeanor of all the Council members and the Chief.

Now on to the toughest nut of all in the next post: divestment and defunding.

Allentown residents comment on the Allentown resolution

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Allentown City Council meeting July 29, 2020, video
min. 7- 50

Allentown 3

Let’s focus on Allentown resident commentary on the resolution regarding police operations we just posted (min. 7-50).

There was no live or call-in public comment like we might have in Bethlehem. Residents were invited to send written comments, which were then read into the record by the City Clerk.

That took about 40 minutes.

Gadfly would say that there were in the range of 40-45 written comments read into the record.

Gadfly invites you to browse through the comments through the link above.

Citizen participation in action.

Gadfly would say the number of residents in favor of the resolution outnumbered the number of residents opposed, but only by a very slight margin.

The striking characteristic of the comments by those in favor was their similarity. Many of the favorable comments followed — exactly — the same “script.” This caused agreement among Council members to consider these comments a “ditto,” and they were not read in full.

On the other hand, comments by those opposed to the resolution were characterized by individualized personal specificity.

Gadfly leaves it to you to determine whether this difference in rhetorical approach means anything.

But Gadfly loves citizen voices, and he encourages you to listen in on the commentary that this resolution generated.

And what we’re doing is trying to open ourselves up to all the info and thinking that we’ll need to bring to bear on our own upcoming Bethlehem discussions.

to be continued . . .

The full Allentown resolution

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This resolution was discussed but not voted on last night at the Allentown City Council meeting. Gadfly will encourage you in subsequent posts to follow discussion at the meeting by breaking it down into parts for easier focus. There’s a lot we can learn and think about. Gadfly would assume that, though we haven’t had an incident like Allentown had in the Sacred Heart Hospital episode, that the basic issues regarding the operation of the Police Department will be basically the same. And viewing the dynamics of the Allentown Council in handling this matter can be valuable to us as well.

Allentown 1

Allentown 2

to be continued in next post . . .

The debate outside Allentown Council chambers: “Black lives matter”/“All lives matter” . . .“Things need to change”/“Defunded police are less effective police”

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Paying attention to what’s happening in neighbor Allentown. Citizens debate outside while Council members debate inside.

from Andrew Scott, “Black Lives Matter, Back the Blue protests face off outside Allentown City Council hearing on police funding. Morning Call, July 30, 2020.

Two groups of protesters, one calling for police reform and the other supporting police, held separate rallies Wednesday outside Allentown City Hall, at one point facing off against each other, as City Council members discussed police reform proposals.

Raising their fists and carrying signs, protesters with Black Lives Matter to the Lehigh Valley chanted “Black lives matter” while the pro-police Back The Blue group chanted “All lives matter” and “USA.” Members in both groups yelled at each other while some on both sides got between them to keep the groups separated.

“We’re not here to counter-protest,” Parker said. “We’re here to peacefully express our support of the proposed resolution.”

“We’re not against the police,” Black Lives Matter protester Latarsha Brown of Allentown said. “I have many officers that I know in Allentown. I’ve always had a great relationship with them. When you don’t have proper information, it’s easy to assume someone is against you.” Brown said she and others on the Black Lives Matter side don’t want a completely defunded police department, but simply a portion of the funding reallocated to parts of the community that need it most. She said they also want to see police officers held accountable for using unnecessary force and abusing their authority in other ways.

“Growing up in Allentown, I’d hang out with friends and watch police harass them but leave me alone,” fellow protester Jay Bickford of Allentown said. “Things need to change.”

Those on the Back The Blue side said the issue isn’t one of race, but of police going after those breaking the law, regardless of skin color.

“Defunded police are less effective police,” Back The Blue rally organizer Danielle Scott of Allentown said. “We feel there’s a little bit of an anti-cop rhetoric. We want to show that we don’t support that either. We do have a good rapport with our local law enforcement. We want them to be well-funded and resourced to do their jobs.”

Protesters on the Back The Blue side waved balloons and American flags and carried signs with pro-police messages. Joining them with banners displayed were members of America Needs Fatima, a Catholic nonprofit organization supporting the police, which prayed aloud and sang “Ave Maria.” Also present was a pro-police motorcycle club.

“By defunding the police, you’re not going to help anybody because now their response times are going to be even slower,” motorcycle club member Ski Bischof said.

Brendan Schoepflin of Allentown, who said he was a former Maryland police officer, said, “Police need as much funding as possible for upgraded vehicles and equipment so they can be more effective in serving and protecting us.”

to be continued in the next post . . .

Allentown City Council debates police reforms

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We should be paying attention to what’s happening in Allentown.

from Andrew Wagaman, “Allentown City Council debates police reform proposals, including reallocation of funds.” Morning Call, July 29, 2020.

A package of proposed police reforms, including cuts to the department’s budget, roused lively debate between Allentown City Council members Wednesday night and solicited passionate letters from the city’s police supporters and community activists demanding change.

Council’s meetings remain closed to the public, so it spent another hour listening to some of the 200-plus comments on a resolution emailed by Wednesday afternoon. Council then spent two more hours reviewing proposals point-by-point with city Police Chief Glenn Granitz, Mayor Ray O’Connell and other administrators.

The resolution calls for a number of police reforms, including:

    • the creation of a citizens review board to look at cases of alleged excessive force, among other things;
    • reallocating some of the police department’s funding to departments or nonprofits that can “more appropriately address” mental health issues, drug and alcohol treatment, housing and social services, among other things;
    • requiring officers to intervene to stop any excessive use of force;
    • calling for the state attorney general to investigate allegations of excessive use of force;
    • making body camera footage available to the public;
    • removing any exceptions for chokeholds and neck restraints from the use-of-force policy.

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Lehigh Valley Stands Up, which is among the organizations keeping reform at the forefront, asked council to pass the resolution as written and to develop a plan for shifting $25 million from the police department to other forms of public safety and community support. The city police budget is about $40 million, and 95% of that is personnel costs.

Allentown’s public unions and some business owners were among those who adamantly objected police budget cuts.

Jeremy Warmkessel, president of the Allentown firefighters union, called the defunding proposals “short-sighted and dangerous” and if passed would jeopardize the security and safety of firefighters and other first responders, among other unintended ripple effects. “I along with my membership have a right to be protected, and it’s this council’s responsibility to ensure that protection,” he said.

Nicos Elias, a city funeral home owner and former city 911 dispatcher, said knee-jerk reactions to recent disturbing incidents would lead to a “sharp rise in crime and lawless behavior.” “This police department needs more funding, not less,” he wrote, adding, “We have a very good police chief and a department to be proud of.”

Resident Jadyn Sharber argued that Allentown needs to increase funding of nonpolice community safety resources for the benefit of residents and police officers. “It has become undeniably clear that expecting police officers to fill the roles of domestic violence specialists, drug crisis specialists, mental health experts, student support staff, social workers, and soldiers simultaneously is unreasonable, unrealistic, and unsafe for our communities,” she wrote.

Chief Glenn Granitz Jr. said he agreed that systematic reform of policing is needed, but the primary way to go about it is statewide legislation that supports, among other things, more training.

Granitz indicated that some of the proposed reforms, such as removing all exceptions for use of neck restraints, making body camera footage public and demanding investigations by the attorney general, runs afoul of state law and is not in the city’s authority to change.

The police chief also urged council members to next time take up his offer to participate in a use-a-force simulator offered this year before the protests. The police chief said he “saw moments like this coming,” and that to prepare for such moments, “we owe it to ourselves to educate ourselves.”

After listening to City Clerk Mike Hanlon read public comments Wednesday night, Gerlach said she was disappointed the final sentence about reallocating a portion of the department’s budget crowded out more discussion on the numerous proposed accountability and transparency measures. She asked her colleagues to think long-term and embrace policies that remain effective regardless of the capabilities of future police leaders, and may in fact act as safeguards against bad leadership. She also reiterated her conviction that it’s not radical to suggest the city rethink how it deals with mental health, substance abuse and homelessness issues, among other things.

O’Connell suggested the city needs the county government to “step up to the plate more” to address deficiencies in those service areas, and Council President Daryl Hendricks pointed out that the pandemic forced police officers to take on more responsibilities of furloughed social workers rather than the other way around.

Hendricks also pushed back against the contention that social workers can handle domestic disturbance calls (which statistically prove more dangerous than most) or mental health situations similar to the one that unfolded outside St. Luke’s-Sacred Heart last month. “There’s no way a social worker was going to confront that gentleman in the condition he was in,” he said.

Granitz reiterated that more resources rather than less would help him enact community policing measures he believes will rebuild trust between the most marginalized communities and officers. He also noted that divestment would set back efforts to increase the force’s diversity given the success of recruitment efforts in more recent years.

The conversation concluded with a few council members addressing some of their loudest critics. Gerlach lamented the number of commenters whom she felt were trafficking in divisive language in order to dismiss reformers and shut down debate, and specifically called out those calling protesters “thugs” or using other racist caricatures.

Councilwoman Candida Affa said Gerlach should also call out those chanting “F*** the police,” chanting derogatory remarks about Hendricks at previous protests or “calling up the mayor in the middle of the night” — a jab at Siegel, who shared the mayor’s personal cell phone number with protesters.

Siegel apologized to the mayor but also pushed back against drawing what he considers false equivalencies between chants of protesters representing marginalized communities that have “faced 400 years of structural oppression and death and violence” and the “racism and vitriol” he perceived in many of the letters opposing police reforms.

“We can both praise the cops for doing good work while re-imagining public safety in this country and looking for ways to spend our money better,” he said. “…Change and real leadership is about confronting institutions and having uncomfortable conversations, not doing something we all agree on.”

to be continued in next post . . .

Gadfly muses about meetings

Latest in a series of posts about the Bethlehem Police

Gadfly has run his share of biggish meetings over the years. He muses while he waits to hear the promised announcement of what the Public Safety Committee has in store for us August 11.

Will you muse along? Gadfly has often asked you to role play Council or the Mayor. It’s fun.

  • We need a statement about the specific purpose/goal of the August 11 meeting. Not just an announcement of a meeting. What do we hope to achieve at the meeting? What will we have at the end of it?
  • A series of meetings has been promised. What is the specific purpose/goal of the series? How does this meeting fit in to that plan? What will the next meeting take up? What is the time frame of the series? How are we marching toward an “end.”
  • To save precious time for discussion, could the police department presentation be filmed and made available beforehand? The presentation at the Community Advisory Board may already have been filmed or recorded. (If not, why not?)
  • To establish a foundation of facts, to provide the broadest base for discussion, and to eliminate time wasted just answering basic questions, could all relevant police reports be grouped for easy access before the meeting? In other words, help us prepare for meaningful discussion. In fact, expect the public to prepare.
  • Gadfly feels a few documents should be custom-made and provided beforehand. For instance, 1) a document that links (or not) each of the “8 can’t wait” points to specific language in the police directives; 2) a definition of “defunding the police,” a phrase /idea about which there is much confusion as the Nextdoor blog commentary shows; 3) a definition of “systemic racism,” which, again, is a phrase/idea at which many people simply go blank. Needs examples too. We might be able to think of more such terms, others. In other words, establish a common meaning about some key terms around which discussion is likely to revolve.
  • And then could we have an “Ask-the Mayor/Chief” process, as we did for the pandemic? The public submits questions, the City/Council assembles and winnows them, and answers them before the meeting. Again, clearing away as much as possible that can be cleared away in order to save precious time for valuable discussion. Don’t be afraid to ask the public to prepare for discussion. Help them cut away noise and focus on key concepts.
  • Gadfly understands the need for the public to just talk — let off steam, feel recognized — and for elected officials to just listen, but, frankly, he is impatient with that, foresees a round and round like we see on the Neighborhood blog. This sounds like Gadfly talking against himself, but, for instance, if budget is the deadline, he feels the need to get “on with it.” More on this later.
  • If this first meeting is just open talk and listening, all you need is an affable and intelligent emcee like Bob Novatnack was for the Nitschmann Martin Tower meeting. But Gadfly likes the idea of the Mayor and all Council members seen in a   visibly active role.
  • But in more focused meetings trying to move toward consensus, skilled management is needed. Like the Bethlehem-based group that did the police/community summits in Detroit. Gadfly fears floundering.
  • Gadfly, as he said, wishes the first meeting was not just open talk. If not the first meeting, he wishes the next meeting was more directive, more focused. What are the questions we need to answer if there is to be something productive that comes from all the sound and fury. Gadfly can think of some such questions on which he would focus and ask the public to focus. Do we have a beef with the police department? Has trust between the police department and the community broken down? If we were to think concretely about defunding the police, what would we cut? Are there other options for achieving/funding the laudable goals that the defunders want? Must the police department be defunded to achieve them? And so on and so on. We could give residents a place to answer these specific questions before a meeting, and ask them to focus their answers to such specific questions at a meeting. The Mayor and Council would need to get beyond generalized rhetoric to work in the trenches. Get resident ideas.

Lunch time, my good followers, would anyone like to take up the Muse?

Do we have a beef with the police department?

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Nextdoor blog comments on Reynolds-Crampsie Smith resolution

Yesterday Gadfly transcribed 14 pages of comments of discussion on the Nextdoor blog triggered by the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith resolution.

And suggested that it might be seen as a microcosm of community views.

And thus that we ought to engage with the commentary as we approach the August 11 Public Safety meeting.

And that it would be a good exercise for each of us to pull 10 comments from the discussion (not necessarily comments that we like or don’t) for even further discussion.

What does Nextdoor reveal about our next steps?

What does Nextdoor reveal about the pulse of the community?

Did you make a list? Would you share?

Here is Gadfly’s first of what might be several such lists:

1) In my opinion [the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith resolution] was very much an anti Police statement. . . . To me the language seemed very one sided.

2) Reform is unnecessary. I’m going on 65 years in the town of Bethlehem that has unquestionably the best Police Department.

3) Defund the police…are you delusional???

4) Not broken …no need to fix. Hats off to the men n women in blue.

5) I’ve lived here for over 20 years and never had a problem-

6) he wants to totally get rid of the police lol

7) God Bless the Police who protect us, Black, Brown, white and all other Colors.

8) God bless our police department. Without them we would be another Portland and Seattle. Thank God we have a common sense Mayor (Bob Donches)

9) Thank you to the men and women in Blue helping to keep Bethlehem safe and prosperous

10) Back the blue. Blue lives matter

Way long ago, Gadfly asked, “How would you characterize the relationship between our police and our community?”

Relatively long ago (well, June 23), Gadfly asked what the prompt for a first community meeting on the police should be.

And then, characteristically, stirred by commentary by Gov. Cuomo, he answered his own question the next day: “Is the trust between community and police broken in Bethlehem?”

On a roll, Gadfly asked for data, that is, testimony, with your answer to that question.

And he got some testimony. And maybe more coming. But by no means enough.

For you see, here’s what Gadfly is struggling with:

Do “we” as a City have a beef with the police department? Is there sentiment, more importantly, is there evidence that the police department needs radical (or even moderate) change?

Or is the national conversation occasioned by the murder of George Floyd to which no police department is immune and to which we are joining in the Public Safety Committee meeting August 11 simply a time to do a healthy review of the department and to Negronconsider beneficent changes that will only enhance the superior quality of department performance and to enable the city to address genuine problems that need attention?

In regard to a beef, followers need to listen to Councilwoman Negron at the end of the July 21 City Council meeting talking about the reluctance in the Latino community to speak up because of fear of reprisal and thus the need for a “safe space” for those voices to be heard.

We need to hear those voices more, for Gadfly thinks that the Nextdoor blog shows that there is a “silent majority” in the community who have no idea why there should even be any conversation at all about our police department policies and practices.

They may see problems elsewhere, but their default position is that we’re ok.

If there is a problem with, if there is a beef with the police department, Gadfly thinks there is a strong wall of resistance that will need to be softened, need to be persuaded that even commencing  a review is necessary.

Required reading in preparation for the August 11 Public Safety Committee meeting

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Nextdoor blog comments on Reynolds-Crampsie Smith resolution

Silly Gadfly.

Stupid Gadfly.

Be-careful-what-you-ask for Gadfly.

Yesterday Gadfly flippantly wondered if anybody beyond the 24 people who virtually attended the last City Council meeting  was paying attention to the upcoming Public Safety Committee meeting and the Community Engagement Initiative.

A resident calling in to Council that July 21 about quality of life issues in the City discovered the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith resolution and posted it yesterday on the Nextdoor blog under title of “Bethlehem City Council New Resolution to Limit Police and Change the World.”

Great title.

And the result as of 8am this morning is what you can find on the attached document, all 14 pages of it (and no doubt exponentially growing in the time it took Gadfly to transcribe it.)

Community Engagement is already happening.

Democracies are noisy, rambunctious.

Blogs are no doubt more raucous than resident comment will be at a public meeting, even online, but this “conversation” will give us a taste of what we might expect August 11.

Public Safety Committee chair Colon might at this very moment be checking the bus schedules out of town.

Gadfly suggests we all engage with this engagement.

And perhaps pick 10 comments out of the several hundred that you think we should consider — not necessarily that you like or don’t like, but ones that deserve to be highlighted.

He’d like to receive your lists.

Useful to think about this incident near Dorney Park as we approach the August 11 Public Safety Committee meeting

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An “old” case in the news today. You no doubt remember it well. A Lehigh Valley police officer killed a mentally disturbed man near Dorney Park two years ago. The allegation in the suit is that the officer was poorly trained. Gadfly is by no means suggesting that the Bethlehem police officers are poorly trained. But this case is a useful reminder of the kinds of issues now discussed nationally in the wake of the George Floyd event and that surely will be discussed here locally at the August 11 Public Safety Committee meeting and beyond in whatever form the Community Engagement Initiative takes. For instance, might the tragic outcome have been different if a mental health specialist had answered this call or accompanied the police officer on it? Gadfly remembers much sincere perplexity at the time surrounding the handling of this matter.

from Peter Hall, “Estate of man shot and killed by former South Whitehall cop sues in federal court.” Morning Call, July 27, 2020.

The former fiancee and children of a man killed by a police officer near Dorney Park two years ago are suing South Whitehall Township and former officer Jonathan Roselle in federal court.

The lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Allentown alleges Roselle’s actions were the foreseeable result of South Whitehall’s practice of putting inexperienced officers into service without testing or training in real-world scenarios.

The suit alleges Roselle violated Joseph Santos’ constitutional rights by using excessive force to stop him and by failing to provide medical assistance after shooting him.

Santos, 44, of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, died July 28, 2018, after Roselle shot him five times on Hamilton Boulevard. Roselle was informed by a passing motorist of a man interfering with traffic and encountered Santos, who banged on the windows and climbed on the hood of Roselle’s police car, the suit says.

Although Roselle told dispatchers that he would wait for backup to deal with Santos, he got out of his cruiser and shot Santos, who was walking toward the officer with his hands raised. Roselle’s admissions to another officer who arrived shortly after the shooting that he had “f—ed up,” and that he “didn’t know what to do” were captured on Roselle’s police body camera, which he believed was switched off, the suit says.

Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin found Roselle’s use of deadly force was not justified and charged him with criminal homicide. At Roselle’s trial in March, a state police expert in use of force testified that Santos was not charging and appeared lethargic when Roselle shot, and that Roselle had ample time to switch from his gun to a less-lethal option. Cpl. Kevin Selverian also testified he had “never heard such a definitive admission of mistake” as Roselle’s after the shooting, the suit noted.

Roselle was found not guilty at the end of the two-week trial in Lehigh County Court where jurors saw video of the incident and heard Roselle testify that he feared Santos would disarm him.

“We encourage Council not to proceed recklessly”

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Quality public policy starts with quality public conversation.
Glen Ragni

I haven’t heard a lot of nuanced conversation.
Carrie Fitzgibbons

Gadfly knows nine uses of the comma, but he also knows that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The strongest and starkest negative and cautionary comments about the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith resolution at the July 7 City Council meeting came from the members of activist groups who came in person to the meeting. You might want to go back and refresh yourselves on that commentary.

So, at the July 21 City Council meeting we had the pushback.

Good conversation builds community.

The callers oppose defunding of the police and see the humanity and value of the police, but what Gadfly hears, over all, is a call for good, wide-ranging, multi-perspective’d conversation.

Please listen to the voices of your fellow residents here. Don’t just skim and scan Gadfly’s notes. Always go to the primary sources

Glen Ragni

  • I’m calling today out of concern about the quality and diversity of the recent public statements made about defunding, disbanding, and abolishing the Bethlehem Police Department.
  • During the Bethlehem City Council’s last meeting all of the speakers repeated almost exactly the same demands and were affiliated with the same few political organizations.
  • They do not represent our entire community.
  • Many of the speakers insisted that the time for conversation was over, that they’ve already had the relevant conversations amongst themselves, that they have their own initiative and they don’t want any more input from any members of our community, or even the involvement of the democratically elected Mayor or the police . . . we just want your money.
  • Another speaker . . . we don’t need to hear from any more whites.
  • Appallingly, several members of Council seemed extremely tolerant of these demands and even agreed with most of what was said, that centered around the abolition of the entire police department.
  • Over the past several months we have initiated conversations with hundreds of residents and stakeholders in our community. . . . The majority of those we have spoken with have expressed strong reservations about defunding . . . the police.
  • . . . abolishing the police department represents reckless public policy . . . experimented with this path . . . and the results have been deadly.
  • We encourage Council not to proceed recklessly . . . we encourage everyone in our community not to proceed recklessly.
  • Our community is diverse in our makeup, but we are one community.
  • We must learn to either live together respectfully as brothers and sisters, or we will surely perish together as fools.
  • Quality public policy starts with quality public conversation.
  • It’s troubling to hear that some community members say they have no interest in the exchange of ideas.
  • How are we going to proceed when the police have reached out in solidarity, the Mayor has reached out in solidarity, the Council has reached out?
  • Where does that leave the other 75,000 members of the Bethlehem community whose concerns haven’t even been heard yet?
  • How do we proceed when only one side wants to have a conversation. and the other side is only issuing demands?
  • That attitude doesn’t come from a sense of respect for the community.
  • . . . that all community members listen to their own hearts and characters . . . the quest for peace and mutual understanding.
  • That quest for mutual understanding begins by genuinely listening and truly hearing each other’s troubles and concerns, so that we can better search for balanced solutions and choose policies that respect our common humanity.

Carrie Fitzgibbons

  • I’m still trying to gather and process information from many points of view, and I imagine you are as well.  Clearly this is a complex issue that requires such nuanced thinking and much research.
  • And my concern is that I haven’t heard a lot of nuanced conversation around this topic. Instead, what I’ve heard doesn’t qualify as conversation at all if conversation is a free exchange of ideas from multiple perspectives building toward some workable solutions that can be tried and tracked to see how really effective they are.
  • In public debate thus far we’ve only heard how one group of people view policing, and their perspectives deserve to be heard.
  • Some very broad, absolute statements have been made, and we would humbly ask Council to actively reach out to everyone in the community to seek out as many perspectives as possible. There will be many different constituencies that will be affected differently by any changes that are made.
  • And we would also ask before public policy is set that rigorous research is conducted  backed by statistical evidence.
  • Some people say the police shouldn’t have a voice in this process. I disagree. . . . their unique perspective of what could possibly improve our system.
  • This report [the recently published 2019 police report] . . . . If we have to go through all those [65,000] calls . . . to better understand what the police do for us, so be it.
  • So far we haven’t discussed any real statistics . . . unbiased understanding of the value our police department contributes to our daily lives.
  • I also feel it is important to realize that our police officers are human. Police have been referred to of late in any number of insulting and threatening ways. At the last Council meeting they were called an “evil machine” and when we start referring to groups with demeaning names, you make it easier to treat them as less than human, and you invite in hatred and violence.
  • Police risk their lives every day balancing [our] rights . . . and they are legitimate members of our community.
  • I find it sadly ironic that groups who are combating their own marginalization would attempt to marginalize other groups who are a legitimate part of our community.
  • If people truly want a conversation, they must welcome the contributions others make. Otherwise, this movement begins to feel it’s less about justice and more about revenge.
  • Some are not interested in balancing their rights with the rights of others.
  • We are all human, and we all have flaws, and everyone needs to be held accountable for their actions.
  • In any relationship, both parties bring 50% to the interaction. . . .Perhaps part of that education should be to teach citizens how to respectfully respond to the legitimate requests of police officers.
  • We only achieve compassion for each other by understanding the other side’s perspective.
  • We can separate the truth from the errors that are part of everybody’s belief system.
  • If there is genuine dialog . . . we can truly hear others, and to truly hear others is to value what other persons say. Not just talk at each other but really listen.

Bruce Haines

  • I was compelled to call in because of [residents Ragni and Fitzgibbons above]. I thought both of them eloquently spoke to the need for real dialog and not one-way demands.
  • I have no demands tonight. I simply want to compliment them on the quality of thought that went into their presentations, and I support what they had to say completely.
  • I moved here to Bethlehem, made an investment, live in the downtown. I moved here because of the safety and quality of life in Bethlehem, and I have experienced the Bethlehem police on multiple occasions . . .
  • I have the utmost respect for the Bethlehem police department and what they do and also the Bethlehem Fire Department. I think we have two of the finest public safety departments anywhere in the state, and I encourage you not to jump to any conclusions, especially in regard to defunding.

Public Safety meeting August 11

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video City Council meeting July 21, 2020

We know that the public comment on the Community Engagement Initiative at the July 7 City Council meeting was, as the newspaper report characterized it, “lukewarm at best.” There was, for instance, a series of what we might call “activist” comments in favor of various ways of what we might call defunding the police — the need for radical change.

A balance of a sort was struck at last night’s City Council meeting when we at last heard several calls from the “other side,” indicating that those comments at the previous meeting did not speak for the whole community, counseling Council to go slowly, and to have broader dialog.

Gadfly will get to that later today, focusing on that “other side.”

Go to the City Council video of last night’s proceedings if you can’t wait for Gadfly to get his life in order today. Start about min. 15:00.

But let me jump to the big news, the long anticipated big news.

Chair Colon announced that the Public Safety Committee will be held in three weeks, August 11 at 6PM (video min. 1:15:15).

It will be a virtual meeting.

An announcement with instructions and details will be forthcoming “soon.”

The agenda for the meeting, said Councilman Colon, will be “Policing, to go over the use of force policy that the city released, The Mayor, and we’ll talk further before the meeting, but the presentation that has been presented at different meetings by the police department I think would be good, for members of Council to see that presentation about the use of force, and then also have the discussion about the Community Engagement Initiative and that resolution that was passed. . . . I encourage anyone to reach out prior to a Public Safety Committee meeting, after a Public Safety Committee meeting. . . . As we move forward through the process and as we tackle different meetings, and this Public Safety Committee meeting is going to be the first of what would be many since the goal isn’t to have a bunch of Public Safety Committee meetings but to move forward that Community Engagement Initiative which I expressed last time will be something that will be gaining shape and something that’s going to be dynamic moving forward.”

Councilwoman Crampsie Smith, sensing confusion that, frankly, Gadfly feels, followed Councilman Colon in an attempt to bring clarity (min. 1:21:50): “There seems to be still a lot of confusion about the Community Engagement Initiative. . . . I feel like some of the callers . . . are not feeling what I’m feeling about what it’s going to look like. The Community Engagement Initiative is really to allow another avenue for public input beyond City Council meetings or a Public Safety Committee meeting. And from there to provide some framework to the City and the Council and the police to move forward to address systemic racism as well as build bridges and build better relationships within the community and with our police department. I’m going to read what the resolution states . . . time to create a consistent public space for the long-term discussion of issues surrounding systemic racism, discrimination. . . . A community-wide coalition. . . . People need to feel validated and that they matter, and I hope this Community Engagement can help to meet that goal at least partially. . . . A way to engage all members of the community.”

Gadfly, again, frankly, is still in a bit of a muddle.

We have the Mayor participating in an NAACP “Community Advisory Board.” Gadfly expected a report on a major meeting of that Board last week with a presentation by the Police. Now this is not the Mayor’s Board, so maybe he feels that it’s up to the NAACP to make commentary. But no mention at all? Gadfly is still confused about where this CAB fits in. And the Mayor didn’t say anything about anything regarding this whole ball of systemic racism wax and the City’s response to it. Is Gadfly the only one who feels this is odd? What is our leader thinking, doing?

We have the Public Safety Committee. We now have a date for a meeting. And details will follow. Gadfly assumes that Chair Colon is in charge. But, to Gadfly anyway, he felt so tentative. He will talk “further” with the Mayor about the format of the meeting but “thinks” a reprise of the police presentation would be a good thing. We know Gadfly is impatient, but it doesn’t sound like there’s a clear idea of an agenda. And there’s been plenty of time to think. And Gadfly feels vague focus — the meeting will be about policing, the use of force directive, ok, but also about the Community Engagement Initiative? What role does the Public Safety Committee have regarding the CEI? Does the Public Safety Committee meet once, then it morphs into the CEI? Wasn’t the CEI turned over to the Mayor to create? Policing . . . Community Engagement initiative — two huge issues. Gadfly is not a young man anymore. He has to pee every time he stands up. But to him these two topics feel much too big for a single meeting.

And then there’s the Community Engagement Initiative. Councilwoman Crampsie Smith certainly sensed Gadfly’s confusion, but, frankly, her attempt at clarity failed him. She repeated the rhetoric of the resolution. Gadfly gets it, gets the concept, and loves it. But he can’t “see” the CEI yet. And he’s not sure who is in charge of its creation. Yes, Gadfly gets the concept. He’s heard it over and over. Now he’s looking for the road map to that goal and wants to hear from the driver. It’s time to be on the road. Didn’t the Council resolution “urge” the Mayor to set up the CEI? And yet aren’t both Councilman Colon and Councilwoman Crampsie Smith talking and acting as if Council is in control?

Gadfly feels precious time passing and doesn’t feel firm direction.

I know, I know, poor Gadfly.

Police peacekeepers need peaceful resolution as their initial focus

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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,

Thank you for providing this insight into Professor Ochs’ work.

I’m nowhere near an expert in any of this, but from a common sense viewpoint there are three points that jump to the front for me and in no particular order.

First, mental health services have suffered a severe decline over the last nearly 40 years. Instead of cuts, counties and the state should be boosting their financial commitment to this area.

Second, and this was mentioned, I believe, by one of the speakers at the most recent City Council meeting, is the need for de-escalation training. Circumstances can change quickly in a civilian and police officer interaction. Officers trained to ratchet down a situation benefits everyone. Training is the local government’s responsibility.

And, third, crisis intervention training should also be part of an officer’s training. Along with de-escalating a situation, it makes sense to have an officer prepared to assess and make a determination as to the best course of action when handling a person going through a difficult time.

This training should also be a local responsibility. Perhaps higher level government funding support could assist communities with limited resources on training issues.

If we want our police to keep the peace, then it makes sense to have them arrive at each call with a peaceful resolution as their initial focus.

Dana

Prof Ochs on the police use of force

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Democratic policing is paradoxical in that force is used to maintain peace. Therefore
it
is highly problematic if the lives at hand are not equally valued.

Many studies over the years have demonstrated that the protection provided
by the police is not applied equally across all communities.

Ample research suggests that police use of force is more likely when police
encounter persons with mental health issues or individuals  who are
members of racial and ethnic minority groups.

The police use of force can be immoral if it is inequitable.

We are introducing you to Lehigh Prof Holona Ochs whose team has just completed 124 interviews on the subject of policing in the Lehigh Valley and whose report we look forward to in the fall. Consideration of this research is part of the Community Engagement Initiative passed by City Council at its July 7 meeting.

selections from
Holona Ochs Police Use of Force (2020)

The President’s Task Force on 21st ­Century Policing, appointed in 2014 by President Barack Obama to study policing, was a response to increased public anger
and media scrutiny concerning the use of force by law enforcement, especially in
interactions with African American individuals and communities.

As the Task Force noted, however, the use of force by the police is not in itself misconduct. In fact, the use of force, even lethal force, may be both legally and ethically justified in the protection of the public.

Understanding the distinction between moral responsibility and culpability in a particular incidence of lethal force is determined by the policy on the use of force and the validity of the rationale for using force. For example, an officer may be morally responsible for the use of force but not to blame based on the physical threat a suspect posed. The officer’s use of force in the performance of law enforcement duties may also be found to be legally justified if enacted in accordance with policy.

However, the validity of the rationale and the estimation of threat are subject to a considerable degree of interpretation. Democratic policing is paradoxical in that force is used to maintain peace. Therefore it is highly problematic if the lives at hand are not equally valued.

Many studies over the years have demonstrated that the protection provided by
the police is not applied equally across all communities. A 2015 report by Amnesty
International demonstrates the increasing rate of the use of force by police officers
in the United States and highlights a pattern of racial disparities in deadly force
exercised by the police.

Given moral and legal concerns about the use of force by law enforcement, police
departments follow a use of force continuum—policies that guide officers in the
use of force. Officer training conditions officers to estimate and respond with a level
of force deemed appropriate in a given circumstance based on an escalating series
of actions. These strategies range from the mere presence of an officer exerting
authority by verbal command to deadly force.

Organized movements aimed at restraining the police use of force argue that
physical force is too often used and more likely to be wielded against nonwhites.
They identify several policies that have the potential to constrain the use of force
and reduce harm, and they outline what are referenced as “meaningful protections
against police violence.” They contend that police departments that are more restrictive of the use of force have fewer incidents of police violence and that this also results in fewer incidents of violence toward the police.

When considering the appropriateness of force and the validity of threat assessments, mental health and race are principal factors. If some segments of the population are disproportionately subjected to police surveillance and the use of force, the moral support for using force to protect citizens is weakened. Ample research suggests that police use of force is more likely when police encounter persons with mental health issues or individuals who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups

A 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center argues that, partly as a result
of cuts to the mental health treatment hospital system dating back to the 1980s, 1
out of every 10 law enforcement responses address a person in mental health crisis, and one-fourth of the fatal encounters with police end the life of a person with mental illness (Fuller at al., 2015). Research suggests that police officers are now the most likely to deal with mental health emergencies and are the main sources of referral to treatment. In fact, evidence suggests that people with mental health issues face a risk six times greater than the general public of deadly force at the hands of police.

Furthermore, “get tough” policies and “hot spots” policing contribute to officer misconduct and focus police efforts on communities of color, particularly low income communities.

Many observers believe, however, that the political incorporation of black people in local politics reduces the frequency and severity of use-of-force incidents, reduces policing costs, mitigates legal risks, and enhances the legitimacy of law enforcement.

The differential crime hypothesis claims that blacks are subject to the law more
often because they are more criminal. This speculation regarding the likelihood of
criminal behavior mistakes the history of oppression in the United States with the
character of its subjects.

The community violence thesis is another way of understanding how police–
public interactions shape the relative risk of lethal force. Poverty isolation and racial
segregation are structural inequalities with complex implications for people living
in such communities. Some argue that police violence is a response to higher rates
of violence in some communities. Certainly, those communities deserve police protection as much as any other in a democratic society. At the same time, communities that are densely populated, that lack economic and educational opportunities, and where incidents of domestic violence are often more commonly reported to the police represent threats to the community, as well as presenting some of the most difficult challenges for police work.

Historically, movements aimed at addressing the immorality of the disproportionate execution of deadly force (such as Black Lives Matter) have been met with considerable resistance from law enforcement agencies as well as from sectors of the public whose primary sympathies lie with the police.

We grant the state the authority to exercise the legitimate use of violence to protect citizens and to maintain social order. As such, the legitimate use of force by the state is morally justified. Police officers and other law enforcement officials thereby morally use force in the name of the state when they are protecting citizens. However, the police use of force can be immoral if it is inequitable. The evidence suggests that may be the case in the United States, inspiring calls for reforms of policing.

Body cameras alone will not address biased patterns in deadly force.

The implication is that bias—perhaps often implicit bias—exists in policing and that training must be implemented to reduce such bias and restore equity. The implementation of the training has been associated with a decline in police use of force. 

Likewise, crisis intervention training (CIT) is one measure to address the criminalization of people with mental health issues and to direct these people to resources for help rather than sending them to jail.

Our good luck

logo Latest in a series of posts responding to the George Floyd killing logo

Just thinking how lucky we are in Bethlehem.

In this time of national conversation about the people/police relationships, we have two wonderful local resources on which to draw (notice how deftly Gadfly avoided ending with a preposition?).

Prof Holona Ochs at Lehigh whose team has conducted 124 local interviews as part of a research project on police/community relationships and whose report should be out in the fall.

The International Institute for Restorative Practices, 531 Main St., who has conducted police/community summits in Detroit.

Wow! A lot of practical experience and know-how to aid us as we feel our way through tricky conversations ahead.

“They’re not treated like they are something, they are treated like they are nothing”

  • logo Latest in a series of posts responding to the George Floyd killing logo

“Our Voices Matter! Students from Allentown, Emmaus and
Parkland School District speak their truths!”

Does your education matter to you, and do you feel it matters to the people
in charge of educating you, such as teachers, and school district
administrators, and etc.?
(min. 25:25)

  • It doesn’t mater how they see us learning or how they feel about it.
  • Our education matters just as much as the next white kid.
  • I’m probably smarter than some of the people who go to . . .
  • It shouldn’t matter where you come from, it shouldn’t matter what you bring to the table, because at the end of the day we’re all trying to be great. It shouldn’t matter where you come from.
  • My education’s extremely important to me  . . . I’m an immigrant . . .
  • Black and brown kids are really overlooked in the education process.
  • There’s only one black teacher, and that’s really a problem. It’s really hard to connect when they don’t have experiences like you.
  • The school board doesn’t really try to cater to the POC community at . . .
  • I feel our voices really should still be heard, and our needs should be accommodated.
  • I really don’t think we are being seen and considered.
  • My education did not matter to them.
  • There was always a level of disconnect between People of Color and teachers.
  • You look at us a thugs, you look at us as criminals, you look at us a bums, you look at us as dumb, you look at us as if we’re not smart, you look down upon us.
  • I’m supposed to think you care about me, I’m supposed to think you’re here for me.
  • I’m not learning anything because you don’t care about me.
  • We might not know how to put it into words, but we see the level of divide between student and teacher.
  • We see how you look at us, we see how you treat us.
  • Not every teacher, there’s good teachers.
  • The school system is not set up for us, it’s set up for them.
  • [gives credit to good teachers]
  • I feel everybody should have an equal education . . . equal opportunity.
  • I feel that the curriculum . . . is not equal.
  • They get to do higher things [honor students], why shouldn’t everybody get that?
  • Why make the other people go dumb?
  • We see it . . . we talk about it all the time . . . how they categorize us.
  • It’s almost like where you live is how you’re being taught.
  • The kids on 4th St. will be taught differently than the kids on Randolph St.
  • You’re categorized into those classes, and you can see that, and it’s so sad.
  • I do feel like we’re not being taught right, that we’re not being cared about.
  • I feel like we’re not understood, and I feel like we’re not equal.
  • Why are they [People of Color guidance counselors] in those positions if their voices aren’t mattering.
  • There are two people I know who will not say anything.
  • We should have teachers who understand us, to come from us  . . . community-wise . . . people who understand us and who won’t call us like animals, thugs, ghetto, trash, the underbottom.
  • We need to be talked to like we are scholars, like we are something.
  • They’re not treated like they are something, they are treated like they are nothing.
  • Until they continue to treat us as if we’re nothing, then we’ll feel like we’re nothing and worthless.
  • I just feel like the teacher won’t care . . .
  • You don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors . . .
  • . . . teachers too lazy to do their jobs, this isn’t a movie . . . I just need you to do what you’re paid to do.
  • We need to fix this.

Let’s meet Prof Holona Ochs

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Holona Ochs has been mentioned prominently in our recent discussions about the police department as part of the national conversation on systemic racism precipitated by the murder of George Floyd.

Councilwoman Negron distributed information about her research prior to the July 7 Council meeting that took up the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith resolution on the Community Engagement Initiative, Anna Smith and Al Wurth mentioned her favorably in public comments relative to the resolution, and Councilman Reynolds reported at the July 7 Council meeting that, in fact, he spent an hour and a half in discussion with her.

The Reynolds/Crampsie Smith resolution was amended to recommend consideration of her research: “The Administration should work with and incorporate recommendations by research experts including Lehigh University’s Core Grant team who recently conducted a large research project on policing in the Lehigh Valley.”

Looks like we’re going to hear more from Prof Ochs.Ochs

Time to meet her.

Prof Holona Ochs is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Lehigh University and heads the department’s graduate program.

Prof Ochs describes her research on democratic policing in the United States:

I am also working on a constellation of projects on democratic policing in the US. The first study is a time series analysis of the police use of lethal force. This project explores the impact of mental healthcare investments across states on deadly encounters with the police and the potential for Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to make policing safer for the police and the public. The second study examines the aggregate patterns of bias in the execution of lethal force across various demographic groups and geographical regions. This project includes case studies to further identify factors that may reduce the potential for bias the police use of force. The third research project on policing is an interdisciplinary study of the perspectives on policing that the police and various communities have in order to identify potential disjunctures. We expect that differences in the understandings of the challenges and complexities of policing and in expectations of the police may serve as opportunities to improve police-public relations.

The specific work that brings Prof Ochs to the forefront of our attention at this time is a study of local policing: “Democratic Policing: Bias Reduction and Police-Public Interactions.” This study was just coming to a conclusion when the pandemic suspended activity at Lehigh in March, and now we look forward to a final report on the 124 interviews conducted, with a bit o’luck, in the fall.

from Sara K. Satullo, “How Lehigh Valley cops could help change U.S. policing for the better.” lehighvalleylive.com., January 2, 2019.

A team of Lehigh University researchers are digging into public perceptions of law enforcement in the Lehigh Valley and looking into ways to reduce biases on all sides.

The research is still in its early stages with the team gathering data through surveys and focus groups with a wide swath of Lehigh Valley residents, including police officers, community groups, Lehigh students and folks who have served time in jail.

The idea for the project — Democratic Policing: Bias Reduction and Police-Public Interactions — sprung out of informal conversations about bias amongst Lehigh faculty in the psychology, criminal justice and political science departments.

“The real motivation here is to learn about those institutional factors that we can affect that will make policing safer for the police and the public,” explained Holona Ochs, Lehigh associate professor and graduate director in the political science department, who has been studying policing since 2009.

While the use of force by police in the Lehigh Valley is pretty rare, researchers think the region’s unique geography and demographics may result in real life applications across the country.

The team wants to know how participants view their community’s relationship with police and what they think an officer’s job actually is. And they want to hear from officers about the challenges of modern policing.

“We’re trying to understand where are people’s perspectives aligned and where are they misaligned,” said Dominic Packer, associate professor of psychology and associate dean of research and graduate programs in Lehigh’s College of Arts and Sciences. “They are really exploratory focus groups.”

Adjunct Lehigh professor and recently retired Bethlehem police Sgt. Wade Haubert thinks inherent bias is a fascinating research topic with real world applications.

“Start off acknowledging what we all know: every single person in this country has grown up in some environment where they ultimately have bias,” Haubert said. “It doesn’t mean that it is bad, that you are a bigot. Let’s just all acknowledge, we have some stereotypes. Let’s identify through a study why those things might occur and we can look at what we can do to potentially recognize that and factor that in as a conscious factor in how we make decisions.”

Informal conversations about police tactics and procedures in the wake of high-profile police shootings started forming the questions that are now the basis of the research, Haubert said. His own concerns about the direction of policing attracted him to the project.

“I was very frustrated with the way the profession of policing has changed over the last 20 years,” Haubert said. “…When I first got hired, community policing was a big thing and the Bethlehem Police Department was one of the poster children for good community policing.”

This was lost nationally in the wake of 9/11.

“We lost our ability to put the citizens first and have the ability to communicate with them and understand that most people support us,” Haubert said.

“Different communities have different expectations of the police and relate to the police in different ways and it affects the complexity of policing and whether people think the police are doing a good job,” Ochs said.

But as the region changes demographically those differences could potentially be problematic if a “past practice of acceptable policing behavior is applied to a diverse community,” Haubert said.

If a brown skinned family moves into a largely white and homogeneous borough, the police might be called as they are moving in, Haubert said. Or if you’re driving a certain type of car while gawking at mansions in Upper Saucon Township you may get stopped.

Researchers hope these focus groups can spur wider conversations among communities with the police, so residents can gain a better understanding of ins and outs of policing and how to communicate with police.

“The bigger goal is to bring different communities together with the police and talk about the challenges and complexities of policing and how different communities can better relate and interact using the police as intermediaries,” Ochs said.

“If we can build this research further we’d like to create Center of the Study of Democratic Policing — that center would be an online forum and a public space where we would organize conversations about maintaining peaceful relations without the use of force,” Ochs said.

If police departments are interested in specialized training or resources, the center could offer that as well, she said.

We’ll devote two or three more posts to getting to know Prof Ochs’ work.

“The time for action where public safety is concerned is upon us”

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Gadfly:

I’m guessing that your home was built well before the comprehensive building codes that are applied today on new construction.

Why are these current codes in effect? Because we learned through trial and error (fires where there was no firewall, for example) that we had to do better to protect the health and safety of those who live in shared structures.

Like buildings, life circumstances create the demand for updated societal structure, action, if you will.

We know the time for action where public safety is concerned is upon us. Delays only create more issues and potentially more danger.

Dana Grubb

School resource officers: “They’re not there to help us”

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“Our Voices Matter! Students from Allentown, Emmaus and
Parkland School District speak their truths!”

What are your thoughts on the funding of police, and
the policing in schools?

(min. 15:09 and min. 59:50)

  • The money that’s being used to place police in our schools should be used to get more counselors, more people there to help the kids.
  • We’re there to learn . . . there’s a certain disconnect between teacher and student in the school that people don’t understand, and that fact that you have police there, I already don’t feel comfortable.
  • I think there needs to be more counselors to help these kids.
  • These kids grow up in harsh environments, these kids have trauma, and you look at them, and you just blame them for acting out.
  • You don’t need police, you need help, the kids need help, the police aren’t doing anything, they’re just standing around getting paid for nothing.
  • We need help, we need counselors to talk to.
  • Those funds should be used for the community . . . not for the police to do nothing.
  • I really think schools should consider . . . hiring POC counselors . . . probably don’t feel comfortable talking to a counselor not of their race, feeling that they can’t relate.
  • Our counselors aren’t even trained properly to address these situations. Literally all they do is help schedule our classes and help get a study hall and basically saying, O, my job’s done.
  • That’s not what we need. We come to them trying to confide in them, trying to have them help us when they don’t know how to, and it’s not necessarily their fault. Because it’s not to them in their job description.
  • Your life at home affects your life at school . . . and that’s not fair to students that they don’t have anybody to come to.
  • All that money could go into helping students becoming better.
  • Allen is notorious for fighting and there aren’t that many to justify that amount of money for SRO’s to be in that school.
  • We need to give our counselors that proper training so that they are able to adjust the situations that their students bring to them.
  • “Resource” officers? They don’t give us resources. They’re not there to help us.
  • They’re literally to just track us from the school to the prison . . . You are written up . . . arrested on paper . . . labeled for the rest of your life.
  • They’re not nice, they’re looking down on us . . . They can’t relate to us, they don’t know the type of anger we have, the type of things we go through at home.
  • They say that they help, but they don’t help.
  • What if a child does resist, because they’re scared, they’re going to retaliate like that, put a knee on a kid’s neck . . . somebody who has no knowledge about how to control their actions because they are not taught to.
  • There are literally examples of officers in school to protect the students doing absolutely nothing.
  • If you’re constantly in my face . . . harassing us . . .
  • I don’t feel safe with you here.
  • You’re not distributing the money evenly or fairly.
  • Give me facts, give me data that they have helped improve the safety.
  • I feel safer at home than I do at school.
  • What would they teach us? How when you are stopped by the police you can try not to be killed?

Gadfly’s roof isn’t leaking — yet

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Gadfly lives cozily nestled in the middle of a triple.

When his neighbor’s roof leaks, he gets water.

Since there is no firewall in the open shared attic crawl space, if one neighbor has a fire, that fire will rise up to the attic and then down on Gadfly’s side.

These facts were on Gadfly’s mind as he posted thrice this morning before now.

And as he thinks about the missing Public Safety Committee meeting.

Catch Gadfly’s drift?

Public Safety Committee chair: mcolon@bethlehem-pa.gov

 

“A person who is struggling with alcohol and drug abuse doesn’t need a guy with a gun”

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from Christina Tatu, “Allentown City Council divided over controversial police video and calls for reform.” Morning Call, July 17, 2020.

Allentown City Council is divided over whether a police officer acted correctly when he restrained a man outside of St. Luke’s Hospital-Sacred Heart last weekend by pressing his knee against the man’s head.

Polled Friday before the Lehigh County district attorney announced that the takedown was “reasonable” and that the two officers involved would not be charged, three council members said they believe the police acted appropriately, while two others said they acted too harshly. In addition, Joshua Siegel, who did not return a call or email, has proposed police reforms, and on Wednesday apologized to Edward Borrero Jr., the man the police restrained.

Council President Daryl Hendricks and Councilman Ed Zucal, both former Allentown police officers, said they believe officers acted correctly when they restrained Borrero, 37, of Allentown, who was stumbling down Chew Street around 6:30 p.m. Saturday. They said the officers did not put Borrero in any danger.

“When a subject is on his stomach, that is exactly where an officer needs to be positioned, right next to his head near his shoulder. Your knee is supposed to be at the center of his shoulder blades,” said Zucal, who believes that is what a silent, nine-minute surveillance video of the incident showed.

“The leg will be near his head but not on his head. That’s the big difference between this and George Floyd,” Zucal said, recalling the May 25 death in Minneapolis that kicked off nationwide protests when Floyd was pinned beneath the knee of a police officer for nearly nine minutes.

“At no time, according to the expert, and from what I could see, could this man not breathe,” Affa said. “From what I see and what the experts see, it’s so much different than George Floyd. That officer wanted to kill him. He didn’t want to restrain him. What we saw at Sacred Heart and George Floyd is apples to oranges.”

Councilwomen Ce-Ce Gerlach and Cynthia Mota both had concerns about the way police responded to Borrero.

“He was in front of the hospital, so he was looking for help. I don’t think handcuffing him was the right thing to do. I don’t think putting his neck in the middle of the sidewalk was the right thing to do,” Mota said. “How are we able to handle a person in crisis other than putting him in handcuffs?”

Gerlach said she was “deeply concerned” after seeing video of the incident and speaking with Borrero, who joined protesters outside Allentown City Hall during a City Council meeting Wednesday night. “We need to hear audio that corresponds with the visual to see what, if any, de-escalation tactics were used or if there was was anything escalating the situation,” Gerlach said. “I’m disturbed by the fact we were told the officers and the gentleman fell to the ground and then it appears something else happened and he was tripped,” she said.

Earlier this week, Gerlach and Siegel proposed a police oversight resolution on a number of reforms, including requiring officers to intervene to stop any excessive use of force, making body camera footage available to the public and removing any exceptions for chokeholds and neck restraints from the use-of-force policy.

Council members polled on Friday said they are open to reviewing the proposal. Zucal, however, said he doesn’t think any council members should try to “micromanage” the police department. “If we could get an outside group that’s objective, I wouldn’t be opposed to that. However, I won’t let a certain group try to minimize and micromanage the police department.”

Gerlach said she doesn’t necessarily agree with everything protesters want, but supports transferring some money from the police department to address community issues like homelessness and drug addiction.

“I think people have a misconception that this means abolishing the police department. … I don’t want to get rid of police officers entirely because there is a role for them, but a person who is struggling with alcohol and drug abuse doesn’t need a guy with a gun,” Gerlach said.

Knee to head brief emergency immobilization according to D.A.

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DA: No evidence to support charging Allentown police officers in restraint of man.” 69News, July 17, 2020.

After observing these actions both officers concluded that Borrero was in distress and in need of medical attention and a danger to himself and possibly others, Martin said. They also concluded that he was likely under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Under these circumstances, police officers have a duty to intervene to provide aid to somebody who is in distress, Martin said.

Mr. Borrero began pointing aggressively toward a St. Luke’s security officer who was walking toward him with a vomit bag, Martin said. The officers concluded that his actions were aggressive and they determined that they needed to detain him for his own safety as well as for the safety of themselves and others, including medical personnel. They intended to place him into detention so that he could be taken into the hospital, Martin said.

One of the officers, based upon his training, approached Borrero from behind and slightly to his left, in an effort to handcuff him, Martin said. The officer was able to place a handcuff onto Borrero’s left wrist while both of his hands were clenched against his head. The other officer tried to take control of Borrero’s right hand and arm and to bring the left handcuffed wrist to his back in order to place both wrists into handcuffs, Martin said.

Borrero resisted the attempt, began lurching forward and tried to pull away from the officers, Martin said. In order to gain control, one officer took Borrero to the ground. While on the ground, Borrero continued to resist and during this time was yelling and spitting, Martin said.

An officer then moved his knee to Borrero’s head in order to place him into emergency immobilization so as to safely, efficiently and effectively keep him from moving his body to avoid being handcuffed and placed into custody, Martin said. The officer moved his knee to Borrero’s head, not his neck, Martin said. After that, the officer immediately removed his knee from Borrero’s head, but, very briefly, had to put it back on his head again, while Borrero was spitting at the officers, Martin said.

At the officers’ request hospital personnel provided and placed a breathable spit shield on Borrero. Both officers then attempted to calm him and assure him that they were attempting to help him, Martin said. He was speaking incoherently but appeared less agitated, according to the news release.

He was placed into the “recovery position,” and one officer conducted a search of Borrero, during which an uncapped hypodermic needle was found in his right cargo short’s pocket, Martin said. Although Borrero continued to yell, he was no longer resisting or spitting, and based upon his compliance, he was then helped to his feet, and walked by the two officers into the Emergency Room, according to the release.

Martin said any determinations on whether the officers should be disciplined, suspended, or fired from their positions are internal personnel matters of the Allentown Police Department. However, he said that based on the evidence he sees no basis for such actions.

Allentown Police Department Police Chief Glenn Granitz Jr., in a statement Friday, said he reviewed Martin’s decision. He said the police department’s internal review by the Office of Professional Standards, as well as the department’s use of force review process has determined, along with Martin’s findings, that there is no basis for any discipline of the officers involved.

In the statement, Granitz said that at no time during the incident did either officer place their knee on Borrero’s neck, and that there was never a point when a chokehold was applied. A review of video evidence and the interviews with witnesses corroborates this, Granitz said.

“The men and women of the Allentown Police Department remain committed to protecting the public and we take that responsibility seriously,” Granitz said in the statement.

“I pledge to continue to work closely with community stakeholders and members of our department to ensure the safety and quality of life of the residents of the City of Allentown.”

Allentown Mayor Ray O’ Connell also released a statement following District Attorney Martin’s findings. “I thank District Attorney Martin and APD’s Office of Professional Standards and Use of Force Review team for their respective inquiries into the incident outside St. Luke’s Sacred Heart. Public safety is my top priority,” O’ Connell said. “That reaches its highest level when there is trust between the police department and the residents. As mayor of the city, I am committed to strengthening the relationship between the department and the community. I take my oath of office seriously. I remain committed to the protection of the public and to improving the lives of all our citizens.”

Knee on head restraint reasonable according to the D.A.

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from Manuel Gamiz, Jr., “DA: Allentown police officers were justified in takedown. Protesters: ‘We do not accept it’.” Morning Call, July 17, 2020.

An Allentown police officer who restrained a man on the ground last weekend by pressing his knee against the man’s head did nothing wrong, said Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin on Friday, finding that the force used was not excessive. Martin said in a news release that he found the takedown by two Allentown officers “reasonable.” “I have concluded that there is absolutely no evidence to support filing criminal charges against either of the Allentown police officers involved in this incident,” Martin said.

Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley responded immediately in a Facebook video, with Justan Parker, one of the founders, saying, “This is not OK. This is not right. We’re going to continue speaking about this.” Parker said the investigation should have been conducted by an outside agency and promised to mobilize the community in response. About an hour later, the Lehigh Valley Coalition of Equity, a patchwork of representatives from Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley and other organizations, held a press conference at the Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown. “We do not accept it,” Parker said at the press conference with fellow protesters holding signs behind him.

Parker said the coalition demands an external investigation headed by the state attorney general’s office, the release of the names of the officers involved in the July 11 incident, and the officers’ suspensions pending the external investigation’s outcome. “We’re also demanding the officers’ body cam footage be released, as video footage from St. Luke’s Hospital has not been sufficient,” Parker said. “This goes along with our other demands of defunding the police and reallocating those funds back into the community. “The use-of-force police [recently] made public has already been violated with regard to the neck restraint and officers not intervening,” he said. “We will continue to push and fight for this until our demands are met.”

Bystander Glendon Hall of Allentown gave his take after watching the press conference. “It’s a very precarious situation,” Hall said. “The police are under extreme stress. The measure of force used was excessive, obviously, and folks have every right to protest, but police work long hours and are under even more pressure now than they were just 10 years ago. We have to find a way to come together and heal.”

The Congressional Black Caucus on Friday also called for “a full independent investigation” into the Allentown arrest, and for the officers involved to be “punished to the fullest extent of the law for the use of the banned chokehold.”

“I am satisfied that given Mr. Borrero’s obvious intoxication and his actions, he was clearly a danger to himself and potentially to others,” Martin said. “He was clearly agitated and noncompliant, and in order to gain control of him so that he was no longer a danger, and could be medically treated, it was necessary for the officers to restrain him. That restraint was reasonable.” Martin said the Allentown officer only briefly put his knee on Borrero’s head, and noted that it was not placed on his neck. “The officer’s knee remained in that position for about eight seconds and was removed as soon as he was handcuffed,” he said.

On Friday, after Martin announced his decision, POWER Lehigh Valley posted on its Facebook page, “Every. Word. of Jim Martin’s statement is an outrage.”

Martin said he would not be complying with demands to release the officer’s name, saying it would be “improper” to identify a person who was under investigation but not criminally charged. The criminal complaint says Borrero was vomiting, yelling “in an aggressive grunting style” and lobbing obscenities at emergency room staff, five of whom were interviewed by Martin’s office. In his report, Martin noted that Borrero stumbled into the street, where at least one car swerved to avoid hitting him, and that police intervened to get him into the hospital. “Under these circumstances, police officers have a duty to intervene pursuant to the community care-taking doctrine to provide aid to an individual who is in distress,” Martin said.