John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Police Category

Moving Toward Progressive Community Policing

Bucks County Local Officials and NAACP Discuss the Options

On September 23, 2020, the Progressive Local Officials of Bucks County, which is supported by the Bucks County Democratic Committee, hosted a Zoom webinar entitled "Policing in Our Community." The moderator was Doylestown Township Supervisor Jen Herring. Panelists included:

  • Brian Munroe - Bucks County Clerk of Courts
  • Mayor Ron Strouse - Doylestown Borough - Member of Central Bucks Regional Police Commission and Chair of the Central Bucks Regional Police Foundation (CRPF).
  • Kayma Sherman-Knuckles - Bucks County NAACP Criminal Justice and Education Committee - Reimagine Public Safety Co-Chair

The panel addressed the following questions among other issues:

  • What policing policies and practices should we as elected officials review for proper oversight?
  • What data should we be looking at to evaluate our departments?
  • What are some best practices we can consider adopting to help our police be more sensitive to community needs?

I present highlights of the discussion below. You can read my personal (UNOFFICIAL) transcript and/or listen to the entire discussion here.

Need for a More Progressive Police Organization

Brian Munroe mentioned that he created a liberal law enforcement group made up of progressives that have police and law enforcement experience. Right now, it's called the National Democratic Law Enforcement Association. This was in response to the fact that 61 of the 64 Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) organizations in PA voted to endorse Trump and only 3 – 5% - voted to endorse Biden. Also, the National Association of Police Officers, a lobbying group that says it represents more than 241,000 officers nationwide, endorsed President Trump for a second term. This comes after the association had supported Mr. Trump's challenger, Joe Biden, in the 2008 and 2012 elections [source]

"We feel like the FOB is missing a phenomenal opportunity to grow closer to the community," said Munroe. "Instead, they're kind of circling the wagons and getting defensive, and we understand that. But we think that we can fill a void. And there is a potential for a national article to be written up on this. The Washington Post is very interested in writing the story, so we'll see where that goes."

Policies and Training

“What are some policies that would be helpful for us to look into in our own police departments to help make sure that we have the best policies as far as the racial disparities?", asked Sherman-Knuckles. The following were policies mentioned during the webinar:

  • de-escalation training
  • diversity training
  • hiring and promotion
  • use of force
  • vehicle pursuit
  • firearms training

A question that elected officials can ask of their police department: Does our police department actually have policies on the books – not just in contracts – for all these?

Refreshment training is also important - especially de-escalation training. Just as important as providing for that is how often it's provided and how quickly it is provided when you have a new hire.

Directives & The Use of Force Continuum

“I would be guessing, but [in our department] there might be as many as 40 or 50 [directives], which outline conduct on the part of our members in the police department,” said Strouse. “So we will have a directive on the use of force, will have a directive on our canine corps. We'll have a directive on our body cameras in terms of how they're operating and how the information is secured and so forth and so on. Those directives are reviewed by the police commission. If you don't have a police commission, they should be reviewed by elected officials to make sure that they meet the demands of the community and the current environment that we find ourselves in in so many of our communities. We're reviewing them right now. And we'll review them on an ongoing basis. From a publicly elected person's point of view to make sure they're appropriate and appropriate to the times and appropriate to modern policing.”

Directives are not necessarily written policies, but are notices put out by the chief or by a lieutenant.

“So to a certain extent, what I understand is that our directive with regard to the use of force has a continuum of intervention on the part of the individual police member of the police department,” said Strouse. “Yes, they have to make a judgment as to where to enter that continuum. But if their training is proper, they enter that continuum at the lowest level. The lowest level actually could be a conversation. And lethal use of force is at the very end of that continuum. So that is where, from my perspective, the training is absolutely essential so that they know that under all possible circumstances, they pick the lowest level of continuum to engage this person who may be committing a crime or whatever."

Does Training Work Equally Well for People of Color As It Does for White People?

“I've seen, at least on social media, people saying things like the training worked for all the white people, but it didn't seem to work for anybody of color,” said Herring. “So they knew not to shoot somebody that was white, but people of color don't get that same sort of benefit from training. Do you feel that's fair?”

“So I think most of the time the reason why they are quick to trigger is because of the bias,” said Sherman-Knuckles. “It could be, you know, unconscious biases. That to me is not true, but it is the fact that your race makes a difference. So if that's the case, let's now look at some statistics of the police department and how they used force and how to deal with black and brown people. So if it's not true, then we can look at the data and the data cannot lie.”

“Because if you talk to police chiefs, the first thing they will tell you that, oh, no, we don't target black and brown people,” said Sherman-Knuckles. "We don't treat them differently. But then when you get the data in, they can see it and see that, oh, you know, maybe it is true now looking at the data, let's do something about it.”

“So, yes, I do believe that white people are treated differently in terms of ‘quick to shoot’ than black and brown bodies.”

Diversity Training & Non-Profits

“So often this kind of training is a partnership,” said Strouse. The Pearl Buck Foundation was mentioned. “I think that's something that we should be doing and something that we would welcome. And often it has to come … from the outside. We can figure out a way to fund it…[which] might be [via] the foundation rather than [from] the taxpayer... But I guess I'm suggesting is just finding the right partner and then finding ways to make it happen.”

Unfortunately, nonprofits are struggling these days. How about funding via resident donations through GoFundMe? or this: The Central Bucks Regional Police Foundation.

“Some of this, frankly, requires funding above and beyond what we might expect from a taxpayer based police department,” said Ron Strouse. “So we've actually also created a foundation, a 501c3 [Central Bucks Regional Police Foundation (CRPF)], that funds some of those initiatives that go above and beyond what you might think a tax-based Police Department might provide. The 501c3, for example, has funded, in our case, the first two dogs of our canine corps. Once it's established, it becomes part of the regular budgeting for a police department.”

Mission of the CRPF: The Central Bucks Regional Police Foundation's purpose is to improve the quality of life, public safety, and environment through community policing, crime prevention, education, humanitarian efforts, and technological advances accomplished through initiatives developed by the Central Bucks Regional Police Department.

Keeping Track of Race & Gender During Stops

“The only reason that Radnor started keeping track of stops or pedestrian stops, traffic stops, was because there was a lawsuit,” said Monroe. “Somebody was claiming that, you know, the police department stops minorities at a higher percentage than white. And what they started out having us do is they started having us issue a citation [with] four copies .... And of course, you don't put the race and sex on the copy you [give to the] individual because in that scenario they're going to say, what on earth is that about? But what we do is for our internal copies, we would be required to write, you know, white, male, white, female, Asian, male, so on and so forth.”

How would we, as elected officials, municipal councils, steer our police department into collecting that type of information?, asked Herring.

“Well, I'm going to weigh in and say that the level of supervision coming from elected officials of police departments is all over the lot,” said Strouse. “I hope I don't get anyone angry on this, but I think by and large, it's a relatively low level supervision. And definitely, given our experiences over the last few years, let alone the last few months is inadequate to the task.”

“I think I think there needs to be some dramatic change there. It should begin with the elected officials,” said Strouse. “I mean we're all elected to provide primarily, first and foremost, public safety. So this is this is where it begins. And probably without exception, it is the largest budget item of any municipal budget in terms of expenditures in public safety is our police department. So there's a there's a lot of argument that the public should be more engaged in this process.”

Make Noise!

Herring asked: Any recommendations as far as how we can break through that stone wall that comes up when you try and stick your nose in the police business as an elected official?

“It starts with making a lot of noise,” said Strouse. “Elected officials in part are elected to do their job. And if you're being stonewalled, you're being prohibited from doing the job. So I guess it starts with making a lot of noise. But then it you know, it has to get down to the nitty gritty of actually doing the work, some of which might have to be in committee or executive session.”

Posted on 02 Oct 2020, 01:02 - Category: Police

Police Town Hall Discussed at Meet Mack Monday Meeting

Below is an edited transcript by John Mack, Newtown Township Supervisor, of the July 6, 2020, “Meet Mack Monday” Zoom meeting. The focus of the meeting was police accountability and Town Hall meeting. View the video archive here.

NOTE: The Newtown Township Police Town Hall will take place LIVE on July 23, 2020, at 7 PM at the Municipal Building, 100 Municipal Drive.

Statement by Chief Hearn

"I along with my Board supervisors felt it was important that I meet face to face and reiterate that Newtown Township Police Department is here to "serve and protect" and to reassure our community of our commitment to fairness, respect, and dignity of everyone and to continue to build trust and legitimacy. Although this is not an ideal time to encourage our residents to gather together, we felt the need to reassure our residents. As stated in the press release the number of attendees will be limited to 20 residents on a first come first basis due to COVID-19 restrictions. No reservations, however, additional meetings may occur later if the interest is there. Mask coverings will be required in order for everyone's safety, and in our attempts to get people to freely open up on topics that may be discussed, it will not be televised or recorded."

UPDATE

On Thursday, July 23, 2020, Newtown Township Police Chief John Hearn hosted his first live town hall meeting with residents in the township’s public meeting room. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions and a competing Council Rock School District meeting, only 12-15 residents and 3 Supervisors (Dennis Fisher, David Oxley, and John Mack) attended. Also in attendance was Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub.

Although the attendance was not what was expected, the meeting was very informative and a good first step to further meetings in the community. Prior to the meeting Chief Hearn requested that the meeting NOT be officially recorded or televised so that people will "freely open up on topics that may be discussed." Consequently, this summary is based in large part on the copious notes I made during the meeting.

Read more about the meeting in the August 2020 issue of Newtown News Update.

Transcript

Posted on 13 Jul 2020, 01:15 - Category: Police

Newtown Police Will Host Town Hall Meeting



Statement by Chief Hearn

"I along with my Board supervisors felt it was important that I meet face to face and reiterate that Newtown Township Police Department is here to "serve and protect" and to reassure our community of our commitment to fairness, respect, and dignity of everyone and to continue to build trust and legitimacy. Although this is not an ideal time to encourage our residents to gather together, we felt the need to reassure our residents. As stated in the press release the number of attendees will be limited to 20 residents on a first come first basis due to COVID-19 restrictions. No reservations, however, additional meetings may occur later if the interest is there. Mask coverings will be required in order for everyone's safety, and in our attempts to get people to freely open up on topics that may be discussed, it will not be televised or recorded."

UPDATE

On Thursday, July 23, 2020, Newtown Township Police Chief John Hearn hosted his first live town hall meeting with residents in the township’s public meeting room. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions and a competing Council Rock School District meeting, only 12-15 residents and 3 Supervisors (Dennis Fisher, David Oxley, and John Mack) attended. Also in attendance was Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub.

Although the attendance was not what was expected, the meeting was very informative and a good first step to further meetings in the community. Prior to the meeting Chief Hearn requested that the meeting NOT be officially recorded or televised so that people will "freely open up on topics that may be discussed." Consequently, this summary is based in large part on the copious notes I made during the meeting.

Read more about the meeting in the August 2020 issue of Newtown News Update.

Posted on 09 Jul 2020, 12:18 - Category: Police

Newtown Police Operating “Routinely” During COVID-19 Restrictions

According to the latest Newtown Township Press Release, the Newtown Township Police Department is operating “routinely” during the current coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully certain precautions are being taken to protect police officers who interact with the public on a daily basis.

The March 20-26, 2020, weekly call report from the Newtown Police Dept shows that officers responded to 261 calls for service that week versus an average of 364 per week from 9 Jan 2020 through 12 Mar 2020 – a drop of 28% (see chart). As noted in the report this is due to “COVID-19 restrictions” - mostly regarding traffic citations.

I noticed two interesting items in the latest weekly call report that I have not seen before:

  • 12 Foot Patrol Reports, and
  • 0 Traffic Citations! (compared to 44 for the week ending 3/12)

Police chief John Hearn noted that with the limited traffic there were no observed traffic violations, “which is a good thing,” said the Chief. “Any significant violations observed however will still be addressed. We still encourage everyone unless essential personnel to stay home so that we can prevent this virus from spreading further, protecting our loved ones, limiting serious illness and related deaths, so that we can get back to some type of normalcy.”

Regarding foot patrols, the Chief noted that when time and staffing permits, the Department has officers conduct foot patrols – normally within business districts.

“With the pandemic, the officers were instructed to conduct checks of business facilities/strip malls while most are closed, to prevent burglaries and they were also advised to check religious institutions for vandalism in light of the holy season.”

In 2019, the Newtown Police Department documented 630 foot patrols (aka, “Proactive Patrols”). So far, for 2020, there have been 130 such patrols.

The Chief reminds residents that all NON-EMERGENCY Police requests for an officer to respond should be made by phone call to 215-328-8524.

We are all aware that hundreds of New York City police officers have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least one has died as a result. I hope, therefore, that Newtown residents obey stay home while our police officers are “routinely” at work for us.

UPDATE (10 April 2020): The April 3-8, 2020, weekly call report from the Newtown Police Dept shows that officers responded to 222 calls for service that week versus an average of 364 per week from 9 Jan 2020 through 12 Mar 2020 – a drop of 39% (see chart).

UPDATE (23 April 2020): The April 17-23, 2020, weekly call report from the Newtown Police Dept shows that officers responded to 224 calls for service that week. There were 0 Traffic Citations and 0 Traffic Details that week (see chart). There were several calls regarding theft from vehicles. According to the report: "Many of these crimes have been occurring throughout Bucks County in the early morning hours. We are asking commercial delivery drivers, newspaper delivery personnel and early morning risers to pay attention and immediately report ANY suspicious activity. AS ALWAYS, WE REMIND EVERYONE TO PLEASE REMOVE ALL VALUABLES AND LOCK YOUR CARS!" Several other cases involved fraud.

UPDATE (21 May 2020): The May 15-21, 2020, weekly call report from the Newtown Police Dept shows that officers responded to 376 calls for service that week, which is back to the normal, pre-COVID-19 range. There were 20 Traffic Citations and 29 Traffic Details that week (see chart). Scams were rampant. Some advice: Be alert to the fact that scams exist. When dealing with uninvited contacts from people or businesses, whether it's over the phone, by mail, email, in person or on a social networking site, always consider the possibility that the approach may be a scam.

Posted on 30 Mar 2020, 10:30 - Category: Police

Newtown Township Police Department Adds Nextdoor to Its Social Media Outreach Program

This morning, I was surprised to see this in my email inbox from Nextdoor:

Actually, I should not have been surprised because the Police Department has an excellent FB page as well as Twitter and Instagram accounts! Kudos to Sergeant Lupinetti, who manages these accounts.

About Nextdoor

Nextdoor is a social networking service for neighborhoods. Nextdoor members can post notices, events, and topics for discussion and/or feedback from other members. Members submit their real names and addresses and other information in their profiles. Posts made to the website are available only to other Nextdoor members living in the same neighborhood, hence the name “Nextdoor.”

Typical platform uses include neighbors reporting on news and events in their "neighborhood" and members asking each other for local service-provider recommendations. It can also be used to post events and other notices of interest to members such as this post I made about the impact of the Township’s Pollution Reduction plan on Roberts Ridge Park:

This resulted in residents attending a Board of Supervisors meeting and submitting comments on the plan for the park. As a result, the plan was changed (read “Newtown Revises Pollution Reduction Plan After Hearing Resident Comments”) and a new group, “Friends of Roberts Ridge Park” (see the FB Group) was formed with a goal to plant native trees in the park to augment the well-maintained meadow area approved by the Township.

It’s a shame that Newtown Township does not have any official social media presence. Of the 53 local government websites studied by the Bucks County Courier Times, 35 (66%) had active Facebook pages, 25 (47%) were active on Twitter and 13 (25%) had YouTube channels.

Social Media Used by Selected Local Municipalities

Because Newtown does not have its own Twitter account or Facebook page, it must rely upon the Police Department whenever it would like to reach out to citizens via social media. Recently, for example the NT Police Twitter account posted this notice for hiring a Township Recording Secretary:

Although the NTPD Twitter account has over 3,100 follows, the majority of these followers are other police departments, law enforcement agencies, police officers and their families, school districts, etc. Consequently, posting to this account is not the best way to reach a significant number of ordinary law-abiding citizens of Newtown.

Now that the NTPD is posting to Nextdoor (see the Departments Nextdoor profile and list of posts here), I am sure their messages will more likely be received and read by the citizens they are intended to reach.

Further Reading: "My BIG Idea: Openness, Transparency & Better Communications"

Posted on 28 Jun 2019, 01:36 - Category: Police

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