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Residents' police oversight plan meet chief's, and board votes no action

UPDATED, March 12: The effort to begin the process of establishing a citizen review of town police drew numerous vocal supporters, sharp questions from the Select Board and alternative route introduced by the police chief on Monday, March 9.

Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019

Chief Juliann Flaherty, 2019Chief FlahertyThe article proposed by Precinct 21 Town Meeting member Jordan Weinstein asks this spring's Town Meeting to establish a committee to study a police civilian advisory board. That panel would propose the shape of the board for a vote of the 2021 meeting.

Weinstein made clear that those involved in repairing damage they see from Lt. Rick Pedrini's published words in October 2018 don't want to only study the matter; they seek to put into effect next year.

Supporting him were 11 speakers. In general, they argued the public's right to have a role in overseeing town police.

At the same time, Juliann Flaherty, introduced to the public at the meeting after she was elevated to permanent chief of police in February, asked the board to implement her own plan for a Police Chief's Advisory Committee.

Compromise suggested

The Select Board took issue with a number of aspects to the proposed article, No. 17, and suggested a compromise between Weinstein's and Flaherty's plans. In the end, the board voted, 5-0, to recommend no action.

Here is what a variety of speakers had to say.

Weinstein, the article's coauthor, noted a key impetus was the characterization of immigrants by Pedrini, who he did not name. The offending words were published in the year after Town Meeting had supported the Trust Act, a measure to support immigrants.

He said restorative justice should not "was never meant to be used" for discipline in such cases, and the officer remains in job. The string of events show, he said, a lack of adequate process to oversee police. Noting that Cambridge and Springfield have citizen boards, he said that were one in place here, the board could have investigated the officer.

Flaherty's proposal

Chief Flaherty, in outlining her plan cited its membership, noted its membership, said its goal is to foster open communication and added a consultant would guide the process. She said, in part:

"... I would like to form this commission to involve residents of Arlington in the overall mission of the police department. I envision creating a committee consisting of 11-13 community leaders, members of the Human Rights Commission, Disability Commission, Rainbow Commission, Arlington Public Schools, Student Council Leadership, religious leaders, the Equal Opportunity Advisory Committee, business owners, an elected official, Town Counsel, and a police union representative.

"The PCAC would provide a forum for discussion and present the chief of police with a diverse spectrum of viewpoints represented by community members. The mission of the PCAC would be to foster open communication and cooperation among community members and the police department. The PCAC would be tasked with advising and making recommendations to the Chief of Police, enhancing police-community relations by serving as a liaison between the police department and the community, and reviewing and making recommendations on policies, procedures,
recruitment, training, culture and programs.

"Working with the Chief of Police, the [committee] would identify areas of focus including homelessness, the opioid crisis, immigration, police officer safety and wellness, and best police practices ...."

Read the chief's full statement about the plan here >> 

"I believe Arlington very different from Cambridge or Springfield," she said, calling it an apples-and-orange comparison to Arlington.

Article supporters read statements 

Among the 11 supporting Article 17, Louise Popkin read a statement Rajeev Soneja. He is cochair of the Diversity Task Group and a Human Right commissioner, but asked to be quoted as a resident. It said, in part:

"One of the recommendations to come out of the report filed by the Consensus Building Institute, was the creation of a 'civilian review board' to provide advice and accountability regarding community-police relations. As we know, this report was commissioned by the Town of Arlington in the summer of 2019 ....

"... I appreciate the hard work the APD puts into effective policing and community relations, and this board can be an important tool form building trust and a sense of safety within the community ...."

Lynette Culverhouse said she appreciated the chief's proposal and read a lengthy statement from resident Laura Kiesel, who wrote that she could not be present because of coronavirus concerns and related health needs. It says, in part:

"... [L]ast time I attended a Select Board meeting, I spoke of my uncle's assault by police officers. What I hadn't had time to mention then, was that neither my uncle nor my family reported or filed suit regarding the abuse. Despite the privileges of being white, American-born and native English speakers, we felt too disempowered and quite frankly, too scared of the backlash and additional targeting we might incur if we were to file a formal complaint. Had there been a civilian review board in NYC at the time, things might have been different for us ...."

"... I still believe the majority of the APD are comprised of good cops who genuinely care about the residents they are sworn to protect. The problem for me and so many others, however, is we have no way of knowing who the bad apples are. And so I, like many others, now live in fear and trepidation in the town we call home or work in. We are reluctant to call the cops, report incidences, or even be in the presence of police. This erodes public safety in our town overall and is not a sustainable long-term situation.

"I am sure that all of us would like to have healing and restore mutual trust here in Arlington. If, like the Select Board and Town Manager have repeatedly assured us, the APD is a generally trustworthy body with cops who abide by a certain code of conduct, a Civilian Review Board will simply confirm that for all of us and give us peace of mind. However, it will also serve as a check to those officers that may otherwise be acting below the radar ...."

Select Board Chair Diane Mahon read two letters of support for Article 17.

Board questions

Board member Dan Dunn focused on the article's language, suggesting that Town Meeting "can't amend this" and called its tone "my way or the highway."

Weinstein expressed some dismay about this.

Board member Joseph Curro Jr. noted the article lacked three stakeholders, the Council on Aging, Housing Authority tenants and school representatives. He suggested a compromise involving the the chief's proposal and the article.

Member Steve DeCourcey asked Flaherty how quickly she wants to move on her plan. "As soon as possible," she said.

At this point, a woman who had given only her first name, Emily, who had earlier spoke in support of Article 17 commented loudly from the audience. Mahon asked for restraint, but the woman persisted. Mahon asked her to leave, and she did.

Weinstein insisted the route the article takes would more directly deal with police issues than you the chief's plan.

Flaherty noted that the department currently has procedures in place, which she and officers take seriously. She said she objected to the commenter who said no procedures were in place.

On a motion by Curro, the board voted unanimously to recommend no action. That means the issue will be sorted out on the floor of Town Meeting.


Oct. 12, 2019: From fury to reason, 27 address Pedrini issue for 3rd week 


This news summary was published Tuesday, March 10, and updated March 12, to clarify a name.

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