Maplewood Opinion Police and Fire

SOMA Justice: New Police Chief Must Embrace Change, Transform Police Culture

The following opinion piece is from SOMA Justice, a South Orange-Maplewood group that “works to address race, racism and inequality in the SOMA community.” The Maplewood Committee will announce its selection of a new Chief of Police on April 3 at its regular meeting. The Township received two applications for the position of police chief: from Acting Chief Jimmy DeVaul and from Maplewood Police Lt. Kevin Kisch. Both candidates made a presentation and took questions from the public at a community meeting on March 5. 

SOMA Justice was honored, along with SOMA Action, by the Maplewood Township Committee on Jan. 1.

As the Maplewood Township Committee prepares to vote on the next Maplewood Police Chief, we at SOMa Justice would like to outline some clear priorities we hope they will draw upon as they make this important decision..

We are in the midst of a pivotal moment. One that presents us with an opportunity to not only make real change for the community but also be a model for communities like ours. A model of justice, reform, and progress. To not take advantage of that would be at best foolish, at worst unethical.

On July 5, 2016, the rampant stories of police abuse and aggression towards black and brown Americans around the country sharply hit home. We as a town committed to protecting our children, making our town safe for everyone, and ensuring that we have a police force that treats everyone fairly, regardless of skin color.

But we can’t do anything without the willing support of a Police Chief that sees this goal of change and accountability as his own. We are relying on your leadership to select a candidate that not only understands the grave importance of this objective, but is willing to put in the hard, difficult work to transforming a police culture that has threatened and compromised the safety of our loved ones, neighbors, and friends..

We need a leader who:

  • Is willing to identify and address institutional racism within the police department, including racial profiling of residents, biases expressed among officers, and promotions
  • Is willing to bring in resources that address the biases and behavior of police officers, and hold accountable or even dismiss those officers who do not comply with such interventions
  • Has a clear plan to ensuring the events that took place on July 5th, 2016, and the type of police culture that participated in it, condoned it, and looked the other way, will never happen again
  • Accepts the demands made by the Community Coalition on Race, SOMa Action, and SOMa Justice to proactively place measures that will track, assess, and evaluate racial biases and racist behavior within the police force
  • Pledges to continue pursuing the Restorative Justice model with our youth and help reverse the school-to-prison pipeline
  • Is willing to consider not an increase but a decrease in police officers in our schools as a first step in building trust with our youth of color and their parents
  • Is willing to engage with the community and take advantage of its support and knowledge in making these changes

The current Attorney General guidelines and the Police Union gives us little leverage to force change. So if our Police Chief does not support change, change will not happen.

If you, Township Committee members, do not make the right choice, change will not happen.

We are lucky that no child died during the assaults from police two years ago. We are lucky that we have the opportunity to right our wrongs. The Township Council has the responsibility and the mandate to select someone who gives us the best chance to help fight systematic racism and make this a truly welcoming community for all.

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