Election Police and Fire

VIDEO: South Orange Trustee Candidates Discuss Police Force Report

Last year, NJ Advance Media/NJ.com/Star-Ledger provoked conversations and action around policing statewide when it published the Force Report — documenting every police use of force report filed in New Jersey between 2012 and 2016.

The report showed that South Orange had 104 total uses-of-force from 2012 through 2016, and 45.2 incidents per 1 ,000 arrests. Their department showed a higher force rate than 385 other departments in New Jersey.

The investigation also found that “a black person in South Orange is more than nine times more likely to be the subject of police force than a white person, and that 100 percent of the juveniles who police used force on from 2012 to 2016 were black.”

The release of the report prompted a community meeting in South Orange in January and the formation of a community police collaboration committee. Read coverage of the meeting here and here.

At the May 2 League of Women Voters candidates forum, the 9 candidates for South Orange Village Board of Trustees answered a question about the NJ Force Report. The question read: “The NJ Force Report found 104 uses of force by the SOPD (from 2012 to 2016), a higher rate than 385 other NJ PDs. Do you think this is an acceptable rate? If not, how would you work to improve the situation?”

All of the candidates responded that the rates reporting in the Force Report were unacceptable. Most mentioned the new community police collaboration committee as a good start to addressing those numbers. In their responses, some candidates focused on different solutions: from training, to basketball leagues, to D.A.R.E. officers, to better data.

Bob Zuckerman — who is running with Donna Coallier and Summer Jones on the “Your Voice, One Village” slate — noted that the moderator’s question did not mention the race differential noted in the Force Report.  “For me it was the astronomical percentage of uses of force against people of color” that grabbed his attention. Zuckerman pointed to the use of police community boards in New York City but also said he wanted to see the town producing its own data and reports on policing. (See Zuckerman’s full response at 1:03:53 in the video below.)

Ed Moore noted that he and his running mate Bobby Brown (they are on the Think Work Thrive together slate with Toshie Davis) are both members of the new community police collaborative committee. Moore stated that, more than the statistics of the Force Report, “What got me most was the anecdotal comments” at a meeting on the Force report at a South Orange Board of Trustees earlier this year: “People from the community who told their tearful stories .. .of what is happening to them and their children.” Moore said that fixing the numbers was one part of the problem but, “We have to fix this other part of why has this relationship gone bad over the years.” (See Moore’s full response at 1:05:05.)

Matt Wonski of the SO Forward slate (running with Ed Grossi and Stacey Trimble-Borden) responded that “Safety and security are at the top of the highest grossing businesses in the country,” saying that people need to feel safe, and know that their home or car won’t be broken into. Wonski noted that Deborah Davis Ford, who is running at the top of the SO Forward slate, helped start the community police collaborative committee. “We’re all in this together,” said Wonski, who also talked about police and youth getting to know each other: “When I was young, we had  D.A.R.E. officers in Marshall School… . I had a relationship with all of those police officers as did many of my friends from all walks of life. … We want to make sure that can happen again.” (See Wonski’s full response at 1:05:55.)

Summer Jones said she was “actually shocked by the Use of Force report. To learn that the town where I had a home had such rates — it actually spurred me to run.” Jones said the report made her concerned for the safety of her own nephews “who come to visit me every summer. … It’s a concern for people in the community.” Beyond the community police collaborative, Jones said she supported implicit bias and differential treatment training for police and was encouraged to hear that 10 out of 15 new hires in the force were people of color. (See Jones’ full response at 1:07:05)

Toshie Davis began her comments by stating, “This is the reasons why I chose to run.” She spoke of an instance where a 10 year old girl was stopped by the police and her white friend who witnessed the incident said she had never heard a police officer address a person like that. “I hope that my son will have the experience with police that Mr. Wonski did,” said Davis, “but that’s not the expectation we can have right now.” To get there, Davis said that bias training and random checks of video of police stops was needed.  “Safety is an issue but keeping my son safe is an issue as well. and that’s why I’m running.” (See Davis’ full response at 1:08;13.)

Ed Grossi said that “obviously” the Force Report’s numbers were “not acceptable.” He said, “The solution involves talking to both sides,” explaining that that means talking to the police and “getting an explanation of why this is happening” and asking police what they need to do better. Conversely he said, “The most fundamental right you have is the right to feel safe. If residents in town are telling us that they don’t feel safe, that has to be addressed.” Grossi suggested a greater focus on  community policing – “get them out of cars, get them walking around.” If police know the children, said Grossi, they are less likely to commit violence against them. (See Grossi’s full response at 1:09:30.)

Donna Coallier spoke of her work as the chief diversity office in her business unit at PricewaterhouseCoopers. To address issues around recruiting and retaining diverse employees, she said the community needs “to get everyone together and understand that we have all different kinds of perspectives and backgrounds and we need to talk to each other more.” She said that at PwC, she created solutions such as trainings and forums where people could learn and work together on client engagements, “all kinds of ways for people to better understand each other.” Coallier concluded, “We have some of that happening in our town but not nearly enough and I’d like to do more.” (See Coallier’s full repsonse at 1:10:40.)

Bobby Brown started by saying, “The numbers are too high, the data is too vague and, no, I’m not surprised.” He added, “I’m surprised that my neighbors are surprised.” Brown said that, after the Force Report was released, he went to my neighbors and said, “these numbers are not acceptable.” Brown said he was “not just pointing the finger at offices. They do a great job — but they can do better. … They are not going to do better if we don’t have random selections of traffic stops.” Brown added, “The first time a 14 year old engages with a police officer should not be a use of force.” He pointed to basketball leagues and other contact with police as a solution: “Who better to tell children and adults what to do when engaging with an officer than an officer?” (See Brown’s full answer at 1:11:50.)

Stacey Trimble-Borden agreed that the community police collaboration committee was a very “powerful” group that was being formed. She added that citizens should “do the policing for other people. If you see something, say something.” She added that it was very important to have a conversation about “what it is for me to be safe in my town … and therefore have that conversation with the rest of the community.” (See Trimble-Borden’s full response at 1:13:05.)

See the candidates’ responses to SOMA Action’s questions on policing here. 

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