On Monday night, the South Orange Village Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution “affirming the commitment of the Township of South Orange Village to advancing social justice and reciprocal respect for all people.” The resolution also commended the South Orange Police Department for its community relations and outreach programs.
The resolution came on the heels of a request from the Community Coalition on Race last fall to adopt and pass a resolution condemning actions in Ferguson, MO related to the shooting death of Michael Brown. However, South Orange Village Trustees rejected the language put forward by the CCR.
“My reaction is that although I appreciate the effort to address a very serious problem, I’m very disappointed in this resolution,” said Village President Alex Torpey in November. “We’re reacting to tragedies focusing on stories of one particular tragedy instead of focusing on root causes.” (Read the CCR’s proposed resolution here.) Trustee Sheena Collum said she worried about “creeping anti police sentiment,” and Trustee Walter Clarke said, “I wouldn’t want to see this as a preemptive knock against our police department,” noting that the police had done an outstanding job with community outreach programs.
On Monday, Trustees said they were thankful to the CCR for “forcing us to think.”
Trustee Deborah Davis Ford said, “We ended up with the type of resolution that we were looking for…. We hit the right balance.”
“While I didn’t like the initial resolution,” said Collum, “it forced us to think about the core of the message.” In fact, Collum said that a number of new police community relations programs would be coming out of a “sit down” with police in response to the proposed resolution. “I do thank [the CCR] for that.”
Later in the meeting, Collum detailed those program, including Coffee with a Cop and Positive Citations.
Coffee with a Cop will be a quarterly (March, June, September, December) event to “build relationships with neighborhoods” that will be run in conjunction with neighborhood watch groups. Although dates and venues have yet to be announced, Trustee Walter Clarke said that the coffees would take place in a “relaxed setting” where neighbors and police would “get to know each other.”
Meanwhile, Police Citations are “tickets” given out by police to youth who are exhibiting good behavior. The tickets will act as coupons that can be redeemed at Cold Stone Creamery and/or Pirates Pizza, both of which are sponsoring the new program which is being piloted through June.
Along with commending the police, the resolution also reaffirmed the Village Trustees commitment to support and promote the programs of the Community Coalition on Race.
The resolution (#2015-15) reads:
RESOLUTION AFFIRMING THE COMMITMENT OF THE TOWNSHIP OF SOUTH ORANGE VILLAGE TO ADVANCING SOCIAL JUSTICE AND RECIPROCAL RESPECT FOR ALL PEOPLE, AND RECOGNIZING AND COMMENDING THE SOUTH ORANGE POLICE DEPARTMENT ON ITS RECORD AND CONTINUING COMMITMENT TO TREATING ALL PERSONS WITH EQUALITY, DIGNITY, AND FAIRNESS.
WHEREAS, recent events in many communities throughout the United States have brought a great deal of attention to the social frailties of our society and the racial inequities that continue to exist within it. South Orange being a community that aspires to be not just diverse but truly integrated, we are saddened by the recent events in Ferguson Missouri, Staten Island, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and elsewhere and the fracturing violence and social unrest that have resulted; and
WHEREAS, we believe it is not enough to decry what we see elsewhere but we should also examine ourselves to improve and to effect positive change at home. South Orange is not immune to the troubles of the wider world however our population has a history of confronting those problems with ingenuity, openness, and trust with the goal of true diversity and a truly integrated community. This is not by accident and not without effort so we must continue to build on past success to create a stronger future and a stronger South Orange where the social fabric is as strong as it is diverse; and
WHEREAS, we support President Obama’s proposal to forge better relationships between the police and people of color, as we believe it will lead to a stronger more sustainable community.
WHEREAS, The Board of Trustees applauds the South Orange Police Department’s current outreach and community relations programs including Junior Police Academy, Neighborhood Watch, Domestic Violence Response Team and their work with CERT, YouthNet, and faith based institutions.
WHEREAS, We commend the proud history, commitment and hard work of the South Orange Department of Public Safety, specifically including the South Orange Police Department, in serving and protecting our community and residents in a mutually respectful manner; treating all people they encounter with fairness, dignity and respect.
WHEREAS, we join with national, state and local leaders from across the country in calling for an open dialogue and constructive efforts to facilitate, improve and foster relationships between all governments and law enforcement and the people, founded in trust and mutual respect.
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Trustees of the Township of South Orange Village that it hereby affirms and resolves as follows:
1. That we are committed to and support the South Orange Police Department’s expansion of its Community Relations Division to further advance and improve relations with our citizens, including new initiatives in partnership with the Board of Trustees designed to increase community engagement and reciprocal respect; which include, but are not limited to, Coffee with a Cop, Positive Citations, and increased public outreach.
2. That we further reaffirm our support for the work of the Community Coalition on Race specifically its Conversations on Race, Civic Engagement Institute, Cultural Heritage Festival, Integration Through the Arts, and Youth Engagement programs. We encourage all in our community to take part in these as a bridge toward the goal of an inclusive integrated community that we aspire to continue to be.
3. That we support and promote the efforts and initiatives of all groups who advance causes, educate and promote missions and messages of diversity, integration, inclusion, equality, dignity, fairness and equity for all people.
4. We strive to strengthen our community by refocusing on intentional integration for people of all races, religions, ages, and sexual orientations and by reinforcing our relationship with our local police.