Amid protests across New Jersey and the United States following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Maplewood Community Board met on June 3 and discussed ongoing initiatives as well as pressing issues facing the community as a whole.
Floyd, a black man, died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street. Chauvin, who was first charged with 3rd degree murder, now faces a charge of second-degree murder among other charges, and three other former Minneapolis police officers have also been charged with aiding and abetting murder.
The Community Board discussed potential local protests related to the death of Floyd and how local law enforcement intends to respond, as well as how the community can open up a discourse as a collective whole to create a safer environment. Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis, Maplewood Township Committee liaison to the Community Board, shared a detailed plan that will include a public forum in two weeks.
“On June 19 this year, we will host a forum for the community,” Dafis said. “This will be an opportunity for folks to come together, express their feelings, their experiences, as it relates in particular to law enforcement including with respect to officers in the Maplewood Police Department. But, also, to educate folks about the process, how does policing work? What does discipline look like? Where are there areas for reform? We have an opportunity for a call to action.”
According to officials, the Township of Maplewood and Maplewood Police Department have already begun working together on a plan for whatever situations may arise. Officers at the meeting inquired as to how officers could be helpful. Further, Deputy Police Chief Albert Sally noted that in the past, protests within the immediate area have not caused property damage nor unlawful acts. In this case, according to Sally, police interaction will be used in assistance to keep roads safe and clear.
“We support peaceful and lawful protests and that’s how we plan on going forward,” Sally said.
“If the Minneapolis incident happened here in New Jersey, we would not have been able to fire those cops on the spot, which is absolutely frustrating, immoral, unconscionable, it makes us all angry,” Dafis said. “This is why we do the work that we do.”
The Maplewood Community Board on Policing was created in response to the events of July 5, 2016, in which audio revealed police leadership directing officers to herd local teens out of town and video showing an officer kicking a prostrate, handcuffed Maplewood teen in the head. Read more about the formation of the board here.
On top of protests and other demonstrations, the township and police are also reviewing and keeping an active eye on social distancing measures as put forth by Governor Phil Murphy and the state of New Jersey. Sally detailed that the police department is still receiving calls of this nature regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and is continuing to police it as usual.
“We’re still getting calls of people not social distancing,” Sally explained. “We respond, and we send those people on their way. We might get like an organized soccer game or kids trying to get into the basketball court, so we just tell them that the basketball court is closed or you have to be social distancing. We haven’t had any conflicts, we haven’t issues any summonses, so everything has been speaking and sending them on their way.”
The community board also reviewed prior 2020 goals, most of which are on track, however some have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Use of Force
Community Board on Policing Co-Chair Erin Scherzer updated the board on police use of force. Scherzer reported that every use of force is reviewed immediately and that there are also random reviews of video in the department to help insure compliance and accuracy with officers filling out the form. In general, Scherzer reports that, so far, it appears for 2020 was that force was appropriately used, officers were also “good with their words” to try to deescalate situations before turning to force, and that, overall, not many incidents of use of force had occurred. In a followup call, Scherzer noted that summary data on use of force is released at the end of each year and that the board will be analyzing that data by demographics, type of force, and compliance with department protocols. (PDFs of past use of force summaries can be found on Community Board on Policing website.)
8 Can’t Wait
Scherzer reported that the “8 Can’t Wait” initiative on “8 things that every police department should do” is being discussed and reviewed by Board members.
Bias in 911 Calls
Board member Susan Berkeley, Paul Williams and Dean Dafis updated the community on the study of bias in 911 calls — particularly suspicious person calls reported by community members — and noted that continued community education and awareness is needed to reduce bias in such calls (Scherzer noted that community members’ street address/phone numbers are redacted from data shared with the board) as well as training with officers to help educate the community as they come in contact with callers.
Board Co-Chair Kasia Piekarz and member Michael Paris updated the board on an initiative to review traffic stop data based on age, gender, race, time of day and location and if any arrests resulted. Data collection is ongoing.
Board member Julie Fry discussed two potential new training models: From Trauma to Trust, an effort being used in Newark that is similar to restorative practices, bringing people with negative law enforcement experiences and police officers together; and an adult diversionary program for first-time offenders. Training will be the focus of the July meeting, reports Scherzer.
In a followup call, Scherzer said she wished to stress to the community “that everything we review, we keep confidential. Everything that comes to us is redacted so we don’t know community members’ names and police officers’ names.”
She added, “The department is trying. No department is perfect, but they are trying hard and they want to be the best they can be for Maplewood.”
The story includes reporting from Mary Mann.