The South Orange Village Board of Trustees Jan. 28 meeting turned into a de facto community meeting on police use of force, as Chief of Police Kyle Kroll and other public safety officials presented for well over an hour and then took community questions.
Village President Sheena Collum struck a conciliatory tone to start the meeting. Collum said that the information released by NJ Advance Media was leading to much state level action and reform for data transparency that would “lead to the best level of police accountability that citizens should expect.”
Unlike a meeting hosted by Maplewood on January 14, South Orange leaders sought to supplement and interpret use of force numbers in a lengthly presentation. Maplewood also had a co-chair of its newly formed Community Board of Police lead its forum (South Orange does not, as yet, have a Community Board on Police) inserting community concerns into the meeting from the start.
Kroll thanked NJ Advance Media for The Force Report. “We need to be challenged. We need to be criticized when we do wrong. … We want the community’s assistance,” said Kroll, who expressed that he thought the police department is “on our way to excellence.”
Kroll clearly wanted to give attendees an understanding of how police operate and provide context for the Force Report’s data. Kroll said that the Force Report data “alone will not present an accurate picture or totality of what may exist.”
He stressed that officers did not have the opportunity to refuse calls and they “don’t always know what situation they are going into.” He said that there had “not been one complaint” on use of force in 7 years of data — from 2012 to 2018 — that he prepared for the evening.
A major point that Kroll stressed was an explanation of why the numbers on use of force exceeded calls. “This isn’t mano e mano. This isn’t just, ‘I’ll try to arrest him and you stand back.’ That’s not how police work works. You would want 2 or 3 individuals to approach an armed individuals to ensure no one gets hurt.”
“One consistency that you will see,” said Kroll, “nearly 100% of the incidents of force, either the individual was obstructing, resisting arrest or they failed to comply. That needs to be understood.”
Community members took to the microphone to ask for a Community Board on Police such as that in Maplewood (BOT members said they were open to this) and a statewide database of all incidents. Others expressed frustration that this data was not made available until NJ Advance Media put out the information. “You knew about this before now and didn’t talk about it and address it,” said one community member.
Community member Bobby Brown challenged Kroll’s characterization of compliance holds as not necessarily being painful, and also said, “The thing that I did not hear you say is we have a problem and here is how we are going to fix it.”
Brown asked Kroll to “stop explaining away the data.” He said he knew that Kroll wanted to let his officers know that he had their back, but Brown invoked his own experience and his concern for his sons and said, “I’d like to know that you have their backs too.”
“I came through this school system,” said Kroll in response. “I am as committed to this town just as much as any of you. This town goes down we all go down. I care. … I want my legacy to be that I left this place better.”
Kroll ended his remarks telling Brown, “I appreciate your comments.”
Village Green will continue to report out community comments from this meeting once the video posts on southorange.org.
See the slide presentation here: