Easthampton working group zeroing in on police use of force

Staff Writer
Published: 10/1/2020 7:37:18 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The group formed by the mayor to examine use-of-force policies for the city’s police department has started meeting, beginning a process that is expected to produce recommendations on the policies early next year.

“The meetings have gone really well,” said Gaby Stevenson, one of the work group’s members.

The group was formed by Mayor Nicole LaChapelle as part of her commitment under the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance’s mayor’s pledge that she signed in June, which commits her to review police use-of-force policies in the city. It has met twice so far and is set to meet weekly on Fridays going forward.

The seven people in the group include members of the community organization A Knee Is Not Enough, which was formed this year and has been advocating for reforms to the city’s police department, and the city’s Community Relations Committee. Stevenson is a member of both.

City Councilor Homar Gomez and high school senior Alice Wanamaker are on the committee as well, as is

The committee’s other members are Jason Montgomery, Margaret Kierstein, Rebecca Passa and Pasqualina Azzarello, who also serves as the city arts coordinator for Easthampton.

Wanamaker, 17, said that she had been looking to get involved in racial justice work in the city, but hadn’t wanted to take a position that could be occupied by a person of color.

“I wanted to make sure I was working alongside people of color,” she said, praising the group’s diversity.

The group is being facilitated by Nicole Hendricks, a professor at Holyoke Community College who chair’s the school’s criminal justice program.

“The issue of law enforcement in communities is something that’s very important to me,” Hendricks said.

At the moment, the group is reviewing the department’s use-of-force policies. In November and December she said, the group will be engaging with the community, and in January it will be working on its report, with the hope of delivering it to the mayor at the end of February.

The group will be soliciting information from both the police and members of the public as part of its process, and Hendricks expressed a desire for as many members of the community to become as involved as possible.

“Hopefully there’s some level of sustainability around this engagement,” she said.

Stevenson, who is a person of color, said she hopes the group will move the city toward police transformation and reform. Throughout this year and this summer, she said, it’s become more and more apparent to her that change needs to happen.

“I’m really passionate about these issues,” she said.

Police Lt. Dennis Scribner said that the working group has asked for the police to appear at a meeting in October, and to have information on 10 years of use of force prepared for them.

“We are more than happy to provide the information that they’re looking for,” he said.

Scribner said that the department wants to be fully involved with the group, and that they have a lot of information to share with the group that he thinks will be helpful.

“We’re eager to see what recommendations, if any, come from the work group,”  he said.

This article has been modified to accurately reflect the membership of the work group.

 Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazette net.com.




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