Montclair Police Develops Community Service Unit, Hopes to Strengthen Community
Who are the people in your neighborhood? That's one question the Montclair Police Department hopes to answer with its new community policing initiative called the Community Service Unit (CSU).
Along with Township Manager Marc Dashield, Mayor Jackson and 4th Ward Councilor Renee Baskerville, MPD Chief David P. Sabagh announced today, at a press conference on Mission Street, that a CSU has been organized to improve communication and trust within the community, identify any problems and concerns of the residents and to reduce crime and the fear of crime.
Montclair had different forms of community policing back in the '90s until 2008, when they were cut when federal grants and funding ran out. Chief Sabagh explained that while the need for more police security has been a concern in recent months after an increase of violent crime, which the MPD is addressing with increased presence in the form of more patrols and a Street Crimes Unit, the CPU is something the MPD has wanted to do for years.
With financial support from the Township, community policing can be brought back. “This could not have been done without the support of the Mayor and Council and township manager Dashield,” explained Chief Sabagh. “It's through their support that we were able to get this program going. We were able to hire a few officers.”
Explaining just what the CPU will be doing, Sabagh said, “We will be going door-to-door, handing out questionnaires, speaking to residents about their concerns, any problems that they see in the neighborhoods, and asking for their feedback.” He added, ”We want to have a dialogue, we want to establish communication, and we want the residents to get to know the officers by name and by face. We want to let them know that they will be seeing these officers day in and day out.”
“We want to hear from the residents. We need their help. It's an old cliche, but it's very true—the community are the eyes and ears of the police department. We can't be everywhere at once and we want to make sure that we're aware of the concerns and we address them properly,” the Chief said.
Township Manager Marc Dashield spoke saying, “This is a great opportunity in this community and throughout the township. I'm very proud. We have a great group of officers who are a part of this unit and they will make a difference in Montclair.”
Mayor Jackson said he was “Very happy—thrilled in fact—with this great effort between the police staff and the council.”
4th Ward Councilor Renee Baskerville made it clear at first that this new CSU is not reactionary. “We have been trying to get full force community policing back on the block for awhile. During my last term, we had some resources in the budget that were to go toward community policing, but because of the economic climate we weren't able to do it. So we are excited that today we can celebrate the fact that we can put resources where they should be.”
Baskerville added, “Community policing is about all of our communities and our neighbors feeling safe. We want to have a relationship with our officers. We need to learn who our neighbors are. You need to come out from within the four walls of your house and the comfort of wherever you are and reach out to your neighbors and get to know them.”
The CSU will be headed by Sargeant Tyrone Williams who has been with the MPD for 14 years and has a lot of experience working with community policing. He lives in Montclair with his family, which includes a born and raised Montclair wife, who is also an educator in town. Sgt. Williams coaches youth basketball through the Police Athletic League and the township recreation department. He has many strong ties in Montclair.
Also in the unit are Officers Jacqueline Allen and Ricky Cook, with a few more to be added in the next couple of months.
Officer Allen was born and raised in Montclair and has served in the MPD for the past 19 years. She's a graduate of Montclair High School and has children in the public school system. She worked on the past community policing initiatives and is excited to be a part of the new CSU. “We are being accepted. There are a lot of good praises an some people are saying thank you guys for coming back.”
Officer Cook, also born and raised in Montclair, graduated from MHS in 2001, where he played football with the Mounties. He has been an officer with the MPD since 2009.
The CSU officers will be working in a a specially outfitted, highly mobile, command vehicle. It will include a mobile office allowing the CSU officers to work on site. To make the CSU officers more approachable, they will be wearing, what Sgt. Williams called, “an inviting, softer approach to uniforms.” Blue shirts, because Sgt. Williams said “Montclair Bleeds Blue,”—a nod to the Mounties, with khaki cargo pants.
The first step of the CSU will be circulating a questionnaire to gather input from residents. It's currently being developed with input from local clergy and the Montclair chapter of NAACP and then will be circulated throughout the township, and possibly put on the township website.
“We can't fix or address problems we don't know exist,” said Sgt. Williams on the importance of residents filling out the questionnaire.
Expect to see the CSU officers around town, in your neighborhood, at the schools and definitely, Sgt. Williams says, “at Mountie games.”
Boston police sweep in Roxbury had its limits
Many of arrested soon released; area saw spike in violence
by Maria Cramer
Last May, Boston police conducted a massive sweep of men and women they described as drug offenders terrorizing the streets of Roxbury, the culmination of a five-month investigation dubbed Operation H that officials said would send a chilling message to anyone else looking to wreak havoc.
“This operation demonstrates the Police Department's commitment to getting dangerous criminals and drugs off the streets,” Commissioner Edward F. Davis said at a press conference at police headquarters, where he was flanked by supervisors from the gang and drug units. “Today's arrests will give residents back their neighborhoods.”
But four months later, it is unclear whether Operation H, named for the Humboldt Avenue section of Roxbury where the arrests were targeted, made the streets safer or even removed many criminals from the street, according to crime statistics and a review of the court records of those caught up in the sweep.
Forty of the 85 people targeted were quickly released on personal recognizance or given bail as low as $150, and those ordered held on higher sums were bailed out within weeks of their arrests.
Three of the targeted individuals were never even arrested; they received only citations for driving infractions, according to a Boston Globe review of court records.
‘These raids, they are temporary fixes and publicity stunts.'
One of them was Jeremy Harris, a 23-year-old Brockton man who was issued a citation for driving with a revoked driver's license. On July 20, two months after Operation H was announced to the public, Harris allegedly fired eight shots into a crowd of people on Eustis Street in Roxbury. He was arrested by a Boston police gang unit detective who said he saw him flee the scene in a green Honda.
The shooting was part of a spike in summer violence that greatly affected Roxbury, the district targeted by the sweep. There were 35 shootings in the district during the months of June, July, and August, nearly twice as many as during the same period in 2012 and five more than in summer 2010, when the city saw an unusually big spike in homicides.
The homicide statistics for this year are murkier. There had been 15 homicides in the district through Aug. 26, seven more than last year in the same time period, with three occurring after Operation H, according to the most recent figures available from Boston police.
“These raids, they are temporary fixes and publicity stunts,” said the Rev. James Hills, a Jamaica Plain pastor and member of the Grove Hall Trust, which provides grant money to community groups in the Humboldt Avenue area of Roxbury. “From what I'm seeing, [Operation H] really didn't have that much of an impact.”
Davis acknowledged a spike in violence at the beginning of the summer, but said he believed the operation had its intended effect.
Davis also said the number of shootings across the city slowed after the end of July.
“We've had a very good summer,” Davis said. “In spite of the fact that the numbers are up right now, I think that that trend has been coming down dramatically over the last couple of months.”
He justified the inclusion of people cited for minor infractions, like Harris's driving citation, saying the goal of the operation was to warn criminals they were being watched.
“We're not in this business to get long prison terms; we're in it to change behavior,” he said. “If a motor vehicle ticket can let people know we're out there, that can be very effective.”
Boston police have long embraced a philosophy that tries to change violent behavior in part through the threat of long prison sentences, most famously during the so-called “Boston Miracle” of the 1990s, when murder rates tumbled.
Jake Wark — spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, whose office prosecuted a large number of the suspects — said residents in the neighborhood had called police, demanding they intervene in what they saw as an open-air drug bazaar.
“It was tackled not only to improve the quality of life for the residents who made those phone calls, but also to disrupt a drug network that affects that neighborhood and sends drugs across the city,” Wark said.
He said prosecutors unsuccessfully asked for higher bails for the defendants who were arraigned in district courts. The majority of arrested during the sweep were arraigned in district court, though four faced charges in federal court and 14 were indicted in Suffolk Superior Court.
In the last year, the Legislature has passed laws amending mandatory drug sentences that reduced prison time for certain offenses.
“As a result, judges may be less inclined to impose high bail on drug cases, which translates to it being really harder than ever to obtain a lengthy prison sentence,” Wark said. But he said that focusing criminal investigations on drugs remains critical, noting that murders in the city are often drug-related.
Fifteen of the suspects remain incarcerated as they await trial, including four charged with gun offenses. One person was sentenced to 2½ years in county jail for charges including intimidation of a witness.
While the number of homicides in Roxbury were up through August, officials noted that generally homicides are down across the city. Through Sept. 9, there have been 35 homicides in the city, compared with 37 at the same time last year. The most recent killing was Saturday night on Blue Hill Avenue and Castlegate Road in Dorchester.
But the number of incidents in which a person was killed or struck by gunfire increased 13 percent through Aug. 26, the most recent numbers available in this category, from 164 to 185 shootings.
Operation H began as a small investigation last December, targeting drug dealers. But police decided to pour in more resources after the Jan. 11 shooting of Gabriel Clarke, a 13-year-old boy who was struck as he crossed Humboldt Avenue on his way to church choir practice. He survived, but the attack emboldened police, Davis has said.
For four months, police arrested dozens of men and women, picking many of them up on various drug charges. On May 21, they swept through several Boston neighborhoods in an early-morning raid that netted 33 people. An additional 52 people were charged during the investigation in the preceding months or had warrants issued for them. The majority of offenses were for drugs, ranging from cocaine possession to heroin distribution.
The goal of the raids was not only to put other criminals on notice that the same thing could happen to them, but also to pressure those arrested to provide information about Clarke's shooting. The attack on Clarke, believed to be related to an ongoing gang feud in the Humboldt Avenue area, remains unsolved.
The Rev. Miniard Culpepper, pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church on Humboldt Avenue, has worked for years with many of the teenagers and young men identified by police as gang members or drug dealers.
Some of those swept up said spending even a few nights in jail was sobering.
“I think for some of the kids, it definitely opened their eyes,” Culpepper said. “They don't want to go back that way.”
But he said he expected police to follow up with other efforts, as they had in previous years, such as meeting with him and explaining their strategies to combat violence and introducing him to new detectives. That did not happen, with unfortunate consequences, said Culpepper.
He said that early in the summer, officers new to the district stopped by the park adjacent to his church, where Culpepper runs his summer peace program, and demanded to search the young men who had gathered there to pray and eat a warm dinner.
“We had no idea what was going on,” Culpepper said. “This was a very tough summer with the police. This was the first summer where they focused more on enforcement than on community policing.”
Davis said the officers acted appropriately in that instance because the area was a hotbed for shootings. He said that officers worked hard to collaborate with community leaders and ministers in the city's more violent neighborhoods.
During the May press conference, officials said that young relatives of those arrested in the sweep would be referred to social service programs.
They ultimately referred to YouthConnect, an intervention program run by the Boys & Girls Club of Boston that connects young people with social workers, job training, and educational opportunities. Thirteen people went to the program for help.
Davis defends police diversity
Raps complaints of minority officers
by Travis Andersen
Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis lashed out Monday at a minority officers' group that has called for his resignation, accusing the organization of engaging in “divisive efforts” to undermine the progress he has made on diversity within the ranks.
In an open letter published on the official Police Department website, Davis wrote that the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers “hasn't proposed legislation or undertaken any valuable initiatives to help its own members or the community.”
“I urge you [the public] to contact MAMLEO and let the organization know you don't support its divisive efforts to undermine the progress that has been made” on diversity, Davis added.
The commissioner's letter came after Larry Ellison, a Boston detective and president of the minority officers' group, called last month for Davis's resignation and said the organization would oppose any mayoral candidate who would retain him as commissioner if elected.
At the time, Ellison listed a variety of grievances, including the recent promotion of five white officers to the rank of supervisor while nine candidates of color who scored the same on the civil service exam did not initially receive promotions. Some minority applicants were later promoted.
In the letter Monday, Davis said 42 percent of his command staff members are people of color, the “most diverse in BPD history.”
He said that more than 44 percent of uniformed officers are people of color and that the department's “extensive recruitment” efforts in minority communities have paid dividends, with more than half of the approximately 2,500 people who took the police entrance exam in June being minorities.
Ellison, however, said in a phone interview Monday that the statistics in Davis's letter are deceptive, and that he has not done enough to promote minorities to leadership positions.
He also rejected a call in an editorial that appeared in the Bay State Banner, which Davis cited in his letter, for his group to work on “training its members to perform better on all the qualifying [civil service] tests” for promotion.
Ellison said MAMLEO has been offering such training for years, adding: “We're not asking for an easier test. What we're looking for is a test that is fair to everyone and that is job-related. Stop testing about useless, foolish [issues]. I don't need to know what somebody's theory is in a Kansas City study. I live in Boston.”
He also questioned Davis's use of a Banner opinion piece and accused the black-owned newspaper of being “in the mayor's pocket” after receiving a city-issued loan in 2009.
Melvin B. Miller, publisher and editor of the Banner, called Ellison “a fraud” after being informed of his comments.
He said Ellison, in stating that MAMLEO has offered training for promotional exams, is essentially “saying that black police officers, despite training programs, lack the confidence even then to do well. Or, are the training programs effective?”
Davis reiterated in his letter that the city has set aside $2.2 million to revamp the civil service exam to make it more equitable and that an improved test is to be rolled out next year.
Ellison said Monday that the contractor working with the city on the test changes does not have “a very good track record” of success.
Rick Jacobs, chief executive of Pennsylvania-based EB Jacobs LLC, the company working with the city, could not be reached for comment Monday.
The company says on its website that it has obtained more than 150 contracts with police agencies and is “fully versed” in federal antidiscrimination laws.
Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said Monday that Davis has the mayor's full support.
“He has made community policing, and all of the efforts that go along with that, a priority, “ Joyce said.
Michael Curry, president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, declined Monday to weigh in on the tactics of Ellison's group.
He did say, however, that Davis “hasn't been aggressive enough in trying to achieve greater diversity within the Boston Police Department.”
From the White House
On Tuesday, September 10th, President Obama will deliver an address to the nation on Syria.
Watch his remarks live at 9:00 p.m. ET.
As part of a briefing on the response to Syria, members of Congress were shown video taken in multiple locations near Damascus on August 21st, when more than 1,400 Syrians – including more than 400 children – were killed by a chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Assad regime. It's important for the American people to have access to information about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has released these videos, which were compiled by the U.S. Open Source Center.
You can watch the videos here.
Warning: These videos contain disturbing images of dead bodies, including children.
VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED