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Town of Peterborough, police hold second community listening session

  • A group of hundreds marched from Peterborough Elementary School to the Peterborough police station on Saturday to protest racial injustice in the United States and call attention to the growing nationwide movement to reduce funding for police departments and reallocate the money to social services. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/8/2020 4:01:31 PM

The Town of Peterborough presented a series of action items on the future of community policing during an emotional Zoom meeting Tuesday evening.

The Select Board and Police Chief Scott Guinard responded to questions brought up at the previous listening session on June 23 and discussed a series of planned actions and events to improve the relationship between the community and police department.

Transparency, education, connection and responsiveness were four areas identified as issues during the June 23 session. Select Board member Karen Hatcher said the town and Chief Guinard are working together to address them. Guinard, who’d already released the town’s use-of-force policy and continues to share records from incidents where pepper spray or tasers were used, said he’d compiled 10 years of data from traffic stops and arrests broken down by race, gender, and age, which the town expects to release shortly. And, he’s working on creating a detailed line item police budget to share with the public.

Guinard said he’s received queries about how the department’s officers are trained on racism.

“Quite frankly, the answer is very little,” Guinard said. “Ninety-five percent of our training is taught at the New Hampshire Police Academy. They touch base on racism and ethnic relations within the first two to three weeks, but it’s a very limited time window.”

Guinard said he is open to training sessions through the private sector and mentioned that Governor Chris Sununu’s recently established task force is likely to suggest more training options as well.

Peterborough Town Library director Corinne Chronopoulos said she and her staff are in the midst of a three-part anti-racism training program and hope to create a community-wide anti-racism program.

Hatcher described several engagement projects in the works, including creating a Police Community Relations Board that would meet monthly, involving community members in the hiring process for new officers, scheduling a series of “Ask An Officer” sessions and hosting a community barbecue in the park for citizens and police officers.

For some listeners, neither the action items nor the tone of the discussion itself was satisfactory. Responding to concerns from two residents of color who reported treatment by police officers that made them uncomfortable, Guinard said he’d talked to the officers involved in those incidents and got their sides of the stories. In both cases, he said, there was more to the story than the residents had shared or known, and the officers didn’t report they had done anything wrong. As the Zoom conversation moved on, viewers began raising their hands frantically to address that response; the two residents in question felt their reports of injustice had been dismissed, and left the chat, while several of those remaining jumped to their defense.

“I am just kind of completely gobsmacked at what we just did,” said Sarah Steinberg Heller. “We just took two of our citizens who put themselves in their most vulnerable position and we just shut them down, unilaterally...We just discredited and disbelieved people who had something to say and made themselves vulnerable.”

Others chimed in.

“This is exactly an example of what needs to be unearthed and addressed and changed,” said Dori Drachman.

Guinard said he did not intend to discredit the reports, but was simply trying to share what his officers told him about the incidents.

“For those who feel that I’ve discredited them, I apologize sincerely,” Guinard said. The chief explained the process through which acts of impropriety by a police officer should be reported, including contacting the department directly or bringing the complaint to the town administrator or deputy town administrator.

“I feel like it’s important for you to know that we recognize the fact that on occasion, our actions may lead to unintended consequences,” Guinard said. “That is how we are perceived. There may be times when the actions of an officer, though perfectly legitimate, may be perceived by witnesses as inappropriate.”

Those firmly in the camp of reducing the police department’s role in the community, as well as its funding, and reallocating that money to social services were disappointed that the action items didn’t move in that direction, and in some cases, like the return of bicycle police officers and foot patrols, would increase a police presence.

“We’re not asking for really deep connections with police officers. We’re not asking for a barbecue. We’re asking for change,” said Virgo Batty.

Guinard said he was “not entirely supportive” of defunding the police department, but implied he was open to the discussion.

“My approach to that would let’s take a look at the police department,” Guinard said, “where our issues are. If we have specific issues that are tied to the police department and could be better served another way, that’s the time to begin moving down that pathway.”

That path forward would require a community effort on several fronts. Hatcher said she plans to schedule a “Conversation on Community Response” where residents could discuss what types of calls police currently respond to, how they do it, and if there are alternative options. Guinard said police reports are not sortable by categories like “mental health” or “addiction.”

“Putting that data together is going to require someone sitting down and reading through thousands of narratives that officers have typed up after a call,” Guinard said.

Hatcher also said the town is considering volunteer citizen conflict mediation training to provide mediation services for community members. To get involved with any of these initiatives or with questions or comments, contact Hatcher at community@peterboroughnh.gov.




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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