ROCKLAND – “I do believe that Mayor Glaser has to stand down from any discussion, formation, or input on this,” said former City Council member – and now former Rockland resident – Will Clayton. “I think that has to be – and it should be – a discussion between the City Council members, and this committee, as well. It’s not personal, but the things I laid out there in the email should be addressed. We want to make sure that it’s an impartial process, and I would have to question the impartiality.”
Clayton’s statement came during a public forum, Monday, June 21, via Zoom, that allowed residents and stakeholders a chance to weigh in on what Rockland Police Department’s future citizen advisory committee should address.
Prior to the forum, Clayton sent an email to Mayor Ed Glaser, and CC-ed it to City Councilors, potential committee members, and the press. In the email, Clayton addressed his concern with Glaser’s involvement with the oversight committee’s creation. Clayton’s email was in response to an invitation by Glaser to join the committee as a non-voting member, having been on Council and having been a part of budget deliberations as a councilor.
Part of Clayton’s email reads (See below for entire exchange of emails):
You have a family member who has a weekly opinion column in the Free Press and uses it fairly frequently to attack and denigrate law enforcement locally and as a whole. You have another family member, as reported in an article on Village Soup, that was arrested for assaulting a Rockland police officer and attempted to sue the city. Finally you yourself Mayor Glaser refused to vote on a simple commendation of service for a Rockland officer just a while ago without providing any context as to why.
A responding email by Glaser reads:
As mayor, my job is to form the committee and nominate the members, both of which will need to be voted and approved by the majority of city councilors. I will not be serving on the committee, to avoid what you consider a conflict, but I will not shirk the duties of the mayor. I will nominate Rockland residents that represent as many different opinions as I can, but all of them will have to be thoughtful, respectful, and willing to listen and hear other opinions.
Thirty-nine people attended the Zoom session that Glaser expedited in order to begin meetings of a still-to-be-formed committee.
Once established, the committee is expected to begin meeting in August. Glaser projects that the ad hoc will need a year to complete its research and analysis. Glaser’s term expires November 2022.
“I think having a diverse range of voices and perspectives on this committee is really going to be essential to success,” said resident/stakeholder Jan Morrill. “I think it’s important to hear from vulnerable populations in Rockland, and that the committee should include people with experiences of incarceration, people with experiences of substance use disorder and recovery, survivors of abuse, people of color and indigenous people, and immigrants, or organizations that have expertise in these areas. I think it’s incumbent on City Council to make sure that these perspectives have a seat at the table, which will probably require a more solid recruitment process than simply posting the committee application, or sending it out over email.”
As resident Susan Manning noted, the Rockland advisory idea stems from a Juneteenth/Black Lives Matters petition signed by 125 people and presented to the City in 2020.
Several members of that petition group provided input during the Zoom session, along with a few new voices and a few defenders of the local police.
The defenders spoke more specifically of Rockland PD while advocates for overhaul and change produced broader generalizations of policing, despite requests by the forum’s facilitator that examples remain local, and for speakers to only speak for themselves and not for others.
“Even within that, there was some level of agreement on issues that need to be tackled to make the police department better,” said Glaser, in closing the meeting.
One common theme repeated by both sides focused on mental health.
Amy Files spoke of a close friend who has regularly dealt with serious crisis – suicidal crisis.
Files says there is no resource when someone is in need. People can call the police, but having a police officer come to the door can sometimes exasperate the situation, according to Files.
With no local crisis response team, suicidal patients can only go to the Emergency Room.
“They don’t get any talk therapy,” said Files. “They don’t get anyone talking them down or giving them any kind of immediate response. And they sit in the Emergency Room until there’s a bed that opens up in the hospital, and then they might get sent to a bed eventually, and then they are spit back out into the system.”
Files acknowledged that a police officer may still need to respond if an element of danger is involved.
“Maybe it’s not appropriate to just send someone who’s trained as a mental health crisis councilor, or responder,” she said. “But I would like to see us have some kind of restructuring of how we respond to those calls.”
Like it or not, said Clayton, police officers are first responders – they are the first to respond to a mental health call.
“What can we do to bridge that gap?” he said. “Because they will be the first ones there. How can we help them?”
Clayton also reminded listeners of the diversity within Rockland Police Department.
“I think there is a stigma that they’re not,” he said. “But they are – incredibly.”
Dan Flynn is the son of a law enforcement officer. He supports civilian oversight, saying that police departments are in need of seriously radical reform. Not in terms of interior bad apples, but in regards to the community’s expectations.
“We are expecting our police officers to fill a role as mental health experts, as crisis counselors, as domestic counselors in those situations,” said Flynn. “We’re dumping a ton of responsibility onto these folks, and that’s not what their training is for. If we want them to do that, we really as a community need to pitch in and make that training a priority.”
Former law enforcement officer Russ [when introducing the speakers, the facilitators didn’t provide last names] and Will Clayton both echoed one sentiment: officers will never say no to more training opportunities.
Resident Ian Emmott suggested another option: look for partnership with the local hospital. As a hospital, isn’t this their duty as well? To be part of a creative solution?
Resident Bev Cowan, however, doesn’t see the shortage of mental health resources in the area.
Pen Bay Medical Center has a psych ward, she said. Her own mother, who has dementia, was able to get a bed there.
“To say that there’s nothing available is just silly,” said Cowan. “There’s a whole unit there.”
Cowan went on to say, “If it’s not broke, why are we messing with it?”
Because, as Emmott said, Rockland has a lot of officer vacancies, leaving the department stressed.
“Keep that in mind, if you are someone who’s chiming in, you’re angry, or you’re upset because maybe you’re stuck with a delayed response time, or speeding,” said Emmott. “Remember, it’s tough to find qualified officers to do this job these days. There are a lot of emotions, like many people have pointed out. And that doesn’t help our city if these….more emotions come out, less people might want to try to work here.”
Public comment letters read aloud during the forum
Landing Place: As the director of the Landing Place since 2017, my experiences with Chief Young and his team of officers and detectives have been nothing but positive. In fact, I would readily describe the dedication to our community, their understanding of social justice, and a commitment to restorative practices is exemplary. In particular, Chief Young stands out as someone who clearly makes time in his already busy schedule to regularly attend local meetings and meet folks like me for some coffee on a regular basis, just so we can better understand the needs and concerns of our shared community. Under Chief Young’s leadership, I’ve also been fortunate to experience the above-and-beyond efforts of Officer John Bagley, Detective Alex Gaylor, Sergeant Solorazano, Former Deputy Chief Pease as they naturally implement Strength Based and Trauma Informed practices in real time for several local youth and families. As a matter of fact, Detective Gaylor and Former Deputy Chief Pease actually hosted a backyard barbecue for our participating youth at the Landing Place during the summer of 2019.
(The letter also acknowledged support for Black Lives Matters, and recognized that racism still exists in Rockland)
Knox County Homeless Coalition: I and my staff of 43 have many interactions with Chief Young and his officers during my tenure running the Knox County Homeless Coalition….Chief Young and his team of officers and detectives are an example to other communities. The dedication to our community bring a dignity, respect, professionalism to their work is unprecedented…
Policing a community is complex, stressful, high risk, and highly challenging. The current landscape in our country makes it even more so. It is important to guard against projecting the actions and incidents elsewhere in our country onto our Rockland community as the City Council considers this potential oversight group. Good leaders deserve our respect. We need to let them do their jobs and support them. Not micromanage or challenge them based on assumptions and national headline concerns. Chief Young stands out as someone who continually makes time in his already busy schedule to regularly participate with community members and leaders on a regularly basis….As a community leader, I am incredibly grateful to work and live in a community that is so steadily supported and protected by the Rockland Police Department, and the outstanding leadership of Chief Young.
(The letter also states: I acknowledge that racism still exists in our Rockland community.)