New Edith column: The Worcester Board of Health and the Worcester Police Dept.

By Edith Morgan


On Thursday evening, I watched a special meeting of the Worcester Board of Health, but because I am not very β€œtech-savvy” I found it rather difficult to follow the discussion, the voting and the conclusions of the Board. So far, my exposure to these “virtual” get-togethers via ZOOM have not been overly successful: not seeing those who choose to participate by phone and the peculiar color and demeanor of those whom you CAN see, is rather β€œoff-putting.” We miss so much when we are not in a room together! But to the best of my ability, I will summarize what took place:

Edith Claros, the vice-chair of the City of Worcester Board of Health presided; the meeting focused on racism, the Worcester Police Dept and alleged police brutality in our city.

The virtual meeting was carried on the city’s government channel, #192, and because we are all distancing from one another, it was coming to us via ZOOM. The first hour was mostly given over to Board Chairman David Fort, who explained why racism is a public health problem and that solutions to reducing it means we must promote equitable access to all in all aspects of society. He then presented some data and asked to address our problems here in Worcester. It seems that his main focus was problems with policing in Worcester. (I think this emphasis no doubt had much to do with
the protests and the general context of the George Floyd murder and the aftermath.)

This City meeting was not open to public comment, and the Board will meet again on July 13 to take up publicly the matters that were discussed at this meeting.

Very briefly, here is my summary of the 12 points in David Fort’s presentation:

πŸ›‘1. Acknowledge that racism and bigotry permeate our society

πŸ›‘2. Adopt the POST (Peace Officer Standards Training ) system statewide, certify our Worcester police officers and enable de-certification for misdemeanor or abuse by an officer

πŸ›‘3. Develop a plan to identify police officers with racist/bigoted views

πŸ›‘4. Educate/retrain police officers so identified

πŸ›‘5. Be transparent and fair in investigating police officers so identified

πŸ›‘6. Commit to work with a Community Police Misconduct Review Board

πŸ›‘7. Require all WPD police officers to take anti-bias workshops at least twice each year

πŸ›‘8. Develop healthy, non-violent relationships with members of the Black community and other communities suffering police brutality and misconduct

πŸ›‘9. Adopt clear statutory limits re: use of force (including chokeholds and other deadly tactics)

πŸ›‘10. Adopt Civil Service Exam Review – adopt the Peace Officer Exam/Advisory Board

πŸ›‘11. Training and the implementation of de-escalation models

πŸ›‘12. Establish consistent and regular updates on progress and recommendations to the Worcester Board of Health

There was a discussion about numerous programs already implemented by the Worcester Police Department. It was mentioned that Worcester has had gun buybacks, 50 crime watch groups, etc. The question of budgeting for the new programs was not addressed, as the Worcester Board of Health has no jurisdiction over city budget matters.

Several doctors present added to the consensus that this really is a health problem, and they agreed with points made. But there was some who considered the presentation β€œinflammatory” – one member of the board said if we as a city are to have a conversation, this language might cause regression in already existing city programs.

We can learn from each other. I have always believed, and experience backs me up, that β€œYou catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

It was decided that Board of Health Chairman David Fort, Edith Claros, the Board’s vice chair, and someone from the Worcester Police Department would meet to discuss all these proposals and ideas before July 13.

Since this proposal had not yet been shared with the Worcester Police Dept, there was discussion about getting a copy to the WPD to study before the small meeting … and, of course, by July 13, it would be available to all.

Worcester Police Chief Steve Sargent

I have lived in Worcester since 1967, have had Vietnamese, Cambodian, Ethiopian and white foster children during those years. I have neighbors from the Dominican Republic, Albania, Peru, other far-away places. We all get along, and they are friendly and helpful (I am pushing 90 years of age). I have always believed and practiced the β€œGolden Rule” and found that 99.9% of the time, others respond in kind. I certainly agree wholeheartedly that opening a dialogue with the police, working on commonly agreed to goals and treating one another with respect go a very long way toward solving problems.