By Gordon Davis
In August 2016 Mayor Joseph Petty said there was no need for the Worcester City Council to have public hearings on Worcester Police policies, as Police Chief Steven Sargent was already meeting the public at crime watch meetings and other events.
One of these meetings was held last night, September 26, at the YWCA, when the NAACP hosted Police Chief Sargent. During the NAACP meeting there was some discussion about the crime watch meetings and other police events being hard to find. Even the chief couldn’t say exactly where on line we should look. Another problem with attending the crime watch meetings is that they are not necessarily public meetings.
There was a little dust up at the YWCA. A man claiming to be head of operations called the police when people holding signs for the NAACP meeting were told they could not hold the signs there. Chief Sargent came over and defused the situation.
The first thing we learned from our new police chief is that the Worcester City Council makes the decisions on the type of police policy. Chief Sargent said he could not respond on the issues of “Broken Windows” and “Stop and Frisk.” He said the policy for Worcester is “Community Policing.” There is evidence the so called arrest sweeps and quality of life” that at least a modified form of Broken Windows is a de facto policy.
The issue of body cameras on police officers was also raised. Police Chief Sargent said there were constitutional issues being reviewed by the city’s Legal Department. He gave no timeline on this issue, although the ACLU has established guidelines for the use of body cameras that the Boston police are using.
In regards to transparency, Police Chief Sargent said they are establishing a Civilian Academy where police procedures will be discussed. The Academy is expected to start February 2017.
The city’s Dirt Bike policy was clarified to some extent: A legal dirt bike on the street gets a citation and will likely be confiscated. The Chief said the bikes, if stolen, are returned to their owners and the stolen dirt-bike rider is arrested.
There was no clarification of when legal dirt bikes are confiscated from private property.
Affirmative Action was discussed, too. The Chief said more Latinos are accepting police positions than are African Americans. He said his department is working to ensure 25 percent of applicants are minorities.
What he did not say was that almost all successful applicants are former military who have preferential treatment over other applicants.
Some push back came over the issue of the school-to-jail pipeline and the use of uniformed police officers in the Worcester Public Schools. There are nine police officers assigned to the Worcester Public Schools. Seven officers are in our high schools and two officers are assigned to split-duty in our middle schools.
The push back came in the form of four teachers, two of whom are still teaching. One teacher asked about the drug screening that is going on at Burncoat Middle School. Chief Sargent said he was not aware of the program. The program was initiated by Governor Charlie Baker via the recent Opioid Bill passed last January.
Another teacher indicated there was an implicit racism in having uniformed police officers in our schools. The background to this is the inability to have an honest discussion of the police killings in places like Tulsa, Baltimore or Ferguson.
On the surface there is cordiality, but the real issue of race and power is hidden away.
I have to say Chief Sargent is personable, knowledgeable and seemingly long-winded. He told us stories of the “old days” when he was mentored by Loman Rutherford, a Black officer. I did not hear much from him that was exceptional.
Events and time will tell if Chief Sargent will make a difference, or will be restricted by the material conditions and facts of his job.