‘The beginning of a cultural dialogue’ Greenfield hosts discussion on racial issues

  • Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh speaks with Greenfield residents during a community conversation sponsored by Racial Justice Rising, a local racial justice group. The talk, which centered on police brutality and the training police receive concerning racial issues, was held Saturday morning in the First Congregational Church. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Robert Tobin (right), deputy sheriff with the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, and Keyedrya Jacobs, organizer of "Let's Be Honest," pose questions to Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh during a conversation organized by Racial Justice Rising. The talk, which centered on police brutality and the training police receive concerning racial issues, was held Saturday morning in the First Congregational Church. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Robert Tobin (right), deputy sheriff with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and Keyedrya Jacobs, organizer of “Let’s Be Honest,” pose questions to Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh (left) during a conversation organized by Racial Justice Rising. The talk, which centered on police brutality and the training police receive concerning racial issues, was held Saturday morning in the First Congregational Church. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh speaks with Greenfield residents during a community conversation sponsored by Racial Justice Rising, a local racial justice group. The talk, which centered on police brutality and the training police receive concerning racial issues, was held Saturday morning in the First Congregational Church. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/1/2016 6:59:19 PM

GREENFIELD — Approximately 50 Greenfield residents gathered at the First Congregational Church Saturday morning for an open dialogue about racial issues with Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh.

The talk was organized by Racial Justice Rising, a local racial justice group, to foster positive relationships between the community and the police.

“We really want to be a part of the community,” Haigh said. “I hope that I can be part of conversations and solutions going forward and not be looked at as part of the problem.”

“It’s important to bring the community and the police force together so we can have an open dialogue about the tragedies that have been going on in this country,” Robert Tobin, deputy sheriff with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, said alluding to recent fatal shootings by police.

Tobin and Keyedrya Jacobs, organizer of monthly conversations about race called “Let’s Be Honest,” acted as facilitators, asking Haigh questions generated by community members.

“We want true, honest answers from the man behind the badge,” Jacobs said.

The conversation centered on police brutality, the training police officers receive concerning racial issues, the use of body cameras, the importance of community policing and what residents can do to foster positive interactions with police.

Haigh said his staff consists of 27 white male officers, five white female officers, two Hispanic male officers and one black male officer, all of whom underwent extensive background checks during the hiring process. Currently, the officers do not wear body cameras, which Haigh said is due not only to lack of funding and inadequate facilities, but a lack of government policies concerning their use.

To learn about implicit biases and how to overcome them as a police officer, Haigh attended a Fair and Impartial Policing training program. He said Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan was able to secure funds to send other Greenfield officers to attend the program, as soon as this fall.

Regardless, Haigh said he understands that sometimes officers can unintentionally offend residents.

“The goal is to treat everybody the same, but the fact is everybody’s different,” Haigh said.

He invites those residents to reach out to the Greenfield Police Department.

“We investigate all complaints,” Haigh said, whether they be submitted by phone, in writing or by word of mouth. “If we know about it, we look into it.”

Haigh understands it can be intimidating for residents to come to the station, so they can also fill out a report on the station’s website at www.greenfieldpd.org.

Members of the audience also posed questions about videos they had seen of police brutality and while Haigh said it is difficult for him to comment on incidents he wasn’t involved in, he did provide the audience with tips to ensure they have positive interactions with police.

“Officers feel a whole lot better if they can see your hands,” he said, citing an incident where an individual threatened him with a hatchet during a routine traffic stop. “Every motor vehicle stop can go extremely poorly.”

Haigh recommended residents wait to retrieve their license and registration until asked by an officer, to minimize the officer’s concerns that the driver might be reaching for a weapon.

“I guess I’m asking the public to help us, as well as asking the officers not to overreact,” Haigh said.

Residents also expressed their discontent with one of Haigh’s sergeants, Daniel McCarthy, who came under fire earlier this year for hanging a Confederate flag on the interior back wall of his garage. Residents argued they never heard him apologize, which led to diminished levels of trust in him as an officer.

“Perception is the biggest thing,” Jacobs said. “I need to know that I can trust in that man.”

The talk, Haigh said, enabled him to learn about community concerns while allowing him to share the police department’s perspective.

“I’m not just a chief, I’m also a citizen of Greenfield,” he said. “I’m here to learn.”

Philippe Simon, chairman of the Human Rights Commission, found the event highly educational, and an important step in “breaking down the antagonistic relationship” seen between the community and police across the country.

“To me, this is the beginning of a great process toward community policing,” Simon said.

“The primary thing that was powerful is the community and the chief were able to meet each other,” Greenfield resident Abrah Dresdale said. “This is hopefully just the beginning of a cultural dialogue and positive shift with the police department. I believe Greenfield can become a model of what the dynamic between the community and the police can look like.”




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