Greenfield Police Department will use flag incident as example in its training

Last modified: 12/14/2015 2:18:07 PM
GREENFIELD — Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh says his department will continue to discuss the implications of an officer displaying a Confederate flag, or doing anything else that might offend people, and incorporate some sort of sensitivity training into the department’s training program.

This was decided after one of his sergeants, Daniel McCarthy, came under fire earlier this week for displaying the flag on the interior back wall of his garage on Shelburne Road, where it could be seen by passersby when the door was open.

McCarthy’s neighbors Rod and Lindel Hart took offense and then took the issue to Facebook after their 10-year-old black son Hugh expressed fear and concern about the sergeant’s choice to hang the flag next door to where he lives.

The move has had dozens of people posting on Facebook all week, with many defending McCarthy and many others criticizing him.

“Something like this directly affects the police department, so I and Deputy Chief Mark Williams will be the spokesmen for this incident,” said Haigh. “The flag is gone, at least never to be seen in public. I assured the Harts that the issue has been resolved.”

Haigh said McCarthy, who could not be reached for comment this week because Haigh will be answering all questions and comments, does not want to be branded as a hater.

“He doesn’t have that kind of hatred in him,” said Haigh. “I haven’t had a problem with him since I became chief two years ago.”

Haigh said McCarthy has no ill will concerning his neighbors and hopes they can all move on.

When asked if McCarthy explained why he decided to display the flag, Haigh said he hasn’t discussed that with the sergeant, yet.

“But, when you are a public servant, you are held to a higher standard,” said Haigh.

He said the Police Department has an image to uphold, and all of its officers must abide by and encourage that image. He said police officers are police officers, whether they are wearing their uniform or not. He said police officers live their private lives in the public light.

“That’s as it should be,” he said. “People should question us and call us out. At the end of the day, it falls on all of us in the department to make sure the community feels safe and trusts us.”

The chief said he hates that some people feel the way they do about one of his officers at this point.

“The department will be having many conversations about this,” he said. “We will not forget.”

Haigh said incidents like this one will be included in training from this point.

“As officers, we have to be cognizant of our surroundings and how they affect others,” he said. “We always have to keep that in mind.”

On Nov. 28, Rod Hart said his son had become “increasingly aware” of complaints nationally about police antagonism against young black males, especially in major urban areas, and is “understandably worried.”

He said his son has had nightmares and has wished for Santa to bring him white skin that he can wear outside so he won’t get shot.

Hart said while he and his husband have always tried to instill in their son that Greenfield police is a benevolent brotherhood of peacekeepers, they feel after what McCarthy did, they can no longer do so.

Hart said he can’t believe in 2015 that a Massachusetts police officer believes it’s acceptable to hang a Confederate flag visible to all when his garage door is open, especially when that officer is the department’s liaison to the town’s Human Rights Commission.

Since Hart’s first post — he admits that he and Lindel Hart did not approach McCarthy about their and their son’s feelings before venting on Facebook — there have been more than 70 posts in response to his.

Dozens of people have posted on The Recorder’s Facebook page after reading front-page stories on Tuesday and Wednesday. Some then shared the stories on their Facebook pages and more people commented on them.

McCarthy’s Confederate flag has evoked all sorts of emotions, with comments ranging from “mind your own business” to “those who support (McCarthy) should be ashamed of themselves.”

There has been a lot of online discussions about free speech versus racism and hatred.

Chief and deputy chief pay visit to Harts

“The deputy chief (Mark Williams) and I visited with the Harts in their home on Tuesday night,” said Haigh. “We had a great conversation.”

Haigh said he appreciates that the couple and their son let him and Williams into their Shelburne Road home.

“We talked with Hugh, and after he went to bed, we stayed and talked with his parents,” said Haigh.

He said Hugh is a nice young man and he hopes he and William alleviated some of his fears.

“We wanted to be helpful to him and his parents,” said Haigh. “We don’t want Hugh, or anyone else, to be afraid.”

Rob Hart called Haigh and Williams “very nice, solid guys” in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

“They talked to Hugh, encouraged him, shook his hand and gave him a coin with the new GPD seal,” he wrote. “They assured Hugh and his dads that they are committed to keeping everyone in the community safe. I felt I was able to clearly express our feelings and left the exchange feeling like I was heard, my son was seen, and that these two men were on the side of good.”

Haigh’s and Williams’ visit to the Harts followed a day after Mayor William Martin visited them.

“The mayor did a great job of focusing on Hugh,” said Lindel Hart. “He made sure Hugh understood that he was there to make sure he was OK. He wanted Hugh and us to know that the town is with us on this, in making sure Hugh feels safe.”

Martin said he felt he needed to visit the men and their son right away and express his concern.

“I want them to know this is not a fearsome community,” said Martin. “Whether looking through the eyes of a 10-year-old or 70-year-old, we are influenced by many things, not just one like this incident. But, taken all together, they help us develop our perceptions of the outside world. I don’t want that little boy to fear anything here.”


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