Montague police review to be discussed Monday

Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2021 4:57:49 PM

MONTAGUE — A review of the Montague Police Department’s policies and practices that started last year in the wake of a national movement to reconsider the role of police departments has finished, and is set to be publicly discussed starting next week.

The review, which was conducted by two separate committees investigating different aspects of the Police Department, did not find any significant points of concern, according to the facilitators of each of the two groups.

“Overall I thought the reports were very positive,” said Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz. “But there are things we need to discuss, and there are questions people will ask.”

The two groups’ reports are scheduled to be discussed at the Selectboard’s meeting on Monday, May 10.

Another discussion in a public forum format is expected to be held later, Kuklewicz said, but a date has not been set yet.

The review was divided into two categories, each one to be investigated by a separate committee: one on the department’s policies and practices regarding the use of force; and the other on the department’s reputation and relationship with the community.

The bulk of the two committees’ work was in a large survey of residents and community members, and in reviews of police records and interviews with Police Chief Christopher Williams and Police Lt. Christopher Bonnett.

“Transparency was one of our critical goals,” said Town Administrator Steve Ellis. “We felt it was very important to engage data, policies and people to the maximum extent possible through these committees. It’s not just a feel-good process where people feel like they had a good relationship. It was a very scrutinous process.”

Both major aspects of the project — a community survey and discussions with the Police Department — went well, according to the facilitators of the two groups.

Chris Pinardi, the facilitator of the committee on community engagement, noted that the Police Department accommodated all the committees’ requests, even when it came to records that were not easily accessible via the department’s computer systems.

“Anything we asked for, they got the information to us directly,” Pinardi said. “It was very open and honest. There was nothing they didn’t give us.”

Kuklewicz, who is also a member of the committee on equity and use of force, said the two committees were satisfied with the results of their community survey, both in terms of the number of responses and the quality of responses.

When the survey closed in January, it had gotten 430 responses, Pinardi said. He had also noted that the demographics of the respondents mostly correlated with the demographics of the town of Montague, though Black people and people of color were slightly over-represented in the survey, comprising about 8 percent of the respondents, compared to about 2.5 percent of Montague’s population.

Ultimately, the major results of the survey are recommendations on the Police Department’s interactions with the community.

“We came in with a lot of different opinions on what we might find,” Pinardi said. “In the absence of finding anything, we came up with some great recommendations on some ways to build on the positive relationship that we have, and to expand on it and make it better.”

Ariel Elan, the facilitator of the committee on equity and use of force, noted that the two committees in some cases came to similar conclusions.

“Even though the two advisory groups did work quite separately,” Elan said, “a couple of our key recommendations are the same — such as having an annual, or more frequent, time when anyone in the community can meet with anyone from the police force.”

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.




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