Police practice to be reviewed by Montague advisory committees

Staff Writer
Published: 6/30/2020 2:17:03 PM

MONTAGUE — Two committees for reviewing the policies and practices of the Montague Police Department are expected to begin work before the end of July.

Each committee will focus either on issues of community engagement or use of force, which Town Administrator Steve Ellis and Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz explained have emerged as questions of acute interest to residents.

Like elsewhere in the country, Franklin County residents have mobilized following the May death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, seeking to end racism and police brutality. The movement has even led some towns and cities throughout the country to reconsider the role of their police departments.

At Montague’s Annual Town Meeting, earlier in June, residents decided — by a margin of three votes — to amend the town’s proposed operating budget to cut a 2.76 percent increase from the police budget. (The increase did not represent an expansion to the Police Department, as Police Chief Chris Williams mentioned at Town Meeting, but was meant to cover contractually required pay raises.)

Then, the next day there was a march in Turners Falls to draw attention to local instances of racism.

Discussing the creation of the new committees on Monday, the Selectboard affirmed its view that the Montague Police Department has not had any major incidents of racist discrimination or inappropriate use of force.

However, considering the ongoing national upset over these issues, board members agreed that Montague still must research and reflect on its own potential problems.

The two new committees are technically advisory groups to the Selectboard. Each committee will have seven members, one of which will be a Selectboard member.

“Our goal is to get as many folks involved as we can,” Kuklewicz said.

The relatively narrow scope of each group’s work — community engagement and use of force — was intended to keep the project manageable and relevant, Ellis noted.

“The broader the focus, the more challenging it would be to make progress on the two central issues,” he said.

The groups will be facilitated by Paula Green, a psychologist and educator. Green founded the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding in Amherst. She is also the director of Hands Across the Hills, an organization that connected local liberal-minded voters with conservative voters in Kentucky.

Membership of the new committees will be determined in the next two weeks. Letters of interest must be sent to the Selectboard by July 6, and members will be recommended and appointed on July 13. The first training sessions with Green will be the week of July 20.

Green and Selectboard members said they expect to be able to hold the committee meetings in person, likely at the Public Safety Complex, which has rooms large enough to practice social distancing. Unsure of whether Open Meeting Law governs advisory groups, the Selectboard plans to inquire with town counsel as to whether the meetings will be public.

Regardless, there will also be public forums, which Kuklewicz said will likely serve to inform the advisory groups about issues that they will then research and discuss deeply in their own meetings. These public forums will likely need to be held online, due to public health concerns of the ongoing pandemic.

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


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