The Select Board at its meeting Tuesday night unanimously appointed Brian Ziniti as a Hopkinton Police Department officer and focused on the department’s goals.
Police Chief Joseph Bennett, who attended the meeting via Zoom, introduced Ziniti to the board.
“Hopkinton is a town that I’ve closely looked at since I’ve known that I want to make the jump to a municipality setting,” Ziniti explained. “It’s clearly a town that’s investing in its people.”
He explained that he has been certified on the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission list published in September. It validates that an officer has not had any discipline issues.
Vice chair Shahidul Mannan asked what steps the candidate would take to build trust with the community and the department. Ziniti replied that his military service taught him that “teamwork is paramount.” He hoped to learn from his colleagues and help to “bridge that gap” with those who may harbor a mistrust of police.
The questions posed by Select Board member Irfan Nasrullah focused on Ziniti’s views on restorative justice, court diversion programs and crisis intervention teams for those experiencing mental health emergencies. In his previous roles, Ziniti attended de-escalation trainings that would help people experiencing distress.
Ziniti, who currently works in the Northeastern University Police Department, described a recent incident to Select Board member Mary Jo LaFreniere where he encountered a juvenile who appeared to be under the influence of a substance. He stressed to this person and his concerned friends that his primary concern was the well-being of this individual getting medical attention.
Addressing systemic racism, social justice and equity were issues raised by Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch to Ziniti. He stressed the importance of accountability.
“I only want to portray the town as a welcoming, inclusive and an intrinsic value place,” he explained. “Everybody’s welcome; everybody’s treated as if they’re my own family member.“
Police chief discusses departmental initiatives, goals
Bennett told the board that his department, the School Department and Youth and Family Services are working together to prepare for an upcoming School Committee presentation on the school resource officer program on Oct. 26.
Regarding the departmental review, he added that he has contacted two vendors to assist in the process, and one would be selected “pretty soon.”
Reflecting on his goals for the department, Bennett stressed the importance of community engagement, a goal he said is “the primary purpose” of police departments nationwide as they work to rebuild trust.
“We want to be approachable,” he explained. “We want people to get to know officers individually. In today’s environment and with all our new residents coming in, it’s first and foremost on our list.”
One upcoming HPD effort to engage with teens is this Friday’s Early Release Hangout at the Town Common. The idea sprung from the need for activities for young people after some problems with juveniles were experienced downtown over the past year. The event will include refreshments and activities with officers.
Said Bennett: “We’re really excited to take advantage of the opportunity to have all the students downtown at the common and celebrate that.”
He added that it is “heartwarming” to see how the department and local businesses have embraced the townwide project.
Bennett added that recruiting new officers and investing in HPD staff also were his priorities. Mannan added that succession planning is key.
Nasrullah raised the goal of reinforcing officer behavior policy. Bennett described a new software platform he is using to remind officers of policies and test their knowledge of them.
Special Town Meeting discussed
Town Manager Norman Khumalo appeared virtually to discuss the articles proposed for the upcoming Special Town Meeting on Nov. 13. The most widely discussed has been the article on the proposed replacement building for Elmwood School. Also proposed was a citizens petition to remove political affiliation from local election ballots. A third was proposed by the Sustainable Green Committee to adopt the municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code.
The board unanimously approved two additional articles proposed by Khumalo on budgeting for land acquisitions. One involved acquiring land in the vicinity of Town Hall, while the second requested that open space be acquired in the vicinity of South Street.
The board also voted unanimously to approve the Elmwood School replacement ballot question for the special town election on Nov. 28.
Town Clerk Connor Degan announced that the town is considering an electronic voting process that would involve the use of clickers. The estimated cost for renting them is $14,500. While he acknowledged the expense, he said it would save time with head counting and vote tallying. The ability to vote by a secret ballot was another plus. Kramer called the price “awfully steep.”
“It may be the wave of the future,” said LaFreniere.