Select Board raises concerns about adopting MAPC pledge to ‘address systemic racism’

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Following the deaths of a number of people of color at the hands of police earlier this year, some Metropolitan Boston community leaders joined together and signed a pledge to “address systemic racism in our communities and violence in law enforcement.”

The Select Board discussed the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) pledge at Tuesday night’s meeting following a request from residents that the town sign on to it. During the public comment portion of the meeting four residents spoke in favor of the pledge. However, concerns were raised about some of the wording and how it might lead to legal issues if Hopkinton were to adopt the pledge.

The primary concerns raised related to statements regarding how the Police Department should be run. The pledge lists protocols directing police to “deescalate all interactions to prevent violence or the use of force,” and also calls for towns to “Review our police budgets and assess whether allocations might be better deployed either within police departments or for other critical community programs,” and “Reevaluate whether responsibilities that are currently performed by police officers could be provided in new and different ways or by non-police personnel.” (The complete statement and list of suggested policies can be found at mapc.org).

“I agree with it 100 percent directionally,” Select Board member Brian Herr said. “I am concerned that a couple of the clauses, however, would possibly create the need for a bargaining situation with our dedicated police officers in town, and I want to make sure that we don’t open up a situation with the collective bargaining agreement that wasn’t anticipated, nor is it fair to do so without understanding it and letting our dedicated officers know why we might have to open it up. So, [Town Manager Norman] Khumalo, I think that we need some more information specific to how that pledge would impact the collective bargaining process in town.”

Town counsel Ray Miyares, in a written statement, indicated that “The Board may wish to ask labor counsel and the police chief about any difficulties they may have encountered in addressing police misconduct and whether legislation is needed to address those difficulties.”

Miyares also noted that since the original pledge was drafted, a modified version was passed in the House of Representatives and a different version was passed in the Senate, so the board might want to consider the revised versions as well.

Select Board member Mary Jo LaFreniere said she is “all for” the pledge but said discussions first need to be had with the police.

“I stand behind the pledge, I stand behind the thoughts of the pledge and the reasoning for it,” she said. “But as I looked at the recommendation from town counsel, it does say that we should have a meeting or talk with the labor counsel and the chief of police about the difficulties in negotiations.”

Amy Ritterbusch suggested sending the pledge to town department heads to get their input. She noted that other towns have crafted their own versions of the pledge and said, “Maybe we should have a modified version for Hopkinton if we were to go forward and sign something.”

Irfan Nasrullah supported the idea but said communication with police would be vital.

“I’m encouraged by the MAPC pledge, I think there’s a lot in there, and I think we’re due,” Nasrullah said. “We’ve heard from a number of members of our town that would like us to take this pledge.”

Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone said he agreed with fellow board members’ statements but that he didn’t think the pledge was necessary.

“I think it’s sad that as a society we have to put all these core values into writing, but apparently the public wants us to do that,” he said. “I look at No. 4 on the principles, ‘We will work to address racism within law enforcement in a proactive, intentional and consistent manner’ — I’m pretty sure we already do that. I’m pretty sure we already do most of this. …

“These are all things that I guess we just take for granted that people that are professionals in their department already do. I believe that society has not a pot but a cauldron that’s being stirred by both polar ends of the political world. What I really want to focus on is our police department. We were the No. 1 safest town/city in the country two years ago, last year we were No. 2. I just don’t see that we have a racism issue in our Police Department. As a matter of fact I’m positive that we don’t.”

Added Tedstone: “These are all things that [Police] Chief [Joseph] Bennett and [Fire] Chief [Steve] Slaman and Mr. Khumalo and [Department of Public Works director John] Westerling and all of our department heads in town, I think a lot of this stuff is understood. It’s sad as a society that we have to put this into writing. But people want it in writing, so I guess we’ll look at it, and the board, we’ll all be able to chip in and put in what we think is right and take out what we think is wrong and run it by town counsel and then the board and make a presentation.”

The topic was set to be discussed again at the next Select Board meeting on Nov. 10.

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