Police, Community Talk Frankly about Race and Use of Force

Everett Police and several residents and officials packed the Zion Church Ministries last Tuesday, June 30, for a frank discussion on race and policing in Everett that lasted more than two hours.

The proactive panel was part of an ongoing dialogue between the police and the community – especially communities of color – that Chief Steve Mazzie and Mayor Carlo DeMaria have spearheaded with long-time Bishop Robert G. Brown of Zion Ministries, among others.

Featuring Mazzie, Brown, Pastor Regina Shearer, DeMaria, Lt. Paul Strong and Capt. Rick Bastere, the panel tackled race relations, use of force by the EPD and hiring practices in order to further diversify the department.

“There are many things recently that have happened in other communities and aren’t us, but are things that trouble us and shock us and revolve around relations with the police department,” said Bishop Brown at the outset. “With the incident in Ferguson, New York City, Baltimore and a few other communities, we thought it was the appropriate time to let people know the City of Everett is concerned about its citizens, but so is the Everett Police. Not every police officer is a bad police officer and not every citation is a bad citation. It’s time to work in concert with one another to make sure Everett is that place where we desire to come live and work.”

Pointing out that Everett has been tabbed as the most diverse City in the Commonwealth by Boston Business Journal, Pastor Shearer also cited a nationwide poll done last year by USA Today that showed many don’t believe the police are treating racial and ethnic groups well – with 65 percent nationwide saying police do a “fair/poor” job of it. Another 61 percent said police do a “fair/poor” job in their use of proper force. However, more than 60 percent of all polled believe the police do a good job keeping communities safe.

“That’s a starting point for tonight’s discussion,” said Shearer. “We want to have our panelists respond not to what’s happening in South Carolina or Cleveland or New York City, but rather what’s happening in Everett.”

One of the key points to the forum was Mazzie’s discussion of use of force. He said it often doesn’t look pretty when an arrest occurs, but that Everett measures its approach.

“We arrest around 880 people a year, and not all of them go down nice and clean,” he said. “We take them into custody and not all of them turn around and just let us put handcuffs on them. Some of the clips you see on TV of an officer affecting an arrest are terrible. We cringe when we see a clip on TV of four of five officers on top of one person trying to make an arrest. It looks like the old pig pile. It doesn’t look good. We try to avert that situation and spend a great deal of time training officers to avoid that.”

Some of those trainings include Mental Health, Minority Community issues, and Cultural Training – among others.

He said the use of force is a stepping-stone of techniques. First, physical force is used, then pepper spray, then the expandable baton (which most don’t prefer), next the Tasers and finally, a firearm.

“I can say in the last 13 years I’ve been the chief, no one has been killed by us,” said the Chief. “We’ve had three officer-involved shootings – two were bank robbery suspects and the third was a guy to tried to run over a police officer. All three survived. We don’t use as much force on a regular basis.”

Many were also concerned about the Tasers, which have been deployed to part of the force since 2013.

Mazzie said the Tasers have a cartridge that records the strength and duration of its use each time it is deployed. Those records are stringently kept by the EPD and forwarded to the state.

In 2013, the Tasers were used seven times. They were used 25 times in 2014 and, so far in 2015, 13 times.

Body cameras were also addressed at the discussion, and Mazzie said there were still a lot of privacy issues that need to be solved by the State Legislature. For example, he said if the camera is on and the officer goes into a private home, will that video be public and will someone be able to ask for it and put it up on the Internet or in the media.

“I’d rather spend time and resources with what we’re doing right now and build better relationships,” he said. “If you have bad relations with the community, body cameras will just show police officers doing wrong thing or citizens doing the wrong thing…I don’t think it’s something I want to roll out right now.”

Hiring on the EPD was also an issue, and Mayor DeMaria said he has tried to address that issue very intently in the last four or five years.

“I understand the City and see where it’s going,” he said. “It’s not right to go into City Hall and all you see is white employees. I get that. I make an effort to hire in City Hall black people and a diverse group of people. We don’t have any animosity here in regards to race…I’ve never seen outright racist acts in Everett. It’s not going to be tolerated in our City Hall or our Police Department. In the last four or five years, you can see we’ve made a real effort to diversify the department in the police officers I’ve hired.”

Out of 100 officers, 91 are male and nine are female. Also, out of that 100, two officers are African American, two are native Brazilian, one is Hispanic and one is a native of Cape Verde.

Both DeMaria and Mazzie said they want to improve upon that, and are constantly in the community trying to promote policing as a career to young people.

They explained the Civil Service process for hiring, and the qualifications, and said the mayor makes the final decision, but a Board advises him and reviews candidates.

Bishop Brown said he is on that Board and expressed confidence in the fairness of hiring police in Everett.

“Nobody has been turned away because of the color of their skin,” he said. “What might have happened in years past is yesterday, but I can affirm that in the last several years that wasn’t the case now. I feel comfortable that one can make a recommendation for a person of color, and they have a straight shot.”

Brown said that while no major racist events have transpired in Everett, one shouldn’t assume that racism doesn’t exist.

“I don’t know a place in America where racism doesn’t exist,” he said. “We’re not saying that it doesn’t exist. The purpose of our panel isn’t to pat ourselves on the back and leave feeling good about ourselves. It does exist, but we have people who are conscious of it – that it exists a little less here. Everett is a diverse community and that comes with some problems. Everett has gone through a major change. We may not be perfect, but we’re doing the things we need to do to make it better. We’re came here tonight because we don’t want to have a Ferguson or a South Carolina. We want to make sure our community stands above all others in the Commonwealth.”

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During a forum on policing in Everett last Tuesday, June 30, Bishop Robert G. Brown of Zion Church Ministries speaks about relationships with the Police Department. The forum was in response to events happening around the country, but was also part of an ongoing discussion between the community and the police.

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Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he has concentrated on hiring a more diverse police force over the last four of five years, but that more work needs to be done on that issue.

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