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“Policing isn’t just simply a cure-all”: BLM Oxford proposes police reform

After Black Lives Matter (BLM) Oxford proposed police reforms in a previous City Council meeting, those reforms have been discussed by the Police Community Relations & Review Commision (PCRRC) and will be brought back before City Council for implementation.

Council sent the proposals to the PCRRC to review them before making a recommendation to city council.

The PCRRC made recommendations to Oxford City Council that data be collected on all Oxford Police Department (OPD) field contacts, as well as pedestrian and bicycle stops, at its meeting on Sept. 1. 

“I think that would clear up a lot of distrust in the community,” Pat Meade, a member of PCRRC, said. “I think transparency is good.”

The data would be publicly available and could be used to determine if an officer is racially discriminating against those they are stopping. 

“This is something we’ve been asking for since 2017,”  Meade said. “And hopefully we’re making progress on that.”

The committee believes this could be implemented within six months. 

“I think six months is just too long to wait,” Chandler said. “When PCRRC first started pedestrian stop data, as Pat Meade stated, was something that several Oxford citizens had requested, and years later, that data is still yet to be seen.”

Another member of PCRRC, Egon Kraan, said collecting the data, implementing the system and reporting the data takes a lot of time. He said taking six months to fully implement a system to collect the data is aggressive. 

The second proposal the committee considered was removing barriers to reporting police misconduct. Initially, Meade said the PCRRC chose not to vote on a recommendation based on the actions of Jessica Greene, assistant city manager, and John Jones, OPD police chief, to improve the complaint process. 

“We thought there’s already an effort from the OPD to respond to this recommendation,” Meade said. “We didn’t need to make a formal push.”

But during PCRRC’s Sept. 17 meeting, the commission amended its recommendation to City Council. Commissioners voted to recommend City Council work with OPD to require police officers to give civilians their name, badge number, reason for the stop and a card with instructions on how to give feedback to the PCRRC. 

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The third proposal was a discussion about alternatives to policing, such as implementing more social workers instead of police officers. Discussion was suspended until the commission’s Sept. 17 meeting. 

At the PCRRC meeting on Sept. 17, OPD lieutenant Lara Fening spoke about alternatives involving social workers and social services. She mentioned the turnover in social services, as well as the challenges in implementing social services. 

She said that an individual-based model — having a social worker make connections with the community then abruptly leave — wouldn’t be as sustainable as an organization-based model. She said if OPD shared access to social services, then it wouldn’t be as big of an impact if one officer leaves. 

“Our officers do a lot of diversity training,” said Amber Franklin, a member of the PCRRC. “I truly believe that when they do this training, it’s not just to check a box for certification, but that they desire to apply what they’ve learned at these trainings to the community.”

Fening explained Matt Wagers, an OPD officer, is working once a week to connect social services to those that may need them. She said a social worker has accompanied him for two of his three shifts and plans to continue to do so while Wagers is doing this work or work with another officer if Wagers is called somewhere else. 

“This has not cost the city any money,” Fening said. “He’s laying a strong foundation for our connections, and I think that has been very good.”

Greene proposed a possible timeline to expand county-wide programs. The proposed program would have a plan in place by January 2022.

Brandon Humprey, a member of BLM Oxford, said he and others in the organization imagine a CAHOOTS-type system. This system would allow unarmed medical professionals to respond to calls where force may not be necessary. Humphrey listed examples like mental health crises, homelessness and substance abuse incidents. 

“These responders stabilize the immediate situation and provide information about and referrals to existing services so that people can get the help they need,” Humphrey wrote in an email to The Miami Student. 

Humphrey wrote that he envisions a small team of medics and mental health experts who are independent from OPD, but who may work alongside them as needed. 

“Similar programs have existed sometimes for years in other cities,” Humphrey said, “and even small towns like Alexandria in Kentucky are hiring social workers to respond to emergency calls, so this type of proposal isn’t some radical idea.” 

Humphrey and BLM Oxford asked for a task force to be created to research alternatives to policing, knowing their ideas couldn’t go into effect right away. 

“We recognize that the Oxford Police Department is doing what it can and is stepping up to address these issues,” Humphrey said. “But policing isn’t just simply a cure-all for all the social issues that Oxford faces.”

The task force would be made up of community members, officers, budgeting experts, experts in social work and others.

“There is interest in the community to be part of this decision making,” said Shana Rosenberg, a member of BLM Oxford. 

After more than an hour of discussion, the PCRRC moved to recommend City Council create a task force to research alternatives to policing in Oxford. The vote got two nos and five yeas. 

The next PCRRC meeting will take place on Nov. 19.