By Tina Pappas
for Montclair Local
A step towards a more unified Montclair through improved police and community relations remains the top focus of the township’s Civil Rights Commission.
The commissioners met with local police recently to submit recommendations on several initiatives and look at data on police stops in town, said Kevin Allen, vice chair of the commission.
Recent police stops data did not reveal disproportionate numbers of stops due to race and/ or gender, Allen said at the most recent commission meeting on May 17.
“They are willing to provide that information on a regular basis and that will come to the commission in the future,” Allen said. “Chief Todd Conforti has wanted to be compliant and take our recommendations.”
Another issue for the commission is the recent reports of police reactions to people who suffer from mental health issues. Allen said the Montclair Police Department will be conducting a series of training sessions for their officers in order to better handle responses to situations with residents who might have mental health issues. Some police will have access to lockboxes placed at the family’s request that will allow police to get through a door should there be an emergency at someone’s residence.
Commissioner Leslie K. Brown said she is concerned with recent incidents of racially biased reporting to 911 nationwide. She would like to see racially biased 911 calls made illegal. Allen said, by law, every 911 call needs to be responded to and false reports go to the local district attorney. However, he suggested incorporating response training for police.
The “Coffee with a Cop” initiative is continuing, which helps strengthen community policing.
Roxanne Kent, co-founder of Uniform Justice: The Montclair Project, an initiative to improve police and community relationships, said they are working with leadership projects in middle schools, and incorporating theater, visual arts and poetry to help. The initiative began in Memphis. Lt. Tyrone Williams, Jr. who has worked as a school resource officer and community policing officer, and also serves as the commander of the Community Service Unit, is working with Kent.
According to Kent, the initiative also works.
“In Memphis, where it started, the crime rate went down and it’s still down because of that police training,” she said. “It then went to a small town in Massachusetts and the same thing happened, the crime rate there also went down.”
The first police training session n Montclair was held in 2016. Another is slated to take place in the early fall.
“The city funded the first part and private funding is covering the second part,” Kent said
“I’m really excited because inside policing works to create better dialogue with police and community, which makes a big difference and we have initiated a lot of programs, which brought the police and the community together.”