Mayor Fuller Establishes Newton Police Reform Task Force

by Alex Merkowitz, News Editor
photos courtesy of the Newton Police Reform Task Force

Mayor Ruthanne Fuller established a task force on June 15 to assess the Newton Police Department (NPD), in order to advise her on potential reforms in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and racial profiling of Black Newton resident Tim Duncan. Composed of 12 members, the Newton Police Reform Task Force will provide recommendations to Fuller in four categories: Recruiting, Hiring, Training and Promoting; Services Provided; Staffing and Organization; and Accountability and Oversight.

Courtney Foster, ‘20 graduate, and representative of Defund NPD, a youth-run group that formed initially to protest the police budget increases in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, said that the formation of the task force was partially due to Defund NPD’s pressure.

“While our demands were not yet met by the city, we were able to generate quite a bit of public pressure. In response to this, the mayor put together the Newton Police Reform Task Force,” she said.

Fuller said that the task force is currently meeting at least once a week to conduct extensive research on the NPD and to take feedback from Newton residents.

“They are doing a deep dive on the NPD, understanding each of our bureaus and their responsibilities,” she said. “They have also been thinking carefully about how to get lots of voices into the discussion.”

The task force held its first Community Open Session on August 26, where Newton residents shared their personal experiences with the NPD.

Foster said that the stories shared at the meeting demonstrated the disparity between police officers’ actions towards white people and people of color.

“At the task force meeting, we found that while many white residents had positive or neutral experiences with the police, people of color were often reflecting on negative experiences,” she said.

Senior and Defund NPD member Valerie Goldstein said that future sessions should focus more on the structure of the police than the personal experiences of Newton residents. 

“With these individual stories, it was all personal good and bad experiences,” she said. “We want to be focused on the structure;these experiences are just with individual officers.”

Foster said that she would like future task force meetings to be more targeted.

“The format of the sessions equally weighed a person who made leaf blower noise complaints to a person of color who was wrongly accused of possessing marijuana,” she said. “We’d like future sessions to be through a more critical and analytical lens, as well as doing things that educate and engage the community and are tailored toward specific outcomes.”

Fuller said that much of the task force’s work is focused on briefing her on potential policies to make policing in Newton more equitable.

“We think we can do better in terms of who is represented on our police force and more thoughtful when we’re dealing with different members of the community,” she said.

Interim Police Chief Howard Mintz said that the NPD has made efforts to diversify their workforce.

“We have actively tried to recruit diverse officers in both gender and race. We’ve recruited at the Myrtle Baptist Church, a Black church in Newton,” Mintz said. “Unfortunately, recruiting of Black officers has not been successful.”

Mintz said that while he believes that the NPD generally treats residents fairly, it needs to listen to more perspectives.

“I think we’ve had an excellent record of treating people fairly. We do implicit bias training to make sure everybody is treated fairly,” he said. “One thing we could improve on is listening to people who have different views than we do, especially people of color and those with mental health issues.”

Senior Dale LaVelle, who helped organize a protest against the planned increase in police spending in June, said that the NPD has racially profiled Newton residents.

“There have been some incidents of police profiling that have been documented, which is a massive issue for not just Black Newton residents, but all minorities,” LaVelle said.

Fuller said that the task force is thoughtfully identifying the issues present in the NPD and will then revisit the police budget.

“Any changes we want to make in the department we want to make thoughtfully and comprehensively,” Fuller said. “We will see what changes we might want to make and let the budget follow our direction.”