Updated for misquote. A previous sentence erroneously said that a speaker’s friends felt their lives were not safe from police. In fact, the speaker said her friends’ lives had been saved by police in circumstance of domestic violence.
ROCKLAND – A group of Rockland residents has submitted a petition to Rockland City Council demanding defunding of the Rockland Police Department.
Though several residents provided comments to Council in support of the petition during its formal introduction to Council, Aug. 4 – along with a couple of comments in opposition – the Council’s agenda-setting meeting format did not allow for a vote on the matter, nor were members prepared to start the long, challenging discussion, as councilors Ed Glaser and Benjamin Dorr predict will follow.
Made of seven line item categories, the petition calls for a City resolve supporting Black Lives Matters, local recognition of Juneteenth Day, and redistribution of police department funds for the sake of social work, training, and funding of programs for substance abuse, domestic violence, and anti-racism programs. It also calls for a civilian oversight committee to keep tabs on police misconduct, and for more resident involvement into the annual City budget decisions.
The conversation will not be easy, according to petition author Angela McIntyre.
“There is no single solution to figure out what is appropriate for our town,” she said. “We have to dive in and deeply examine the many ways different members of our community experience policing, harm, and routes of recovery and safety….To be clear, this is a gradual process to be revisited month after month, and year after year.”
McIntyre stressed that at no point in the process will immediate safety needs be abandoned.
“There will always be someone to answer 9-1-1,” she said. “There will always be someone to respond appropriately to crisis. For awhile, in our immediate future, we may still need policing, because this change is not going to happen over night.”
By the start of Council’s Aug. 4 meeting, 135 residents had signed in support of the petition, along with 350 in the Midcoast, and another 150 supporters beyond the Maine border who have connections to the community, according to McIntyre.
As represented by the 13 individuals whose opinions of support were heard either verbally, through the Zoom portal, or as read aloud by City Manager Tom Luttrell, the reasons for each signature of support varied greatly.
For some, it’s about standing up to racism, which one letter writer said is prevalent in this area. Another sees the petition as an outline, “to work towards a community that values and supports those who need it the most.”
“The movement to defund the police is not an attack on those who have been serving our communities to the best that they see fit,” said a letter writer. “There’s a movement that takes those that are most vulnerable, and in need, into account first and foremost by moving budget funding toward other public resources.”
For some, it was being unsettled by the attendence of many police officers during the closure of Main Street and Black Lives Matter protest that opened the evening. Why were there so many officers, why did they stand with such intimidating stances with their hands on their hips, why were their hands always near their guns?
For Becca Shaw Glaser, it’s more personal. She said her friends claim their lives have been saved by police in matters regarding domestic violence.
She questioned whether officers must meet quotas, what weapons they carry, what oversight there is for gathering witness statements and refraining from intimidation, are they open to learning new skills to support the diversity of people, as needs arise.
Is the department trying to be environmentally responsible? Does the department need to be so large?
“What do they have at their disposal for things to help our community besides their attachment to a system of punishment?” she asked.
These questions were directed to Rockland City Council “who are responsible for the policies of local law enforcement, which the local taxpayers are paying for,” she said.
In response, Councilor Ed Glaser addressed the City’s jurisdiction within such matters.
“The Council doesn’t tell the police, or any department necessarily, how to do what they do,” he said. “But we do talk about bigger policy issues. We’re the ones who set the policy. And so, if we want to have a change in the police department, to some extent, it does start with us, and what policies we would like to see the police department enforce. And whether it’s just the police department we would like to see do that, or whether we’d like to see other social service agencies...there’s a long discussion.”
The topic of who determines police department policies has been discussed before, among Council, when Glaser told Police Chief Chris Young that it should be up to Council to write the police department’s policies. As pointed out in a letter from a petition opponent, Glaser is also the father of one of the petition supporters who spoke at the meeting.
During a June 8 City Council discussion, Young stated that the majority of the PD’s policies are mandated by the Board of Trustees of the Criminal Justice Academy.
“We have mandates that we have to have in place, such as situational use of force, or pursuit driving,” he said on June 8. “Those mandates, we don’t have a lot of flexibility with, nor would we want to because they are very good, solid policies. But, absolutely we can sit down and review all of them. And go through them, and curtail them to fit Rockland.”
Councilors at the August 3 meeting did not discuss their next steps regarding the petition.
The petition reads
As a community, we demand meaningful commitments to dismantle racism. We press the City Council to the following actions:
1) A public statement of support for Black Lives Matter, and its demand to defund police and invest in community wellbeing.
2) Honor Juneteenth as a holiday where we renew our community’s commitment to dismantling racism, review accomplishments of the previous year, and set new goals for the coming year.
3) Refusal to increase the law enforcement budget in our town, make a Comprehensive Plan to invest the law enforcement budget into new programs that invest in community safety and wellbeing.
4) Increase community opportunities for public dialogue regarding the City budget.
5) Create a civilian oversight board that creates commitments to accountability, oversight, and change.
6) Trained mental health providers and social workers on First Responder calls.
7) Comprehensive anti-abuse programs that center the needs of recovery for survivors of domestic violence and all forms of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Increase support for recovery and addiction programs. Increase support for commitments to affordable housing. An examination of the way our City may criminalize poverty and replaces practices with effective system. Supports schools in integrating anti-racism into classrooms for all ages through training, classroom resources, and dedicated space and time for curriculum building. And a refusal to use school resource officers in our schools.
“We sign this petition to solidarity with the work and demands of Black Lives Matter, and demand that we see real political change on a local level. We acknowledge that racism needs to be dismantled in many local institutions, not just law enforcement.”
Reach Sarah Thompson at email@example.com