ORLEANS — Police officers, the faith community, and human rights advocates – not mutually exclusive groups – are putting together a Cape-wide forum on community policing titled “Cape Cod: Making It the Best Place for All of Us!”
“We can avoid some of the pitfalls,” said the Rev. Wesley Williams, one of the event's organizers, “by having a conversation with the police right now. We know that there are issues which left untended can really morph into something serious.”
The free forum, which will be held Oct. 28 at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, features as keynote speaker Dr. George Kelling, a well-known criminologist who co-authored the seminal text “Fixing Broken Windows.”
As the Martin Luther King Action Team of the Nauset Interfaith Association began thinking about the forum, Williams said, he remembered working with Kelling when Williams was in urban ministry.
“One of the essential elements of community policing is that when things are left untended, it's a signal that [people] don't care,” he said. “The whole neighborhood begins to deteriorate and people disinvest. It's the first phase of a slippery slope to complete chaos and devastation.”
As members of the MLK Team and local police officials talked about organizing a forum, Kelling's name galvanized the officers. “They said, what we would really profit from is a conversation with George about the issues we feel are most important right now, that we deem to be the most challenging: homelessness, opioids and addiction, youth concerns, mental health, and community-police relations, then bring in much more strongly and sharply the issue of race relations,” Williams recalled.
Williams said Kelling, who now lives in New Hampshire, readily agreed to give the keynote address and to respond to the comments of a panel of Cape Codders on community relations (Brenda Haywood, chair of the Provincetown Racial Justice Group, and Falmouth Police Chief Ed Dunne), homelessness (Helen Luddy of the Homeless Prevention Council of Lower Cape Cod and Duffy Health Center CEO Heidi Nelson), mental health (Robert Ericson, program coordinator for the human services department at 4Cs, and Chatham Police Chief Mark Pawlina), opioids and addiction (Martha Jaxtimer, program director at Gosnold, and Judge John Julian, presiding judge of the Barnstable Drug Court), and youth matters (two young people who will contrast their experiences as teenagers on the Cape).
Later, during small group sessions, the responders will talk about their areas of concern in relation to community policing.
“What we really want to have happen is to make the forum a portal entry into enduring partnerships and collaborations,” Williams said. “We don't expect this forum to be a be-all and end-all. We want to move to future conversations that would lead to collaboration.”
During the planning stages, he said, the MLK Team had been talking with police chiefs and developing relationships. The first version of the forum was a seminar just with the police, but the law enforcement officers encouraged opening it up to the whole community.
The police also suggested bringing in the criminal justice department at the college. “They're using Kelling as their textbook,” Williams said. “None of them had met him, and they're absolutely thrilled that he's coming.” Assistant Professor John Szucs and he are co-chairs of the planning committee.
All three sponsors of the event – the MLK Team, the criminal justice department, and law enforcement – are well represented on the committee. Williams said 4Cs Assistant Professor Darren Stocker “has been absolutely stellar in making linkages with the college,” which is providing space and audio-visual support gratis. Barnstable Deputy Chief Matt Sonnabend and Sgt. Jim Rosato of the Orleans force “have rendered invaluable advice. That's how we got Judge Julian. They said you really need a judge if we're talking with some knowledge of how all these issues are interrelated.”
Brewster Selectman John Dickson, who teaches psychology and American government at Monomoy Regional High School, will moderate the discussion. Williams said all the members of the MLK Action Team have been involved in planning the event. As someone “passionate about justice,” the retired United Methodist minister called himself “fortunate to be in a place where there are like-minded people that want to achieve justice” on Cape Cod.
“We want everyone to come,” Williams said. “We feel that community policing touches upon everyone's life at some point. The value in having this Capewide is that you get a diversity of towns and communities, and that diversity also points up the difference in the way different communities respond to the police...I think in this country we're just not talking to each other. We're all living in our separate ghettos.”
Registration is required for the free forum (from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., with lunch provided) by Oct. 25. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Nauset Interfaith Association, PO Box 306, South Orleans MA 02662. Include name, address, email, phone number and your choice of small-group session: homelessness, mental health, opioid addiction, youth matters, or community-police relations.