Middletown forms 15-member police advisory council
MIDDLETOWN -- Four months ago, protests over the killing of George Floyd marched through the streets of cities across the country, calling for police protocol reforms. In response, towns and police departments began forming councils to improve police-community relations. Now Middletown is doing the same.
Middletown has formed a 15-member Citizen Advisory Council to improve accountability and transparency with the town’s police department. The group is a collaboration between the Mayor and Town Council, the local NAACP chapter and Middletown Police Department.
Debbie Harrington, NAACP criminal justice committee member, said the advisory council is about building trust and transparency, but also giving the police a place where they can come forward with issues in the community.
“We want a relationship where we can respect one another,” she said. “We want the police force to be aware, relate better with the community as a whole … We don't want the kinds of things that are happening nationally [to happen here].”
Chief Robert Kracyla echoed many of the same goals, as he believes transparency is essential to building trust and strengthening their relationship with the community, but he doesn’t have a clear vision for what this looks like yet. He said he is unsure what transparency there will be until the council mission statement and guidelines are established.
“We will certainly be a willing participant,” he said. “I think we all share a passion for making the health and safety of the community to be at the forefront.”
Kracyla believes the best policing comes from open communication with residents.
“Law enforcement has some real challenges right now. It is essential to recognize that no one group has all the answers. As a collaborative group, we may be able to provide a better solution,” he said.
Initial conversations about the group started after the George Floyd protests in June, Mayor Ken Branner said, between leadership from the NAACP, the town and the state.
“It was an open discussion and we just decided this would be a good thing to do after introducing the ordinance on the chokeholds,” he said. “The main thing we all talked about … was transparency of this whole thing going forward.”
“If you don't have transparency in what you are doing, this will go by the wayside,” Branner said. “We realize some things, you can't divulge if it's in the process of getting investigated or whatever ... but if something comes up, we should be made aware of it.”
In July, the town council approved a resolution to ban police chokeholds and require more diversity training.
Branner said there used to be a public safety committee that would meet at the police station once a month with appointees from the council, but it was more informal compared to the Citizen Advisory Council.
“The Mayor and Town Council didn't have anything to do with [the committee] unless complaints came in. [It was] mostly to talk about public safety issues with the police department ... Council didn’t get minutes or anything,” he said.
Harrington said the NAACP wanted something more structured, so it could have a long-lasting impact.
Who’s on the council?
The advisory council had its first unofficial meeting Sept. 21 of the members expected to be approved at the mayor and council meeting in October. Branner said the members’ names would not be released until they are approved by the Town Council.
Each member of the Town Council, including the mayor, appointed one person and the NAACP chose the other eight.
Harrington said they wanted their picks to be representative of Middletown, which includes a business owner, sorority or fraternity member and NAACP member.
“We selected people who are involved in the community and who can speak to the residents' needs and their desires and how they want to be, and how they expect to be treated and what they expect in relationship with the police force and the community,” she said.
Kracyla will be on the council as one of two non-voting members. He said he views his role as a consultant who will answer questions about the department’s procedures. A member from the union that represents a majority of Middletown’s officers will serve as the other non-voting member.
All members will have two-year term limits, except eight will have three-year terms to start, so they don’t all come off the council at the same time. No one will be allowed to serve more than two two-year terms, Harrington said.
The Citizen Advisory Council’s first formal meeting will be Oct. 19 where they are expected to draft guidelines to be approved by the council in November. The group will meet publicly at 7 p.m. on the third Monday of every month.
Branner said he found guidelines from other police advisory councils from around the country to help with developing Middletown’s.
“Both of us, NAACP and the council, are coming into this without really knowing how to go forward,” the mayor said. “This is a learning experience for both of us.”