LETTER: Councilor Discusses Upcoming Meetings Look at Police Services in Watertown

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The following statement was first read by Councilor Lisa Feltner at the March 9 Town Council meeting:

Watertown is very proud of its police department. The men and women who have served here, have served with distinction, and we appreciate overall their dedication to keeping us safe. They put their lives on the line for us every day.

There are members of our community that have some concerns, which is understandable given all that has happened over the past year and in light of the pandemic, which has prompted questions about municipal and societal priorities across the country.

The Town Council unanimously recommended the Public Safety Committee hold meetings to discuss current services and operations of our police department. So as chair, I scheduled meetings to listen to public concerns in this context, but we’re also not setting up the hard-working men and women of our police department to be a punching bag. I will not be entertaining a motion to defund the Watertown Police Department.

Transparent and Open Government is something that Watertown prides itself on. We are not trying to look for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, nor are we trying to ignore public concerns. For example,

  1. Is there a problem with the behavior of the police that deserves discussion and change?
  2. Or is there a solution being advocated for, that is looking for a problem?
  3. And, there are residents concerned about problems that could happen here, and they want to examine how we might strengthen our community policing: to be proactive vs. reactive is a common refrain directed at Town Council.

As elected officials, it’s our duty to bring forward public concerns. Recognizing that there are many questions about policing, and in a spirit of fairness to enable staff and resident participation, I scheduled two dates with the Chief of Police, to hold the calendar for this Friday and next (March 19) from 4-6pm. I anticipate the first meeting as a way to hear an overview with my colleagues and the police, and the Public Safety Committee will determine next steps.

I ask for mutual respect in order to have meaningful dialog, as best we can through virtual connections, at Friday’s public meeting, March 12 from 4-6 PM. Detailed information on how to connect is posted with the Agenda online, on the town calendar.

Please feel free to continue contacting me via phone or email. Thank you for listening.

Lisa J. Feltner
Public Safety Committee Chair and District B Town Councillor

For information on how to join the Committee on Public Safety meeting, click here for March 12, and click here for March 19.

19 thoughts on “LETTER: Councilor Discusses Upcoming Meetings Look at Police Services in Watertown

  1. Analyzing data available from the police department’s own records “looking for a problem that doesn’t exist?” I’m so tired of the way people in this town protect the police and consider asking questions as an attack. As residents, it is our right to ask for accountability. I’m so disappointed in this statement.

    • The data doesn’t seem to be clearly represented in what I’ve seen published online by these groups. For example, the amount of citations given to black drivers was given compared to the number of black residents, they left out how many drivers in total were given citations. It seems like these groups are trying to push an anti police narrative instead of working with the police to improve our community.

  2. You mention two possible valid sources of concern: what is happening around the country and the pandemic. However, you omit the immediate source of concern with Watertown’s police department. An earlier letter to this paper noted that data, which has been collected by WPD itself, shows that, “in 2018-19 Black residents were arrested at a rate 5-6 times their percentage of the Watertown population.” According to that letter, that is the concern that was to be raised at the cancelled meeting of the Public Safety Committee.

    I am baffled that this is considered, by itself, to be an attack on the police. It’s data. From the police. The whole idea of reviewing such data is to seek to understand why disparities exist and then work to address them. I would think that is precisely the purpose of the Public Safety Committee. To me, these findings are very concerning, and as a Watertown resident I am unhappy that the responsible representative on Town Council is dismissing them.

    The goals identified in the other letter seem quite sensible: “1) Regularly analyze data on policing activities, implement remedies to documented racial disparities, and ensure that WPD aligns its use of force and other policies with the new Massachusetts Police Reform Law; 2) Provide Kingian nonviolence and antiracism training to all WPD officers, and increase diversity, inclusion, and equity in the Police Department; 3) Develop new, collaborative approaches to address common root causes of police calls and crime and reallocate budgets accordingly; 4) Create a voluntary WPD/Community Advisory Board or other official mechanism for community input.” Which of these makes the WPD a “punching bag”? They might not ultimately be implemented, but can’t they be discussed? And isn’t the Public Safety Committee the appropriate venue?

    Collecting, sharing, and discussing data and how to respond to it seems, to me, very much in line with “Transparent and Open Government”. Perhaps you can take pride in providing a forum for that.

  3. No criticism of the police allowed! Just want to make that clear from the start. They took a DNA test and they are 100% puppies and kittens!

  4. I hope you can actually moderate a respectful discussion with the police and certain community groups who are looking for a problem with their police department.

  5. This is a complete hit job on the Watertown P.D.

    The “statistics” mean nothing on their own. Where are the victims? Where are the dates and locations of police harassment?

    And why are outside agitators being brought in (tomorrow) to further inflame an already overheated environment?

    To members of the Town Council:

    You have been hearing from a tiny minority with an oversized megaphone. The great majority of Watertown voters and residents have not yet weighed in. They will. Of course, when they do, they will be branded as racists or idiots by those who falsely believe they occupy the moral high ground.

    Police reform is on its way from the state, and likely from Washington D.C., which means that an already good police force will continue to get better.

    Black lives do matter and so does good old-fashioned common sense. It really is possible to believe in both.

    • Bruce, while I would quibble with your claim that statistics mean “nothing”, I agree that they are not the whole story. These particular statistics are troubling to me, and my conclusion is that they need debate. I feel, and it seems you feel, too, that the debate should be open and broad. So, even though I might represent part of the “tiny minority” you refer to, I completely agree that we should hear from a full range of voices of Watertown voters and residents. That, to me, was the whole point of raising the issue with the Public Safety Committee.

      I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but on another of your points, I don’t know of a single local group that called on the Boston-based group to come here. So I would strongly reject your claim that they are being “brought in”. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t shared views between local groups and the Boston-based group. People from Watertown may very well join them. But the Boston-based group announced their rally on their own initiative.

      Finally, I agree that we should not further inflame an already overheated environment. I would invite you to do that by not using words such as “hit job”, “harassment” (nobody has claimed that), and “agitators”.

  6. Bruce, your comparison to a hit job is very dramatic and off. The data shows something that needs explaining. A hit job, the way you are referring to it, would be having data that showed nothing alarming then questioning it and requesting meetings and trying to make something out of nothing. This is quite the opposite. This data needs explaining.

    I would think many in town would want to understand this data. If we are to be a more inclusive community then we need some answers to this. And if it comes out that maybe as a town we have work to do then so be it. Maybe we can all learn from this. I don’t find anything about this request disrespectful but I do find the attitude of this councilor and the tone of her letter a bit disturbing. Perhaps this is not the committee for her.

    I have seen nothing from these groups that indicate any disrespect or anyone trying to inflame the situation. What I see is a group of people asking questions of their town government and being ignored. How is that even fair?

  7. I am very concerned about the tone of this letter from our Town Councilor, which sounds patronizing, with the intension of limiting what can and cannot be said on this matter.

    I too have seen the statistic and would like a discussion about it. No need for heightened emotions, let’s look at the data and discuss how we can make our community a better place. This is a reform movement that is happening all over the country, at every level of our institutions, not just the police. And it is long overdue.

    “I will not be entertaining a motion to defund the Watertown Police Department” is an inappropriate statement, and premature. If Lisa Feltner cannot handle mediating a meaningful discussion I think she should resign. I expect my Councilors to be ready to listen and be pro-active in making Watertown a better place.

  8. From reading the comments here I wonder how many people understand what the “defund the police” movement is about. Granted, the title could be seen as offensive to law enforcement and as such is misleading but I would advise EVERYONE, especially Lisa as moderator and the police chief to become better informed about it so that you aren’t defensive and reactive. Defund the police is not a movement to attack good police or good police work. It is a movement to look for and address problems that lead to violence, mistreatment and death that often could be avoided if there were better services and planing in place. I would ask that there be a person separate from the moderator who is a “vibes” person to monitor the tone of the meeting and who can call a pause for everyone to reflect on the positive reasons for why they are at the meeting before resuming.

  9. Shame on you Ms. Feltner for both writing this defensive letter and for your lack of support of black people in our town. Imagine how they must feel hearing these statistics and then hearing that the person that runs this committee was refusing to meet about this?

    If you watched the piece on Fox News last night it said we have about 800 black residents. Don’t they deserve to have some answers?

    • The piece on Fox News was so one-sided and didn’t represent all the data fairly. Come on, it was Fox! I’m looking forward to hearing the true facts and data explained by the police department without the “uplifting” Watertown bias.

  10. I don’t see what the problem with Lisa Feltner’s letter is. She understands that we need a well funded, engaged and committed police department. I don’t know how anyone can say that she is not supportive of all citizens and their right to live in a safe, inclusive community.

    • You are correct. The letter essentially says that she plans on being objective and openminded. The problem with the letter is that objectivity and openmindedness are not what the defunders are looking for. For the defunders, it is not about determining if there is a problem with police behavior. It is about declaring that there is a problem, based on too little information, and a belief that you can’t disagree with them without being a racist. They have every right to be heard, but they should not be dictating town policy. Watertown is not a racist community. The Watertown PD are not a gang of racist thugs. They don’t deserve this character assassination and neither does the greater Watertown community.

  11. The three items on the agenda for this afternoon’s Town Council Committee on Public Safety are:
    1. Call to Order; Introductions
    2. Purpose: Discussion of the Current Operations and Services Being Provided by the Watertown Police Department
    3. Next Steps

    I am puzzled by a Watertown People FB announcement stating: “Watertown Citizens for Black Lives, Uplift Watertown, and the Kingian Response Team will be making presentations about police reform to the Town Council Committee on Public Safety tomorrow (3/12) at 4:00 PM. Please come to this important meeting tomorrow at 4:00 PM and make your feelings known. Thank you!”

    There appears to be some confusion as to the purpose of this meeting.

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