We take a lot for granted. It’s human nature to live each day believing that what we regard as normal will stay that way. We often cling to this belief even when we know, deep in our gut, that change is inevitable.
It’s one thing to deal with change that happens gradually, allowing time to digest it. Even that can be disturbing, but when change comes all at once and seemingly out of the blue, we are likely to find it jarring.
It was taken for granted that the most we had to fear from contagious disease was catching the flu. No big deal for most of us. Then Covid showed up and upended life as we know it.
In the Pacific Northwest, it was taken for granted that extreme hot days would be few and far between. Now they are having a summer with scorching days in the triple digits. One Portland neighborhood recorded a high of 123 degrees.
Because Portlanders and Seattleites took temperate weather for granted, air conditioners have flown off store shelves and are now out of stock. Many public buildings, including libraries and community centers, that could serve as shelters, are unairconditioned, leaving sweltering residents out in the heat. We won’t know the exact heat-related death toll until the season comes to an end — whenever that might be.
Depending on where we live, there are expectations about crime, including violent crime. It seems to be taken for granted that there will be frequent fatal shootings in parts of Boston. It’s tragic, but normal. It’s normal to read police reports of individuals from surrounding cities and towns coming to Watertown to steal products from Home Depot, Best Buy, and Target. Nobody is shocked by those police reports.
The recent rash of smashed car windows, car break-ins, and stolen catalytic converters is probably more concerning to residents than shoplifting, especially to residents living on or near streets where those crimes took place. But crimes against property are not crimes against people.
I think most of us take for granted that, because of its absence, violent crime will never be a concern in Watertown. But have you ever wondered why violent crime is absent from Watertown? Is it just due to luck? Or might it have something to do with a data problem?
You’ve no doubt heard that the Police Chief Lawn has a data problem, and he does. It’s a data problem that all police chiefs have. First, he cannot tell us how many crimes − including violent crimes − have been prevented due to good police work. That number is for the most part unknowable.
And because he cannot give us that number, he also cannot tell us how many residents, workers, and visitors did not become victims of the crimes that were prevented from happening.
Nor can he quantify how changes to the community might affect the rate and nature of crime.
Just look around you. With the ongoing development of large apartment complexes, condos, and industrial spaces, led by biotech, the City known as the Town of Watertown is in the midst of rapid urbanization, bringing us more residents, more workers, more visitors, and more people passing through.
Are we foolishly taking it for granted that crime will not follow our explosive growth? We could ask the chief what he thinks. There is a lot we might want to ask him. Except that these days he’s quite busy.
If you haven’t been paying attention, the chief has been held captive, since March, at Town Council committee meetings that are supposed to be about public safety but have instead been turned into a kangaroo court. The chief is on trial for the crime of either knowingly or unknowingly allowing racist behavior on the part of his police officers. There is statistical evidence, they say, that once examined may prove him guilty.
At each meeting, the chief does his best to present his case: He has wonderful young officers protecting our streets. He is committed to advancing the practices of community-oriented policing (COP). He long ago embraced the pillars of President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force. And he is eagerly adopting the stringent policy and training mandates being handed down by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
But his inquisitors, the self-appointed Joint Police Reform Group (JPRG), are not impressed! When the chief speaks, they smirk, roll their eyes, and shake their heads. Every reaction and every comment screams out that the chief just doesn’t get it.
And obviously, we don’t get it either.
If we did get it, we would know that the police department needs to be dissected and examined, so that the hidden racism can be surgically removed. And since only they can do it, they are demanding the authority to do it on behalf of all of us, including you and me.
If you’ve watched these meetings, you’ve seen that they clearly don’t like the chief, even when they claim they do, but they will tolerate him, as long as he is made to dance to their tune. So, it is imperative to their mission that the members of the committee prevail upon the full Town Council to give them their way, in the name of anti-racism.
To date, the chief has been forced to sit through three two-hour trials, where he is required to subject himself to a steady barrage of attacks on his competence, his integrity, and his character. And it’s not over. The kangaroo court will be called back into session, for the fourth time, in October. The self-appointed Joint Police Reform Group (JPRG) will not give up their fight until they are installed in a corner office at the police station.
So once again, for another two hours, the Committee on Public Safety will be preoccupied with non-existent racist behavior by the Watertown Police Department. Please keep in mind that, since March, when the kangaroo trials first became must-watch TV, the Joint Police Reform Group has not found one person of color who has complained of being treated unfairly by a Watertown cop.
They have suggested that the reason not one single person of color has come forward is either fear of retribution, or the belief that nothing would be done about their complaint.
I have said this before and I will say it again: If victims of police harassment actually exist, those individuals would soon find themselves surrounded by friends and supporters they never knew they had.
If you’ve lived here for more than a year or two and if you don’t live inside a political bubble, you already know that.
At the Public Safety Committee meeting in March, which followed a totally one-sided and sensationalized Boston 25 news report, Town Manager Michael Driscoll asked to be heard. He wanted to explain why recommendations made at the meeting and on the Boston 25 news report to cut $2 million from the police budget would cripple the department.
But he began with an emotional statement, uncharacteristic for a man known for speaking facts and figures, not opinion. He felt compelled to say: “This is a wonderful community.” He had to set the record straight that the picture being painted of his town was a false reality.
The term “wonderful community” is highly subjective and can mean whatever you think it means. I think that in a wonderful community, parents, regardless of their skin color or immigration status, can promise their child that if they are lost or in trouble, they can run to the woman or man in the blue uniform and they will be safe.
I am sadly aware that this promise cannot be made in every community in this country, and possibly not in most communities, but I know that it can be made here. When it comes to hiring, motivating, and retaining the best police officers, “the promise” is the heart and soul of the kind of community values that the men and women of the police department need to see in us before we can demand it of them.
The election on November 2nd, promises to be the most consequential election of my 40 years in Watertown. A five-to-four vote by our next town council can establish policies and pass ordinances favored by a minority — even a tiny minority — of voters.
We badly need a town council candidate who, on behalf of the vast majority, will stake out a leadership position on giving the chief the space he needs to hire, train, and manage his department through the turbulent times ahead. He or she will likely be called a racist (behind closed doors) and in written comments (anonymous, of course), so a thick skin is a must for the role.
This candidate should be a champion for the police — not a cheerleader. His or her credibility will depend on requiring continued transparency and accountability from the chief and his department.
Town Manager Driscoll is about to retire and the search is underway for his replacement. It is unlikely that the new town manager will be a Watertown resident, so this town council candidate, once elected, could be instrumental in explaining to the new town manager that there are two conflicting realities of Watertown — the JPRG/Boston 25 reality and the Michael Driscoll reality — and that one of those realities is true and the other is fiction.
Marion Road, Watertown