Interim police chief says he’ll attempt to regain community trust

Brian Carlson was named interim chief of the Yellow Springs Police Department after former Chief David Hale resigned following a clash between citizens and officers at the village’s traditional New Year’s Eve Ball Drop. GABRIELLE ENRIGHT / STAFF

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Brian Carlson was named interim chief of the Yellow Springs Police Department after former Chief David Hale resigned following a clash between citizens and officers at the village’s traditional New Year’s Eve Ball Drop. GABRIELLE ENRIGHT / STAFF

Brian Carlson said it’s now his job as interim chief to repair the damage left in the community by an incident involving Yellow Springs police and village residents on New Year’s Day.

Carlson, 54, was named last week as interim chief for the Yellow Springs Police Department, which was accused of using heavy-handed tactics to disperse revelers at a traditional New Year’s Eve celebration, prompting the resignation of the former chief, forced an investigation into the incident, and escalated tensions between the police and those it serves.

And many residents and the village manager say Carlson’s deep knowledge of Yellow Springs will go far to heal divisions ruptured long before the most recent quarrel.

“The primary focus is to develop the organization and build the trust of the community we’ve let go of over the last few years,” said Carlson, who has been either a full- or part-time Yellow Springs officer since 2010. “I think my task at hand is really to mend the relationship between the police department and the community.”

Carlson’s background as both a cop and a business owner who at times managed more than 30 employees made the Chicago native a good fit for the post, said Patti Bates, village manager. As important, the department’s new leader understands Yellow Springs residents, their values and time-honored traditions, she said.

“He has some leadership and management experience that was pretty relevant,” Bates said. “He has always been one who is out walking around, talking to the business people, talking to the citizens, making that outreach. All of those things weighed into the decision.”

Lights and sirens

Kathy Adams thought an ambulance was trying to reach an injured person when she heard sirens just after the traditional New Year’s Eve Ball Drop. But like many assembled on Short Street, she was stunned when the lights and sirens turned out to be police cars moving through the crowd.

“Then we realized they’re … just here to break it up,” said Adams. “Break up what? A peaceful party that’s been going on (annually) since the ’60s?”

As cruisers rolled into the people, some chanted, “Police go home.” One man was arrested during the melee for allegedly taking an officer’s Taser and fleeing into the mass. An officer was injured.

Elaine Chappelle called the night “alarming.”

“It’s not something that happens every New Year’s. Hugs and kisses and all of a sudden,” she said. “When people come out with their family and friends they want to feel secure.”

Chappelle was one of about 130 residents to pour into a village council meeting Jan. 3. At the meeting Bates announced that David Hale had resigned and read a statement from the former police chief who apologized to citizens: “It appears that the officer involved in charge deviated from his instructions.”

Bates later named R.J. Hawley as the officer in charge that night, who was also the one injured.

More than a quarter in the Bryan Center gym spoke their piece. The public hearing lasted almost three hours.

The village has hired Dayton attorney David Williamson to investigate what transpired New Year’s Eve. Williamson said Wednesday the investigation is ongoing and witnesses continue to be interviewed.

The village council has scheduled a special meeting Feb. 13 at the Bryan Center where results of the investigation are expected to be discussed.

ExploreRELATED: Yellow Springs retains attorney to investigate police-citizen clash

Chilly relations

The incident on New Year’s Eve was not the first to chill relations between the community and law enforcement.

Bates and others pointed to the 2013 death of Paul Schenck, who ultimately was killed by SWAT members who used both a helicopter and armored vehicle during the four-hour stand-off and shoot-out. In 2014, Sgt. Naomi Penrod was charged with assault, interfering with civil rights and disorderly conduct for taking a camera from a village resident who was filming police activity.

More recently, Yellow Springs probationary officer John Whittemore was terminated in July while the subject of a use of force investigation.

“I think we need to get past those,” Bates said. “That’s part of the concern is that we keep going back to those and I think we need to move forward.”

For his part moving forward, Carlson said a citizen’s interaction with police needs to be less stressful, using a “little softer element” at the front end.

“We still have to handle situations when people break the law,” he said. “When we meet people on a police call, usually we’re meeting them at their worst and we have a responsibility to maintain our best and try to explain and show them we are there to help.”

Creative policing

Joel Moss Levinson said he and other Yellow Springs residents he’s talked with are pleased with the pick of Carlson.

“I’m hopeful he will be a creative enough thinker that we can re-approach what policing needs to look like in a town of 4,000 people,” Moss Levinson said. “Because I don’t think it needs to look like what it looks like in a city of a million.”

Adams, 56, said when she grew up in Yellow Springs during the ‘60s and ‘70s all the cops lived in town. But today many don’t, and Adams wonders if that affects policing.

“It adds another layer to police actions when they actually know they have to live here and wake up and come down and have coffee with the same people that they are policing,” she said. “So I think it’s really important that they are part of our community as well.”

Of eight full-time and three part-time sworn officers, just two live within village limits. Carlson lives not far from the village in Greene County.

Bates said officers such as Carlson can learn to care heavily about the communities they serve without necessarily residing in them.

“I think that, if we open up the communication and increase positive interactions between the officers and the community, officers will become more invested in the community,” she said.

Bates said the village has yet to advertise for a full-time chief. The process could take up to six months as she and two community groups — the Justice System Task Force and the 365 Group — are collaborating to rewrite the job description to be more inclusive of community’s values, she said.

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