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Group calls for police review board in Yellow Springs

A group of Yellow Springs residents wants the village to create a civilian police review board because of what an organizer called a history of poor accountability and transparency in the department. 

A group of six to eight people who said they are concerned about police practices created the Yellow Springs Police Accountability Coalition, according to organizer Shawn Paulson. 

Paulson and others from the coalition addressed the village’s justice system task force at its meeting Tuesday night. 

The task force was created after the near riot that ensued at the 2016 New Year’s Eve celebration. The fallout from the incident included the resignation of the police chief and another officer, and one other officer left as part of a separation agreement with the village. 

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Paulson said there are a number of reasons why people have “lost faith in the police,” which hurt residents in their ability to “feel safe and good about the community.” 

“If we were successful in getting a police review board, it could be a model for other small communities,” Paulson said. 

The task force agreed to make creating a police review board a priority recommendation to the village council, according to member Kate Hamilton. 

“We agreed to present a report to council of the findings from our research and to strongly encourage them to continue on in the creation, and or, support of” a police review board, Hamilton said. “We agreed that was a top priority … This is a positive move forward.”

Councilwoman Judith Hempfling also serves on the task force, which she said has already made recommendations that led to policy changes on Taser use as well as mental health and crisis interventions.

Hempfling said a subcommittee of the task force has done research on different types of police citizens boards, such as advisory boards, appeal boards and review boards.

“This research will be presented to village council later this summer,” Hempfling said. “The task force will also share with village council its view that, given the community interest in such a board, village council should investigate further whether to pursue creating such a body.”

Village Council President Brian Housh said he is “open to listening to the concept.” Housh said since he became a council member nearly five years ago, “local policing has been a priority issue and a main focus.” 

RELATED: Clash at last New Year’s Eve celebration ‘a fluke’ says Yellow Springs police chief

“As a council we’re very committed to improving our local policing, especially in the national context of what I would call terrible training of police,” Housh said. 

Following the New Year’s Eve incident, the village created a document titled “Guidelines for Village Policing,” which outlines the principles to which Yellow Springs officers should adhere. The guidelines say officers should be focused on safety; be “connected” and active in the community; should protect human rights and civil liberties; and use nonviolent conflict resolution. 

Paulson said a review board would accomplish three goals: Ensure there’s an unbiased process for reviewing complaints against police; ensure police are maintaining proper records; and ensure police practices and decisions made by officers are in-line with village policies.

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