FALMOUTH —  Town councilors said they will soon begin talking about potential issues of systemic racism and injustice in town, starting with a retreat to be held next month.

The announcement came after an update from Police Chief John Kilbride earlier this week about his department’s involvement in protests held in Portland recently.

Council Chairwoman Amy Kuhn says the town is dedicated to addressing potential inequities as early as next month at a retreat tentatively set for sometime in July. The council will also at the retreat identify any specific examples of systemic racism and inequity in local schools, institutions and policies, and come up with ways to engage residents and brainstorm solutions.

“It’s incumbent on every community to look at these structural issues across the board, from the school (to) how we manage elections, whether these systems are aligned with community values,” Kuhn said. No specific issues, institutions or places that need reform were noted.

“Town leadership is committed to participating in a dialogue with residents, the Falmouth Police Department, the School Department, town staff and regional and state leaders to consider whether and to what extent our institutionalized systems serve all residents and are aligned with our community’s values,” Kuhn said in a letter to the community published June 3.

Ten Falmouth officers were among hundreds of law enforcement officials who responded to demonstrations in Portland held to protest the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25. The local officers numbered among state police and other local departments that attended, including those from Westbrook.

Police Chief John Kilbride said his officers played supportive roles, protecting the Portland Police headquarters from potential vandalism and other back line roles.

Kilbride said Falmouth Police have rescheduled a training about hidden biases for next month that was set for June 2, but postponed as police mobilized to respond to the protests. The council is invited to join them for that and any other training, he said.

“I welcome the council when we have trainings (on issues like this),” Kilbride said. “See if it’s missing anything or if there is anything we can improve on.”

In a June 8 interview with The Forecaster, Kilbride said each officer undergoes 60-80 hours of training each year, with topics that range from racism and bias to handling residents with autism or disabilities.

“We are well-trained and disciplined,” Kilbride said at the June 3 council meeting. “We hire high quality people, and we have two open positions, so we are down staff, and we won’t fill that until we get quality people.” 

Kilbride told The Forecaster that he hasn’t seen overt or violent racism within the Falmouth department in his tenure, in part because of their high standards and consistent training.

“I started out here in the ’80s. I had 100 hours of training, they gave me the (cruiser) keys and said go that way,” Kilbride said. “Officers now have a higher education and their training is incredible. It takes a year to grow an officer now. We have come such a long way.”

According to Kilbride, out of 112 arrests in the department over the past year, 92% have been white suspects, 5% have been black and 3% were native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander.

While the 2010 census shows that only .5% of Falmouth’s population is black, the chief maintains the majority of people of color arrested were out-of-towners charged during traffic stops and not police responding to scenes. He said comparing the town’s population of color to arrest numbers wouldn’t address or show racial bias.

“I am fortunate; not to say it hasn’t happened across the country, but I have not witnessed racism in the department, but (Southern Maine) is small agencies and there is a lot of oversight,” Kilbride said.

He also told the council that Falmouth Police do not use the restraint that killed Floyd.

“Laying them on their stomach for transportation, what you saw on video, does not happen and is not in our policy,” Kilbride said, referring to the restraint used by former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who was videotaped kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. During the incident, Floyd’s cries and pleas that he couldn’t breathe were ignored by Chauvin and other officers at the scene.

“Once they are in handcuffs, that is it. If they spit, we have hoods. If they are kicking, we can secure their feet; we have specialized cages in our cars to protect our officers there,” Kilbride said.

The department also has daily conversations on how to improve and address the concerns of hidden biases and systemic racism raised during protests.

“I think we have a strong council, they are the voice of our people, and I look forward to working with them as these conversations come up, I welcome them,” Kilbride said.

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