The Freeport Town Council last week voted to form a residents’ Police Advisory Committee with the goal of improving the lines of communication between police and residents to create a climate of transparency and accountability.

“We want to look at the police department’s current policies and procedures and make sure that they are modern and reflect the values of today,” said Sean Jeffrey, one of the advocates behind the committee’s formation.

The nine-member committee will also research and recommend police policy, assist the town with police department staffing and hold public forums to discuss the community-department relationship and the effectiveness of procedures in place, according to the plan submitted to the council.

“The most important aspect of this group, in my opinion, is that we will have regularly scheduled meetings with the citizens we serve, and in those interactions we will be able to exchange information and grow closer together,” Acting Police Chief Nate Goodman told The Forecaster. “Our common goal is to strengthen our community ties and become better people through our time spent together to cooperatively make our community a great place to live and recreate.”

Discussions about forming the committee began last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and the nationwide protests that followed. A residents’ group submitted a formal recommendation for the advisory committee to the town council in December.

Councilor Dan Piltch, who was the council liaison to the residents’ group, said the group has not identified any issues with the Freeport Police Department, but wants to prevent any issues from arising.

The town will begin advertising to fill the nine committee positions in the next few weeks, Piltch said. The council will appoint five voting members from the community and four non-voting members: two Freeport High School students, a liaison from the Town Council and a town police officer. Voting members and the two high school students will serve three-year terms, and the council liaison and Freeport police officer will be appointed annually by the council chairman and police chief, respectively.

The council, 7-1, approved the committee’s formation, but first revised the proposed eligibility requirements to allow residents who have worked in the law enforcement field to serve as voting members. Committee candidates who have worked as officers in police, sheriff’s or corrections departments in the past four years, however, would be ineligible.

The original proposal made anyone with current or previous law enforcement experience ineligible to serve as a voting member.

“There’s a reason for keeping citizens and members of the police department distinct,” Piltch said. “The point of the committee is to provide advice on policing from outside of the law enforcement community.”

Piltch said the group took advice from the nonprofit Campaign Zero, which has consolidated research across the country on police reform. Campaign Zero, he said, advises that those with  backgrounds in law enforcement should be excluded as voting members of police advisory committees. However, he said, the committee plans to involve a Freeport police officer in all discussions unless there is a particular topic where an officer’s presence would prevent a constructive discussion.

Ryun Anderson, who worked with Jeffrey on the rules for the committee, said having a police officer as a voting member might discourage participation by some residents, specifically people of color or low-income residents.

“Having an officer as a full member would impact our goals of community empowerment, community transparency and community accountability,” Anderson said.

Councilor Ed Bradley, who cast the dissenting vote against the committee, and other councilors disagreed.

“In a town like ours I don’t feel that is true,” he said.

“I get not having a Freeport police officer as a (voting) member, but what I don’t get is excluding someone who’s worked in policing or law enforcement in the past,” Councilor Chip Lawrence said. “You’re discriminating against the very people you’re trying to help. You want to help officers do a better job.”

Lawrence voted to establish the committee “with great resignation,” he said.

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