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Mayor Kessler Announces Youth Interaction Policy Working Group

Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 3:00 pm

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This morning, after several months of preparation and planning in assembling a working group with pertinent expertise, and after engaging equity groups in Bexley, we launched our Youth Interaction Policy working group. We’ve assembled a remarkable panel of experts in youth development, mental and physical health, social and emotional welfare, advocacy, law, and education, along with a liaison to Bexley’s equity groups.

I’m grateful for the time and energy of the panel, and to the officers of our police department, who have consistently expressed a sincere desire to serve our community selflessly and with a strong sense of purpose and who have invested time and energy into continuous training and development. I wanted to provide a copy of the remarks I made to the working group this morning:

It is fair to say that trust between communities throughout America and police is strained in a way and to a degree that many of us have not seen in our lifetime. In moments like this, it is all too easy to allow the pressure from this strain to wedge us further apart and deepen the polarization. But doing so misses a vital and powerful opportunity. We are in a moment in time where our communities are hungry for a new formula for equitable and effective police/community engagement, and so a moment like this is primed for innovation.

Each community, of course, has its own very unique opportunities and challenges. The community of Bexley has a variety of strengths, from the strength of our learning environment to our walkable neighborhoods and our historic homes and for many reasons beyond, and our residents are rightfully proud to call Bexley home. Like many communities throughout America, Bexley developed in an era where segregation was systemic and codified, and it is only in recent decades that Bexley’s resident base has begun to truly diversify. The diversification and growth of our community is exciting; we are reimagining and expanding community in a powerful and enriching way. And as we grow we also need to examine ways in which our social norms and institutional systems are embracing and supporting the healthy growth of our community. Another dynamic that is pertinent to the discussion this morning of policing and the growth and evolution of our community is the difference in demographics between our community and some of the communities that share our borders. Unlike some communities where jurisdictional borders are fluid and hard to define, our borders can at times be notable and stark. Our borders have the capacity to culturally and socially divide, and yet our streets and commercial district serve as strong connectors to neighborhoods all around us and we serve as a destination and a pass-through for community from throughout the eastside of Columbus. As we grow, one of our greatest opportunities is the great diversity of population within our eastside neighborhoods, and the opportunity to re-envision the ways in which we interact with and welcome our neighbors. The historical separation between Bexley and surrounding areas has created a dynamic that must be purposefully and intentionally recast.

Notably, a lot of groundwork has occurred within our police department. Our agency has been purposeful in training around topics of implicit bias and in developing training tactics to reduce and eliminate bias in a variety of critical police interactions for many years. We also have the foundational strength of a department that encourages officers to initiate positive interactions with community members, stresses and practices the importance of least amount of force necessary to accomplish enforcement objectives, and is of a scale and proportion that changes in policy and practice are able to be more effectively enacted and monitored.

All of this to say – We are at a moment ripe for innovation and growth; we have a community that is hungry for it; we have a police department that is more than capable of it – This is the time.

Why a youth interaction policy? All of the dynamics that I just described play out in our interactions with our youth. And of course there’s a consensus concern for the mental, physical, and social well being of all children, and so reimagining the way in which we interact with our youth is an excellent starting point that holds the most promise for meaningful consensus building. Interactions between youth and law enforcement provide the opportunity to inform positive life-long impressions on the juveniles we interact with.

The goal for writing a minor interaction policy for the City of Bexley is to both ensure that police behavior consistently leads to the most positive outcomes possible for minors and for their parents, and to provide a clear communication to the community as to our value systems and our standards of practice. Our desires is to create an exemplary Youth Interaction Policy that is compassionate and comprehensive, and that provides guidance on when and how to engage with our youth, in order to protect and preserve the rights and dignity of our youth and provide for clears standards of communication to parents and guardians, while enforcing the law in an equitable and proportionate manner.

I want to speak briefly to the composition of this working group, and why I think it’s important. In this “room” this morning is a well-rounded complement of professional perspectives on youth-focused development, mental and physical health, well-being, education, and law. And of course, every one of us brings our own personal experiences and perspectives to the table, and many of us are parents above all.

The Working Group includes:

  • Brooke Burns, Ohio Public Defender’s Office, Lead Counsel of the Juvenile Dept.
  • Jason Caudill, Bexley Middle School Principal
  • Officer Mel, Bexley Police Department
  • Sergeant Bernie, Bexley Police Department
  • Michelle Hipsley, Montrose Elementary Guidance Counselor
  • David Ingram, Facilitator, Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Dr. Chenelle Jones, Franklin University, Chair, Public Safety Programs
  • Lara LaRoche, Franklin County Children’s Services, Director of Intake
  • Alissha Mitchell, Bexley School Board & parent rep
  • Jeff Stone, MSW, LISW-S, licensed trauma-informed therapist
  • KorKeya Toney, appointed by the Bexley Police Equity Coalition as liaison to the working group
  • Dr. Rebecca Wallihan, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

I want to acknowledge and thank our police department representatives for their contribution to this group, and for the critical role that they play. A policy will only ever be as good as its ability to be effectively implemented, and among other things the perspective of these law enforcement officers, as representatives of our agency, are vital. I respectfully ask that our officer’s perspectives be consistently requested and respected throughout the development process, as the intelligence and insight they bring to these conversations is necessary to the development of a policy that is effective and meaningful.

The subject matter that this group will be covering will at times be emotional, personal, and raw. I ask that this working group be intentional about crafting a space that is productive and collaborative, and to be protective of the emotional well being of each participant throughout that process.

To my knowledge, this is the first time that we have opened up the development of police policy to a civilian working group. Know that the work of this group is being watched closely by our agency and our community. I mean to make this point both to ground us all in the weight of this work, but also to inspire us in the opportunity it provides. The success of the work will be judged both by the product it results in – the policy and associated training and other resources – but also by the process with which it is created. If we succeed, as I know we will, in elevating and respecting every voice in this room and the many voices from our community that will be heard during this process; if we ensure that the end product is able to be successfully reflected by our police department’s practices; and if we provide clear and effective pathways for the culture of the agency to embrace the policy, then we will have provided a positive and powerful template for future collaborative efforts such as this one. That will be a remarkable achievement for this agency, and it will provide a powerful example to help lead other, similar, efforts in this community and in other communities.

– Mayor Ben Kessler

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