Like so many Americans, I have watched in horror at the violence and murders perpetrated by those we pay to keep us safe. I have also watched in horror at the mindless “Defund the Police” cries. Granted many police departments can use a good house cleaning but the solution is not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Laconia Police should be a role model for a good department. This was not accidental. Chief William Baker was hired by the Police Commission in 2000 to raise their standards and training. Since then LPD has continued to improve itself by seeking and gaining national accreditation in standards of policing excellence (CALEA.org).
This is not an empty award but an ongoing process that includes training, values, and community policing initiatives. I have seen first hand how this has worked in practice:
— For a number of years beginning in the late 90s, Laconia was a refugee resettlement community. Chief Baker saw how this created a number of challenges for residents and refugees alike. He reached out to the community and established the Laconia Human Relations Committee under the Office of Mayor. Every Chief since has actively supported this Committee. They have also maintained an open door policy to any member of Laconia’s refugee and immigrant community. During a time when Laconia experienced some hate crimes, then Chief Oetinger went out into the community and visited every new family to welcome them and assure them of the department’s support.
— Under Chief Moyer, LPD established the Citizen Police Academy and invited members of the public to participate in the annual eight week program. I was proud to be one their first graduates. Various officers taught us their values and standards of community policing. Others explained rules of evidence, rules of probable cause, their training standards, and many other subjects. We also got to do a ride-a-long and watch how officers interacted with the public including their practicing de-escalation instead of confrontation.
— The LPD also hosts a National Night Out in a different part of the city each year, among other Community Policing initiatives.
Laconia should be proud of its police officers,especially given the ever increasing challenges of the modern world. The biggest challenge has grown over the last 40 years … namely the defunding and stigmatizing of education, teachers, social and mental health services by politicians. Beginning with Reagan and continued by both parties, these services have had their budgets slashed year after year. This has been driven in part by the conservative notion that government is evil and unnecessary. Until recently, the bogus reason given was that society was going broke and couldn’t afford these services which were unnecessary anyway. Now we know that under Trump and the Republican tax breaks, this is the big lie of modern America.
We do need these services and it is a lie that they are ineffective. They only become ineffective when starved of funding and stigmatized. We know now that our problems did not disappear because these institutions were defunded, they just became problems and headaches for the police as the providers of last resort. The police have struggled mightily to care for our needy, school dropouts, homeless, the addicted, and mentally challenged citizens. Eventually, our citizens end up in jails and prisons with per capita populations grossly exceeding any other country in the modern world which has not solved a single problem!
We are lucky in Laconia that LPD has worked proactively to deal with some of these problems. Our county jail is also very forward thinking with programs to support inmates in their bid to return as productive members of society. But it is not enough when the local, county, state and federal governments chronically underfunds or nixes requests from education and service agencies. Their reasoning is the same: we can’t afford it and we don’t need it.
Well, the system is broken and the rioting in the streets is a direct result of this sick, demented approach by politicians towards our society. People, we can afford it! Instead of giving tax breaks to the 1 percent, this money should go our social safety nets, schools, education, and teachers. I guarantee that police reform will fail unless and until society picks up the slack with better funding for education, social, and mental health supports.
(David Stamps is chair of the Laconia Human Relations Committee.)