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Williamstown Select Board Pressed on Police Investigation
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
06:09AM / Sunday, January 10, 2021
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A half-dozen town residents took the floor at Monday's Select Board meeting to continue to keep the pressure on the town to conduct an independent investigation into the Police Department.
One resident argued that such a probe would be unsuccessful and counterproductive.
Anthony Boskovich told the board that police officers would refuse to participate in an investigation and that an atmosphere of civilian oversight at the department would hamper the town's efforts to find a new police chief.
"I can tell you right now that, in my view, your approach is going to come across … the 'blue wall,' " Boskovich said. "Police departments do not like outsiders coming in and telling them what to do. You want to have an independent investigation? My experience tells me you will run into something else that's very common in policing: the code of silence. You will ask these officers questions, and they will not know anything.
"With respect to the chief of police, you're talking about all of these things you want to do with your chief. Something I would ask all of you to ask yourselves: Given what's happened in this town in the last year, who would want the job? It pays about $120,000 a year, which is what a shift sergeant makes in Springfield."
Boskovich also argued that the dozens of people who have addressed the Select Board, the scores who have marched in protest, the hundreds who have signed petitions and the administration of Williams College don't speak for "the entire community."
"I'm the only person in six months who has come here and said something different than the narrative you heard," Boskovich said.
Just three months earlier, a different resident did address the board to say the Police Department was being "demonized" and "victimized," after the members of the local police union themselves accused the Select Board of a "lack of support and blanket disregard" for law enforcement. It was around that same time that blue-and-black "Enough" signs began popping up on some residents' lawns around town.
Boskovich's Monday assertions, made toward the end of a three-hour virtual meeting, drew an immediate response from a member of the town's Racial Justice and Police Reform group.
Peggy Kern told the board that she expects the officers to collaborate with the process of investigating allegations of racism and sexual misconduct raised in a recently withdrawn federal lawsuit.
"One of the things I hope we're shifting in this country and this town is our relationship to policing," Kern said. "We are the authorities on what keeps us safe. It's been deferring to the institution of policing that has gotten us to a crisis in America.
"We are the authorities on what we need. We get to make those decisions for ourselves."
Another resident earlier in the meeting refuted the idea that all police officers subscribe to the "code of silence" when it comes to covering up misdeeds.
Arlene Kirsch specifically referenced the allegation — not denied by the town in its response to a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination — that a member of the force kept a photo of Adolph Hitler displayed in his locker at the old police station.
"The interim police chief in Adams [Troy Bacon] had said to me — and he gave me permission to say that he said this — if that guy had hung that photo in his department, that guy would be gone," Kirsch said. "I did not ask him for that statement. I did not even bring up the photo. He just offered that when he found out I was from Williamstown."
Kirsch said residents are right to expect an investigation into the allegations in Sgt. Scott McGowan's lawsuit.
"We have really appropriate expectations," Kirsch said. "They basically come down to one thing: We want to have the truth come out about the scope of the culture in the Police Department. We want to find out what is the scope of work that a new chief has to deal with. And we can only find that out after an independent investigation.
"We need to find out the extent to which behaviors were buried, tolerated, excused, dismissed. We're not on any sort of hunt for personal accusations. But we do need to fix what's wrong."
Kirsch was in the majority on Monday.
Carrie Waara told the Select Board that transparency is an important step toward achieving equity in the town.
"The restorative language that acknowledges harm and hurt that has been done in the community is really important," Waara said. "That's part of listening.
"There's a sense that maybe y'all are a little bit in a rush to move on to the new chief and hire and get the process going. Maybe you've forgotten the terrible breach of trust and police scandal that's been plaguing us for months. It can't disappear by rushing into the next steps.
"I really want you to see the call for independent investigations is wanting truth. We just want to know what has happened and what is the status in our police department and in our town. And we want to heal the breaches. You really do need to mend our trust in the community."
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