Salem will host online forum Tuesday on police use of force policies

Written By: Julie Manganis Staff Writer

SALEM — Salem’s mayor and acting police chief will host a town hall-style forum online Tuesday evening to discuss the city’s use of force policy and get public feedback and input.

The forum is an outgrowth of Mayor Kim Driscoll’s decision to take the Obama Foundation’s “Reimagining Policing Pledge” earlier this year, following a series of protests in the city and around the country over the treatment of Black and other minority people by police. That pledge includes a review of the department’s use of force policies.

“I believe Salem’s police department has one of the more progressive use of force policies in the nation, however that does not absolve us of a responsibility to review it publicly and with an open mind,” Driscoll said in a press release announcing Tuesday’s forum. “Our police policies exist not only to ensure discipline within the department, but to instill public confidence in the department’s actions. Having a transparent, open review of this important law enforcement policy is in keeping with the pledge that I made, and also just sound, good government practice.”

Driscoll will co-moderate the forum with members of the city’s Race Equity Task Force, established in June amid both nationwide and local protests over the killings of Black people by police officers, including George Floyd in Minnesota in May and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky in March.

Closer to home, protesters gathered outside the Salem Police Department calling for the firing of a Salem police captain, Kate Stephens, after she used the department’s official Twitter account to post a comment critical of protests being allowed while restaurants and other businesses were under shutdown orders from the governor. (Stephens was demoted to sergeant and received a suspension as a result of the tweet).

Some of the key leaders of those protests are now members of the new task force.

Acting Chief of Police Dennis King will give a presentation on the department’s policy. That will be followed by a question and answer session.

King said in the press release announcing the forum that the department is “committed to encouraging community input in all aspects of how we effectively protect and serve.

“I welcome this opportunity to discuss our use of force policies, explain the legal, training and tactical foundations we rely on when developing them, and hear directly from community members on how these policies affect them,” he said. “This review of our policies, to include community input, will undoubtedly lead to a sound and representative base for any changes to come.”

The event will run from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and can be watched in several ways: it will be streamed live on the city’s website at www.salem.com/useofforce and on the city’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cityofsalemma. The forum will be also available to view later on the city’s Facebook page.

Salem Access TV will also air a recorded version after the event.

There are two ways to ask questions: they can be emailed ahead of time, no later than Monday at 4 p.m., to raceequity@salem.com (use the phrase “Use of Force” in the subject line), or live during the event by posting them on the city’s livestream (www.salem.com/useofforce). Those with questions are being asked to use the city website instead of Facebook because comments posted during the livestream there may not be seen.

The police department’s use of force policy is available at www.salempd.org/policies-procedures in English and Spanish.