By Leslie Ross
Hancock County Case Coordinator for RJP Maine &
Downeast Restorative Justice Board Member
News that the Sheriff's department was requesting funds from the Hancock County Commissioners for the purchase of riot gear, firearms and ammunition spread quickly, as did the response to it--the Commissioners and the Sheriff's Department had never received the volume of comments and concerns that they received over this one issue. And these continued to come in even as the Sheriff clarified that he was not requesting armed vehicles or tear gas but equipment he called protective--shields, batons and helmets.
Due to the response, the request was removed from the agenda the week before the meeting, but this did not stop 66 people (where normally there might be 2 to 5, depending on the agenda) from showing up to voice their concern. Downeast Restorative Justice took this dramatic increase of local residents' involvement in these issues and the larger concerns they raised as a demonstration that there was a need for dialogue.
To that end DRJ proposed that the Commissioners form a committee of both law enforcement and community members the objectives of which will be two-fold:
On one hand, it will explore what we feel needs to be included in a Community Crisis Intervention Policy Manual, something that currently does not exist for the County. Beyond crowd management, concern with which was the impetus for the sheriff's initial request, this manual will cover different individual crisis management intervention strategies and the organizations or professionals (e.g., mental health, substance abuse) who are best equipped to respond. It will also include best practices and the aligning training to support them.
The other purpose of this committee--and this is close to our hearts--will be to lay the groundwork for a more cooperative working relationship between law enforcement and the community they serve. It is our hope that together (community members and different law enforcement agencies), we will establish a structure for routine open communication and check-in circles.
We are so excited about this coming together and see it as a very positive outcome to the anger and frustrations that were raised by the Commissioners' initial meeting announcement. Already, many not previously connected with either RJP or DRJ, some as individuals and some as representatives of other organizations, have expressed interest in being involved in the process.
Downeast Restorative Justice will be holding a Zoom meeting on Wednesday July 1 at 6 pm for members of the community to voice what questions they would like this committee to address before presenting the formal proposal to the Commissioners the following week.
With love and respect,