Initiative – Final At-Large Council Debate – Liveblog 10-28

Candidates scheduled to be here: Bergman, Coleman, Gaffney, Gomez, King, Lukes, Parham, Petty, Sargent, Toomey, Wally, Zlody

This is limited to five questions, each candidate gets 1 min per question

Q1: When discussing policing and public safety, what is said can be more important than what is happening.  Perception vs reality in policing and public safety.

Zlody: When we talk about an issue, inflammatory rhetoric draws away.  Find solutions, don’t fan flames.  Second largest city in NE, address issues with violence, drugs, community policing, community building.  One very horrible incident at North High was focused and inflamed, look at things as a whole & organically

Wally: Misperception that things are a lot worse.  True that gun violence has increased, but media sensationalism can make situation worse.  Has experience as student at HC and Clark.  Because HC separated by a gate, student body felt Worcester a lot worse than it was.  Clark as more of an urban campus – students felt better at Worcester.

Toomey: Perception becomes some people’s reality.  There are issues that happen and incidents of violence that make people concerned/fearful.  Business communities thinks things not safe for their employees.  Good to get facts out (chief’s report in the summer).

Sargent: It depends on what neighborhood you live in.  Personal question.  Ask yourself that question.  When we are talking about the perception, we’re talking about the past.  Key to crime prevention is in prevention.  Getting to community members before they get in trouble.

Petty: We did have a tough summer, but we do have a safe city.  Spoke with chief and manager about putting together plan, plan is together, it’s  been pretty quiet because they stuck with the plan.   You can see a difference right now.  Community issue, police are part of the solution.

Parham: Perception that Worcester is unsafe is real to those who feel it.  People need to be served justice, that is what the police are there for.  When you read headlines, feed into the hype.  Hold each other accountable for creating the headlines.  Worcester needs to be more proactive.

Lukes: Worcester is changing.  Has never seen people shooting up in city hall, union station, library, overdosing, before, using the buildings as informal shelters.  Clive described problem near Green Hill Park, neighbors unable to solve issue with various shelters in their ‘hood.  Despite anti-police rhetoric, we have professional and involved police force that works hard.

King: a lot said about public safety.  Discusses his interactions with teens and adults.  Perception is our reality.  Police have been out there on bikes, enhanced operations.  We are beginning to address these issues, some are systemic.  Starts with focusing on youth and interventions.

Gomez: Statistics don’t lie.  Been a significant spike in crime.  City leaders were slow to respond to this until some of the neighbors were screaming about the need for attention.  We should be more proactive.

Gaffney: What a grossly misleading question.  Scroll through WPD’s official page: armed robbery, home invasion, suspect breaking into vehicles, last week we had break-ins.  Idea that if we talk about what is happening that people won’t want to come to this city.  Worcester is not a safe city.  Not enough money to police and children.  Absolutely horrible question.

Coleman: Like to do research while listening to other candidates.  1 in 104 chance of being in a crime.  11th in country for safe city — with 100 being safest.  What are root causes of issues?  What are we not doing?  School-to-prison pipeline — overall we are a city who is safe.

Bergman: Glass half empty or full?  Hopes everyone checks statistics.  Gang violence is a concern.  WPD and city admin are addressing; time will tell.  If there’s a home invasion, we need to let people know if it was a random act or not.  Was Circuit Ave gang-related?

Q2: Strong community/police relations — what can you do as a councilor to improve this?

Wally: Role of councilor is to be an advocate for community policing model.  First, by putting charge to city manager for funding for recruits; second, for CM to hold chief accountable.  Touch on fact that there is police presence in high schools.  He is in favor of this.

Toomey: one of our police officers works with Oak Hill CDC for creating safe environment for kids on Halloween.  Supporting efforts of officers, programs of gang squad, that help support our youth, she can support all of that.

Sargent: WPS teacher, comes from family heavily involved in WPD.  Doesn’t think city councilors can do anything about this.  Police already have the strong community ties, great community leaders who work with police.  Happening on a daily basis.

Petty: We’ve come a long way.  Remembers chief presenting community policing model.  Bike and foot patrols, community meetings.  Clergy/Police Academy.

Parham: When people feel as though they are not heard, begin to feel apathy.  Conversation about public safety issues.  When it comes to difficult situations, need to stay at the table and stick there until we get to a solution.  Gang issues, hard for us to comprehend that we can work with some of these gang members, or ex-offenders.  Look at evidence-based programs like Cure Violence.

Lukes: Look internally at police department.  Merge police and fire, police commissioner for both.  Morale is very low in WPD.  Police wear many hats.  Not supportive of anti-police rhetoric.  Supported police with resolution, also want a review board for balance.

King: Trust and accountability is what it’s about.  When people come to table with concerns, recognize them.  Find process for everyone to work together.

Gomez: Strong supporter of WPD.  Got endorsement because they like what I say.  Supports Police Academy explorer corps, youngest brother was a member of that.  Supports community policing, but that means we need additional police officers.

Gaffney: carrying on that: we do need more police.  Hard to do neighborhood policing if we are insufficiently staffed.  If you don’t have interaction with neighborhood, lose trust.  Agrees with Juan that there should be an incentive to live here.

Coleman: 350+ police officers.  26 are women.  Hierarchy has been set.  Not likely that a minority will reach those channels in the next decade.  We need more police officers, 50-75 more, more women needed.  Of the 26 women, half could retire at any given time. Recruit policewomen.  508-799-8606 is the non-emergency line.

Bergman: same with any relationship: have to get to know one another better.  At elementary level, field trips to police station, having them speak to classes.  Equestrian police force would be good for outreach.  More ministers and police need to be involved, more involvement in neighborhood watches.

Zlody: ok with students meeting with police, not necessarily with police as full-time presence in schools.  Basketball league with at-risk kids.  Stop the school-to-prison pipeline.  By meeting with police, can learn how to avoid confrontational situations.

Q3: Body cameras – do you support for all on-duty WPD officers?

Toomey: on surface, great idea.  Contractual issue.  Some officers would welcome.  Storage: are they on 24 hrs a day, where do we store the video?

Sargent: conversation btw affected police officers and community.  Thinks it is common sense, it will happen, and supports it.  To address diversity, we have stellar ROTC programs, resource officers in schools, would love to see a school-to-police-dept program.

Petty: this year, cameras in cell rooms, wagons, etc.  Body cameras in the process of being tested.  Problem will be storage costs, which are very expensive.

Parham: body cam way to protect both police and public.  Wouldn’t the storage be a way to create jobs?

[Note: I didn’t hear anyone complain about storage costs when the WPD was rolling out its Big Brother camera program]

Lukes: thinks tecnology is inevitable and public safety has to use it.  Unfortunately more of an adversarial relationship between police + public and litigious culture.  Asks for a body cam for City Council meetings.

King: goes to trust/transparency.  However, we have to be aware that this goes through collective bargaining.  When/if body cameras are on.

Gomez: Ask the police dept.  If they want to do it, why not?  Some other things that would make a greater impact are help WPD establish ongoing conversations with young people, WPD explorer corps, settle lawsuits with minority police officers, take steps to diversify police dept.

Gaffney: not much of a price tag you can put on accountability.  Doesn’t know how much rapport you can have if someone has a camera in your face.  He favors it.  Work through money/contract issues.  Cameras in a lot of police stations can convict you as well, help everyone.

Coleman: in late 70s, had police auxiliary.  Hell, he wants school teachers to wear body cams!  You can buy dashcams at Wal-Mart for $30.  He would like to wear one when he is campaigning.

Bergman: cost of body cameras is $1,000 a person.  If Bill can buy them at Wal-Mart for $30 a pop, he doesn’t have to run for Council, he can just be a middleman.

Zlody: we have seen how body cams help civilians and police.  How do we protect privacy while we are recording?

Wally: from small sample of police officers, in favor of looking.  From small sample of community organizations, in favor.  When public benefit is so great, budget concerns can be overridden.

Q4: As a city councilor, what do you look at as your role in making schools safe?

Sargent: in schools every day.  Having a responsible role model in schools only helps kids.  More responsible role models help.  Need police in schools, including elementary school level [Nicole: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]

Petty: City Council can provide resources to schools.  Seven police officers in schools, helps build up relationship when you can deal with police officer on a non-enforcement issue.

Parham: believes that everyone who engages with youth could benefit from a de-escalation class.  Many kids have issues at home.  City Council should be strong advocate for education funding to help break cycle of poverty.  City Council office hours should be held at schools.  [huh?]

Lukes: best way to keep kids off streets is longer school days and years.  Schools are becoming surrogate parents. This country as a whole does not recognize importance of children and parents.  FutureShock reference: everything starts at family level, if that doesn’t work, schools take it over.

King: after school programs need to be focused on.  Colleges and universities should be partners in this.  Police in schools are not the answer.  Allow social workers and adjustment counselors.  Those needs are not being met — these folks are trained to deal with crises, de-escalate confrontations.


Gaffney: no one understands the difference between the City Council and School Committee.  If people are frustrated, they are frustrated.  Mentions lost of Ch 70 funding.

Coleman: alum of high schools frustrated by rhetoric.  Bring in more teachers, more support staff, wraparound services.  Each parent needs to tell their child they love them.

Bergman: role of Council is at budget season/hearings.  Are schools as safe as they can be?  We can do better.  Springfield spends almost 10 times as much money on safety for the same # of kids.

Zlody: How much of this is fanning flames for election process?  She has a group of friends that happen to be teachers.  Flashes, but not consistent.  Can we fund programs that give resources to schools to address?  We do not need to increase funding of school-to-prison pipeline.  We need more social workers, not police officers, in schools.

Wally: Councilor needs to work with state delegation for funding, work with great non-profits for after-school programs.  He has received a lot of feedback for why he’s not running for School Committee, although we do not have oversight, should be champion of Worcester Public Schools.

Toomey: School Safety Liaison does a very good job.  Administration should work with him.  Guidance counselors overworked.  City Councilor has right to ask what’s going on, and advocate to Mayor, who serves on City Council.  Cameras are not in some schools.

Q5: Community Dialogs on Race are concluded.   How do we move forward?

Petty: still thinks it was a good idea, brought community together.  A lot of good things came out of it, some of things done are create Chief Diversity Officer, reinstitute Clergy/Police Alliance, put young people to work.

Parham: wants to see the report and what came out of that series of meetings.  Good that we have these meetings, but if we don’t continue we will not be able to move forward.

Lukes: Agrees with Parham.  Does not know what the results were.  This was never brought before Council to state what we wanted to see happen.  She went to every session and is still up in the air as to what was accomplished.  Not seeing a big change in women/minorities from 30 years ago.

King: First, we elect a city council representative of city demographics.  We’ve seen a lot of gotcha politics in the Council.  It’s not pro/anti Police, we need police, we need to validate people’s experiences and not belittled.

Gomez: First person to be waiting for that report.  Sure it will show up after the election.  Attainable, measurable objectives.  Settle the lawsuits.  Diversify police dept.. take specific actions.

Gaffney: has heard since September that report is 75% complete.  Agrees with Linda and Konnie.  We do a lot of talking.  Those measures were put before Council in April, one thing that helped – reachout from CAC.

Coleman: went to every single hearing.  City is comfortable with its separateness.  Our own communities don’t vote.  To ask for other communities to vote to make the Council more diverse, is a challenge.

Bergman: Whenever the report comes, it will not solve economic disparity and opportunities.  Come next week, if you’re a Council that doesn’t recognize that, won’t be working to solve the problem.

Zlody: anytime there is a dialog between those who don’t normally talk, we benefit.  A few groups got together as a result of the meetings.  Looking forward to see what the report says.

Wally: difficult conversations are useful.  He attended two of the sessions.  Worcester needs opportunities for folks to speak informally as well.  Agrees with councilor Bergman — help folks rise socially and economically – educational, job, home ownership opportunities.

Toomey: need to continue to talk to one another.  Looking forward to seeing the report.

Sargent: discussion is good, didn’t need DOJ to come here.  City Council should set example for the whole city.  Discussions that get thing done, Golden Rule, celebrate our diversity.  Ask the kids about race relations, kids in schools get along so well.

Closing remarks -I will only note stuff of interest

Coleman: People say to me “Hey you’ve been out there for a while…I started as a young man, now I’m a senior citizen.”  Has stayed at it since 1977.  He’s here.  Ask your friends to give him a vote.

Gaffney: Doesn’t know if anyone has listened to WTAG lately.  [Why, no, I haven’t!]  All the ads are about schools and safety.

Gomez: With me, you get more action and less politics.

Lukes: mentions newcomers who do not want her to be re-elected.  [Many laughs]