WILMINGTON — The Board of Selectmen met on Wednesday, Aug. 5 to discuss their reaction to a letter from the Massachusetts Municipal Association regarding police accountability policies. The letter signed by MMA Executive Director Geoffrey Beckwith advocated to the Massachusetts state delegation saying that all of the 351 towns and cities in the group — including Wilmington — support House bill 4860 and Senate bill 2800.
The issue, as described by Chairman Jonathan Eaton, is larger than the fact that the advocacy from the MMA does not reflect the sentiments of the board or the town.
“If an association speaks on our behalf, it owes us to check with us on our opinion. I don’t appreciate that the MMA didn’t discuss this with us beforehand,” Eaton explained. “It implies that we support this as a policy statement.”
He clarified that the MMA didn’t reach out to anyone on the board — which they each confirmed — before claiming that Wilmington supported the police reform bills.
Eaton went on to list the ways that the board has shown support for the Wilmington Police Department and the things that they stand for. He mentioned the WPD has shown concern for community engagement, fair administration, mental health, fair and impartial policing, and racial justice. He then proposed that the board direct the Town Manager to write a memorandum to the police department confirming the MMA advocated without seeking the opinion of town leadership and the community.
As each of the other board members took turns to speak, they each established their support for the police department.
“I believe that we have one of the finest police departments in all the commonwealth,” Greg Bendel said. “Not a week goes by that we don’t hear an outstanding story from a resident explaining a kind gesture [that the police department made]”.
He shared that he’s proud to support the police department and substance abuse coordinator.
Kevin Caira said all of the town departments consistently go above and beyond what’s expected of them.
“I’m totally in support of the police department. We should let them know that,” he agreed.
Caira suggested the board direct Hull to also write a letter to Jeff Beckwith reminding him to reach out to the communities within the MMA before declaring their support for any policy.
When Gary DePalma chimed in to echo the previous statement, he specified that the letter to Beckwith should be a sternly worded statement.
Selectman O’Mahony talked about how the policies referenced don’t make sense for Wilmington.
“I tried to research any time that the Wilmington Police Department has ever been questioned in the use of force,” she said. “I can’t give an example. If there’s something I’m not aware of — any concern of how our police department uses force — bring it to our attention.”
She would like to see any future communication from the MMA come through the proper channel.
At this point, Hull explained that previously the MMA would send a survey to town administrators about different issues, but in this case there wasn’t any sort of inquiry. He also reminded everyone that the board and the town have supported new officers, capital equipment, and expenditures for the police department this year at town meeting.
Eaton clarified the board’s opinions into a motion to have Hull write a memorandum to the police department making clear their support and not being asked their opinion by the MMA, and a letter to Beckwith urging him to ask their opinion before advocating on the town’s behalf.
After Hull confirmed to whom these memorandums would be sent, the board fully supported the motion and moved to public comment.
Lou Cimaglia, Director of Veterans Services, shared a few recent encouraging stories about Wilmington’s newer police officers.
In the statement to Beckwith, the Town Manager wrote of the board’s displeasure both at the way in which the two bills (House 4860 and Senate 2800) were fast-tracked and the endorsement was made by the executive director without feedback from the communities that the MMA represents.