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    Monday, August 15, 2022

    Connecticut Conference of Municipalities puts out guide for towns to better respond to racial tension

    The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities has released a guidebook for town leaders and departments to consult when responding to racial tension in communities following critical incidents such as police shootings.

    The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities has released a guidebook for town leaders and departments to consult when responding to racial tension in communities.

    The book features several checklists for leaders to refer back to, including overall municipal crisis response, communications with the public and the media, reaching out to community stakeholders and six separate checklists related to police response.

    “Connecticut’s towns and cities have a key role to play in the renewed efforts across the nation to promote racial equity,” CCM Executive Director and CEO Joe DeLong said in a news release. “Much attention has been directed toward policies and practices at the national and state levels, and rightly so. But meaningful change is within reach at the local level.”

    “CCM ... is uniquely positioned to advance racial equity at the local level by virtue of a long-standing and supportive working relationship with the leaders of Connecticut’s municipalities,” he added.

    The CCM-issued guidelines are a result of recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service and the National League of Cities.

    CCM promoted its program Communities Advancing Racial Equity, or CARES in Action, “which has provided a guided process to support municipal leaders working toward real progress on racial equity in their cities and towns,” according to the guidebook. “This has included a series of workshops, roundtables, technical assistance and sharing best practices, all designed to help municipalities implement ... action items that can lead to more equity in their local governments.”

    The guidebook, while not a requirement for municipalities, is a tool the CCM recommends “in order to be prepared for potential racial tension and to act quickly when an event triggers heightened tension in your community.” The DOJ and NLC documents that inform the guidebook recommend “strategies that include partnership and collaboration with all parts of the community and municipal government — particularly the police, and promote transparency, authenticity, consistency and empathy.”

    For its crisis response checklist, the CCM advises convening all cabinet/executive-level staff, consulting town legal counsel to “ascertain any issues of municipal liability,” identify independent investigation options, establish a line of communication with the police chief to “articulate a balanced message to law enforcement leadership,” prioritize outreach to victims and victims' families, engage community stakeholders, review crowd management response politics with police and continue communication with county, state and federal officials, among other tasks.

    The CCM said in “moments of racial tension,” town leaders should “provide acknowledgment and appreciation of their work but also stress the need for thorough investigation" into incidents to police.

    In its communications checklist, the guidebook says municipalities should designate a spokesperson, gather information and be thoroughly briefed before making statements. Municipalities also should consider the different needs of different audiences, including language barriers, “establish a regular schedule of updates,” “stick to the facts,” respond to media and community requests for information and “stay calm and composed even when asked tough questions,” among other recommendations.

    The CCM also advises municipal leaders and spokespeople to avoid saying “no comment.” Instead: “Provide factual responses about why you may not have an answer in the moment and be transparent to the extent legally appropriate.”

    Another checklist plucked from the NLC “provides a framework for identifying and engaging a broad and diverse array of stakeholders who can bring knowledge, skills, abilities and assets to the crisis response management and post-crisis response efforts.”

    Such stakeholders, according to the CCM, include local government law enforcement, county, state and federal government officials, nonprofits and community-based organizations such as neighborhood groups and the religious community, health services, education officials, the business community, national organizations and philanthropic organizations.

    The lengthiest section of the guidebook is its “Police Critical Incident Checklist,” which is meant to prepare police officials as well as municipal leaders "for responding to a critical incident that has the potential to result in controversy or conflict involving the police and a community.” A “critical incident” could involve a police shooting or other incidents of violence aimed at or carried out by police.

    “This checklist is not meant to be a comprehensive list of steps or a rigid timeline for a police response, but rather is intended to serve as a guide to many of the issues that police should consider before, during and after a critical incident that results in community tension,” the guidebook reads. “The immediate response of a police executive can determine how the community will respond to an incident, and can set the tone for the department’s ongoing relationship with the community in the long-term. This checklist emphasizes actions that can help calm tensions and demonstrate good faith to the community.”

    The DOJ recommends police executives be in contact with elected officials in towns and cities, community leaders and police union leaders. The guidebook advises considering “forming an Advisory Board that reflects the diversity of the community. For example, the Advisory Board could include one or more representatives from each policing area ... The Advisory Board should meet regularly and can help determine the best ways to engage the community and de-escalate any tensions if an incident occurs.”

    Within two hours of any “police critical incident,” the guidebook says town leaders in conjunction with their public information officers should begin releasing information.

    “Social media, particularly Twitter, increasingly is being used by police to share information directly with the public and the news media on a minute-to-minute basis during a critical incident,” the guidebook reads. “Address misinformation directly. If new information contradicts earlier department reports.”

    Town leaders are advised to avoid "dueling" news conferences, and instead “engage all interested parties to share podium time so that the community can see unity among their local leaders.”

    Within 24 hours of an incident, town leaders should “brief community leaders and ask for their help in defusing community tensions.” The guidebook says all leaders should be in agreement “about the need to keep the peace.” It also advocates for conducting an investigation “if applicable.”

    Within one week of an incident, town leaders should continue to engage with the community, involved individuals and members of the police department.

    Long term, town leaders should collaborate with community groups, consider “an after-action review” of the incident to highlight “lessons and promising practices” and should “survey different community groups to learn about their concerns with the police or department operations.” Further steps could include a review of policies, accountability or training related to the incident, a work group to address specific concerns and “an assessment of your department’s community policing practices.”

    s.spinella@theday.com

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