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Town takes steps to make sure one officer's voice does not speak for force

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine has announced a series of steps aimed at making sure that the racism and violence expressed last year by one veteran police officer does not reflect the whole force.

Stacey N. Smith
Private discussions were held with Stacey Smith, who plans to issue a report in September.

Adam Chapdelaine gesturing

'So, we decided to pursue RJ as an option, all while holding the traditional disciplinary process in abeyance, but with the option of returning to it should we need to.'

-- Adam Chapdelaine

Describing the published words written by Lt. Rick Pedrini last October "both xenophobic and vile," Chapdelaine called them "completely inconsistent with what the APD stands for in both policy and practice and his words harmed the APD and its well-earned standing in the community." For that, Pedrini was placed on paid administrative leave for months. He returned to a supervised desk job in April following restorative justice.

The officer also returned to ongoing public upset. Since March, responses from the public have included protests, criticism about how restorative justice has been used, investigative reports about the officer's background and a former chief's doubts as well as a petition seeking an ongoing police review.

Part of the process that the manager outlined to address these reactions began this summer.

Petition, reporting discussions

In late June, private discussions got underway with small groups of residents who said they had been harmed by the officer's words as well as Acting Chief Julie Flaherty, members of the Human Rights Commission and several community participants from restorative justice. Leading a number of the discussions was Stacie N. Smith, managing director and senior mediator at the Consensus Building Institute, a Cambridge nonprofit that aims to solve complex problems.

She told YourArlington that she plans to release a report about these conversation in September. Participants said a confidentiality agreement kept them from disclosing specifics. One who agreed to comment, Katell Guellec, wrote: "I’m trying to remain hopeful that our town will recognize how many people have been targeted by his writings and take appropriate action to repair the damage. The restorative justice process that was used in this case did not achieve that."

Chapdelaine said the report will summarize perspectives about what the next steps are.

Quote bar, red What Pedrini wrote

"I am sick and tired of the social justice warriors telling us how to do our jobs. It’s time we forget about 'restraint' 'measured responses', 'procedural justice', 'de-escalation', 'stigma-reduction', and other feel-good BS that is getting our officers killed. Let’s stop lipsynching, please! Let’s meet violence with violence and get the job done."

Read all of the columns here >>

Quote bar, red

After Arlington journalist Laura Kiesel published the second of two reports based on records requests and a petition had added more than 600 signatures, 20 from Town Meeting members, Chapdelaine released a letter to the public Aug. 8, outlining training, some of which has been held:

  • "Implicit Bias" by Harvard University professor Mahzarin Banaje (June);
  • "Changing Perspectives, A Fair and Impartial Policing Approach" (July); and
  • "Procedural Justice: Roll Call Training for Law Enforcement" (August).

'Further engagement'

Chapdelaine's letter pointed to the main aim for the town and Pedrini: "further engagement with the community in order to both continue to repair the harm and rebuild trust in the APD."

The process includes a series of trainings for the entire Police Department. These continue "the years of training that the APD has conducted focusing on community policing, procedural justice and anti-biased policing strategies," the manager wrote. Planned are:

  • Dolan Consulting Group, "Improving Public Perception of the Police: Winning Back Your Community," for command staff only (August);
  • MaeBright Group, training in partnership with the Arlington Rainbow Commission, to improve services and climate provided to the LBGTQ+ community (Aug. 21-23);
  • Chelsea Police Department, "Procedural Justice and Implicit Bias" (September);
  • C4RJ, "Restorative Justice," roll-call trainings (September);
  • Combined Jewish Philanthropies, "Recognizing Hate: Why Symbols Matter" (October)'
  • Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, "Islam 101" (fall/winter)

Bias assessment

Acting Chief Flaherty aims to contract with a third-party provider to assess the existence of bias in her department and provide training recommendations for addressing any findings.

In addition, Chapdelaine wrote, the town is connecting with the National League of Cities and its Race, Equity and Leadership Division (REAL) to provide training on issues of race and equity to managers and supervisors across all town departments.

"We are also exploring a broader engagement with REAL to facilitate a community-wide dialogue around issues of race in Arlington," he wrote.

The manager also cited a new town position -- coordinator of diversity, equity and inclusion. Supporting this addition was the Select Board and Town Meeting. This person reports to the director of health and human services and works directly with the Human Rights Commission, Rainbow Commission and the Disability Commission. A hiring process is underway.

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'Real harm caused ...'

"I want to once again make clear my acknowledgement and understanding of the real harm caused by Lt. Pedrini’s words. They have had, and continue to have, real impact on people living in Arlington and beyond.

"Additional steps are needed, and will surely be coming, to ensure that our Town and all of its employees live up to the values and aspirations of respect, safety, inclusion and justice for all Arlington residents.

"I understand that we have more work to do and I am committed to doing it. I am committed to the restorative principal that none of us should be defined by our worst act and I appreciate that RJ gave us a tool to try to find a better way forward by fostering engagement based on respect and dignity for all.

"... I urge Town residents to get involved in the upcoming dialogue so we can truly find a path to healing."
                                                      -- Adam Chapdelaine

Quote bar, red

Manager explains steps to discipline

What led up to using restorative justice?

Chapdelaine's Aug. 8 open letter provides previously unreported insight. He said that while Pedrini was on leave, the manager had a number of internal conversations about the best course of action for discipline.

"Due to the seriousness of the matter, we initially considered several options for addressing it, up to and including termination.

"... I became more focused on the legal process that needs to be followed in such matters. Part of this process is the right of public sector employees to take disputes about discipline to a third party arbitrator. This arbitrator is empowered, by state law, to overturn discipline issued by the Town.

"It’s this part of the system that started to shift my thinking about the proper response to this issue. After studying various arbitration decisions, I came to the conclusion that there was a significant risk that a termination would not be upheld by a third party arbitrator.

"This risk, in my opinion, created a path to what I believe would have been the worst case scenario for the Town -- a terminated police lieutenant being returned to work by an arbitrator’s decision, both vindicated and non-repentant and a community left without an opportunity to heal.

"It was concern about this worst case scenario that opened my mind to alternative paths of addressing the issue. The alternative that first came to mind was restorative justice (RJ). We started to give this alternative some consideration and quite quickly, the possibility of pursuing it became feasible.

"I felt that it provided us with an opportunity to take the issue head on, require Lt. Pedrini to face representatives of the communities that he so seriously harmed with his words and then set us up for a broader dialogue about race and policing with the community as a whole. I also entered this consideration fully acknowledging that this would be a novel use of RJ and we would be breaking new ground."

Restorative justice, path for Pedrini

Chapdelaine quoted Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice (2002): "Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in an offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations, in order to heal and put things right as possible."

And then explained: "So, we decided to pursue RJ as an option, all while holding the traditional disciplinary process in abeyance, but with the option of returning to it should we need to."

Officials spoke with Erin Freeborn, executive director of the nonprofit Communities for Restorative Justice, with which Arlington has worked with for many years. Former Chief Fred Ryan was named to the group's board in 2015

Freeborn suggested conducting what the manager called "a viability meeting" with Pedrini, to determine whether he understood the harm that he caused and had remorse. After the meeting, she said that, based on her experience with offenders, he showed the right indicators of remorse. He was willing to face those he harmed and hear how his words affected them.

Under her guidance, the manager explained, the circle process began. Under it, stakeholders come together, harms are identified and a path to healing is put in place.

The first circle included the town manager, human-resources director, the acting chief, a patrol officer and an Arlington resident who is a police official in another community. This group met three times and came to a restorative agreement that outlined the conditions that Pedrini faced.

One tenet was was to conduct a circle with representatives of the communities most acutely harmed by Pedrini’s writings.

A second circle sought participation from as many stakeholders as possible. Nine community members participated plus those who were part of the first circle. Of the nine community members, five were people of color. Through their own personal and professional experiences they represented the refugee/immigrant community, the African-American community, the Asian-American community, the faith community and people of lower income.

As part of the second circle, shared were 114 community-impact statements collected by the Human Rights Commission.

The manager wrote: "Between circle participants and the community statements, Lt. Pedrini was confronted with a broader scope of the harm that he caused. He saw and heard how real the pain was and had to respond in real time to these emotions as they were being expressed.

What can be shared about agreement

"Ultimately, the second circle ended with additions being made to the restorative agreement. Though the specific terms of the restorative agreement are confidential, the major components include:

  • "A commitment by Lt. Pedrini to write and issue a public apology.
  • "A commitment by Lt. Pedrini to attend all roll calls of the APD along with Acting Chief Flaherty to describe to all of the women and men of the APD what he had learned from the restorative process.
  • "A commitment by Lt. Pedrini to engage in further community dialogues in order to advance healing in the community.
  • "A commitment by Lt. Pedrini to attend trainings with the Chief and community members to further his understanding of the communities that he harmed.
  • "An administrative assignment for at least 60 days upon his return to work.
  • "A significant suspension, in accordance with departmental rules and regulations and the Ranking Officers’ collective bargaining agreement.

The manager added: "To be clear, as the appointing authority, this was my decision. There was no vote taken in the RJ circle. However, I used all that I had seen and heard through the circles to make this determination and the determination was not made until the final community circle was complete." 

Reports by Laura Kiesel: June and August 

Citizen petition

Opinion, June 26, 2019: What further should the town do after officer's harsh comments?

May 29, 2019: Forum on racism turns to restorative justice, Lt. Pedrini

May 1, 2019: Rights group withdrew from restorative justice for Pedrini after protest 

This news summary was published Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019.

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