HOLYOKE — Mayoral candidate Rebecca Lisi said Thursday the city is already benefiting from her proposal for an independent assessment of the Holyoke Police Department.
The police chief, city councilors and a criminal justice professor brainstormed Wednesday about an order for such an assessment filed by Lisi, who is a city councilor at large, in a Zoom meeting of the City Council Public Safety Committee.
“This is exactly why I have the reputation for leadership and innovation that I do,” said Lisi, chairwoman of the City Council Ordinance Committee.
“I don’t shy away from tough issues. I come up with ideas. I bring the community together in dialogue around these ideas. And together, we move through these tough issues, get things done and make progress.”
Discussion will continue on Lisi’s order in future Public Safety Committee meetings.
This is Lisi’s order: that in an effort to obtain neutral, fact-based data and statistics, the city contract an independent assessment of Holyoke Police Department’s structure, policies and practices.
Holyoke Police Chief Manuel Febo and Nicole J. Hendricks, professor and chairwoman of the Department of Criminal Justice at Holyoke Community College, participated in the discussion.
Febo said he agreed more could be done to bring police and the public together.
A Holyoke native, Febo said his policy has been that “we’re an open book here” in terms of how policing is done in the city.
“We provide services to the community and we’re proud of the work that we do. And I think we do a great job. We’re a very diverse department,” he said.
Febo said the department has long done community outreach. This includes working with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department on its safe neighborhoods project, helping people get mental health services in conjunction with Behavioral Health Network (BHN), having 80 percent of officers get 40 hours of crisis intervention training, working on sports and other programs with the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club and partnering with the University of Massachusetts on grants, he said.
“I think we’re ahead of the curve on most police departments, so I welcome any, like I said before, any outside agency that wants to look at our structure, our practices, our policies. I’m proud of what we do.”
The Holyoke Police Department has received few complaints in relation to other police forces of its size, he said.
Later in the meeting, Febo said, “I think if I could be critical of myself here at the Police Department, I think the one thing that I’m understanding tonight is that I could probably be doing a much better job getting the information out to the public and the community and the council. I think you would be very impressed with what we’re doing and it’s just not out there.”
Febo, a 26-year veteran, will retire July 31 and Capt. David Pratt, who has been with the department for 28 years, will take over as chief. That’s under a decision announced in December by former Mayor Alex B. Morse.
During the committee meeting, Lisi said that with the baton being passed to a new chief from the current one, this is a good time to determine how police can best serve the community.
“We also see that policing is changing,” Lisi said. “I think that we should know as citizens and policy makers that, really, the policies and practices and culture that’s guiding the police force (are) really serving the community.
“So I really think it’s an opportunity here to take a look, understand what’s happening, get the data, get the evidence, and figure out where our strengths are, where we could use some work in updating and really make sure that as we continue to move forward into the future that our Police Department is servicing the community to the best and most efficient sense possible.”
Lisi noted that Morse appointed a task force of people in the city to discuss police and community relations last year. That came after protests erupted nationwide following the murder of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota May 20.
A jury Tuesday convicted Derek Chauvin, 45, a former Minneapolis police officer, of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
Lisi said the task force that Morse formed never really gained traction but she invited members of that panel to participate in the Public Safety Committee meeting.
Among Lisi’s questions during the committee meeting were what kinds of training do Holyoke police currently receive, is the training necessary and is the training being used in daily policing. And the community has similar questions, she said.
“I think transparency is like the big issue driving this at this point,” Lisi