FAIRFIELD — Fairfield Mayor Connie Boyer said she’d like to hold a town hall on police procedures, but it won’t be for several months, November at the earliest.
The Fairfield City Council has discussed ways of giving the public an opportunity to express opinions or ask questions about the city’s police department. Boyer said she and Fairfield Police Chief David Thomas talked about doing such a forum in March or April, but the arrival of the coronavirus put that plan on hold.
Boyer said a few things have to happen before this town hall can be held.
The police department updates sections of its policy handbook every year, and once every five year, it reviews the entire 350-page handbook to ensure it is up-to-date with state and federal law. The department is doing that full review now. Thomas has told the council it might be October before the review is complete.
Once the review is done, the public will have the chance to review the policies at City Hall or the library. The city will solicit questions from the public to be asked during the town hall, which will include Boyer, Thomas and City Administrator Aaron Kooiker.
Boyer said the town hall will be modeled after the public forum on 5G held at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center in February. That forum featured guest speakers knowledgeable about 5G and a time for questions from the audience. About 120 people attended the event in the center’s expo hall.
Due to the need for social distancing, Boyer’s not sure what the town hall on policing will look like and how many people would be allowed in the room. There is some discussion of turning it into a work session for the council so that all council members can attend.
Fairfield Police Department used to hold informal gatherings called “Coffee with a Cop,” where it invited the public to ask questions of an officer over a cup of coffee. Boyer said attendance at those gatherings was low so the department stopped holding them. And yet, she feels there is great interest among the public to learn more about the police.
“We’ve found that people don’t know how an investigation is done or why it can take so long,” Boyer said. “Through this town hall, people can get a better understanding of why the police do what they do, and hopefully we could do a town hall like that every year.”
Boyer said she and Thomas are coordinating a meeting with Maharishi International University President John Hagelin to have officers speak to college students and establish a bond of trust between the city and university.
Fairfield council member Judy Ham is chair of the council’s personnel committee, which has been discussing police matters at its recent meetings. Ham said the personnel committee was supportive of the mayor’s idea for a forum on policing, but it is occurring at a difficult time for the department, which has three officers being trained this year.
“It’s like being in the middle of a housing rehab and all the relatives want to come for a visit,” she said.
During the personnel committee meeting on July 21, the committee voted 2-1 to recommend the city keep two copies of the police department’s 350-page policy handbook available at the library. Committee members Doug Flournoy and Paul Gandy voted in favor while Ham voted against. Ham said she’s hesitant to have the whole manual available in the library because she views it as a security risk. She prefers the current setup where members of the public must appear in person at the law center to review the manual.
“My ‘no’ vote is not because I don’t want the public to have access to it,” she said. “My point is that an evil mind is an evil mind. I’m not comfortable having the whole police policy manual for everyone who wants access to it.”