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How to Get Involved
- A public hearing on the upcoming township budget will be held on Tuesday, June 22 at 7 PM. The public can call 425-436-6348 and use access code 277839# to join by phone.
- A second community meeting on race will focus on health disparities on June 24 at 7 PM on Zoom. The public will be able to join through this link.
- A petition to reallocate the Bloomfield police budget has been started by members of the community. You can see it here.
- A petition to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus on the Bloomfield Green has also been started. You can see it here.
On June 10, Bloomfield Councilwoman Wartyna Davis and Mayor Michael Venezia hosted a virtual community meeting on race and policing where they shared information about the township’s police department and heard recommendations from residents about further anti-racist reforms.
The meeting was held less than three weeks after the police killing of George Floyd sparked a wave of nationwide protests that saw hundreds of local community members march through Bloomfield Center and rally in front of the police department.
Those local protests called for unity in addressing systemic racism in Bloomfield. And one of the organizers of those protests, Matthew Arnold, was among the dozen community members that addressed officials gathered for the meeting.
Here are some of the points community members brought up.
1. Reallocate the (growing) police budget
“Bloomfield as a township spent $16.5 million on the Bloomfield Police Department out of an $85.8 million budget,” Arnold said in opening comments informed by his conversations with members of the community. “That’s 20% of the total township budget. Meanwhile, we only spend 2% on human and health services and 1% on parks and recreation. We need to understand where the crime is being created.”
This year, the amount of money that Bloomfield spends on police will grow to $17.2 million according to an analysis of the township’s proposed 2020 budget. It will be 7 times greater than the township’s health and welfare spending.
The police budget is mostly personnel costs, according to Bloomfield Public Safety Director Samuel DeMaio, who attended the meeting and acknowledged the need to review alternatives to police officers in some instances.
“The mayor and I had a conversation the other day about how many emotionally disturbed person calls we go on,” Director DeMaio said. “Are there things that police officers are doing that would be better handled by health professionals…are there better ways to do what we do?”
Later in the conversation, Councilwoman Davis acknowledged that defunding the police was a new idea to her but that she supported looking “seriously at how we’re spending our money and making sure we’re spending it right.”
2. Make the police department more transparent
“I would like to see just a real openness and transparency when it comes to all the policies of the Bloomfield Police Department,” said Norm Sutaria, a Bloomfield resident who attended the meeting. Their comment regarding the department’s transparency echoed the sentiments of other meeting attendees.
Here are some of the things community members said they wanted to know more about:
- Employment history of police officers
- Demographic makeup of the police department
- Incidents of police misconduct
- Use of force guidelines
- Incidents of use of force
- Bodycam policy
- Detailed police budget
Director DeMaio committed to reviewing the police department’s policies and procedures by the end of the summer to see which of them can be made public on the department’s website.
“They are things that can be received through [public record requests] so why have to go through that when we could just put them on our website.”
3. End racial profiling on Bloomfield Ave
Bloomfield Ave was another issues that Arnold brought up in his opening comments: “It’s a place that we know has the most police presence. It scares people. People shouldn’t be afraid to drive on the street in our town. And especially not because of our police force. We need to be able to understand this and address it we need to be able to make a change in that specific portion of our town.”
None of the officials present addressed this point.
Bloomfield Ave has been a part of the local conversation on policing since at least 2016 when a peer-reviewed study found that township’s police presence was concentrated on Bloomfield Ave. It study described that presence as a “de facto border patrol” that disproportionately affected black and Latino residents of the area through traffic stops and tickets.
The study found that 78 percent of the people who answered tickets at Bloomfield municipal court over a month-long period were black or Latino despite both groups making up less than 50 percent of the population.
At the time, township officials dismissed the study as flawed and pointed to their own data on traffic stops and race that showed a near-even distribution across white, black, and Latino drivers: 672, 684, and 678.
Note: These numbers on traffic stops are from 2016 and were the most recent we could find. We’ve filed a public records act request to find more recent data.
But those numbers do not align with the demographic makeup of Bloomfield either. They suggest that two-thirds of traffic stops in the township that year were of black or Latino people. And while they point to a lack of discrimination in individual traffic stops, they don’t address the broader impact of those traffic stops on the black and Latino communities that live in and around Bloomfield.
4. Enact #8CantWait policy reforms
Days before the meeting, Mayor Venezia shared that Bloomfield already followed seven of the eight policies associated with 8 Can’t Wait, a set of recommendations that are associated with decreases in police violence that have gained traction over the last few weeks.
The one #8CantWait recommendation not followed by Bloomfield – requiring a verbal warning before shooting – came up at the meeting.
“The one that is not adopted, which is most alarming to me,” said Arnold, “is warning before shooting. That might be the most important policy that we need to have implemented in every community.”
Director DeMaio said that crafting a warning before shooting policy was difficult but offered an initial outline: “So what we’re trying to craft in our policy is that basically, when applicable, and when it can be done, that certainly a clear and verbal warning shall be given before an officer uses deadly force.”
5. Take down the Christopher Columbus statue
One attendee, Matthew Holly, asked Mayor Venezia to consider replacing the monument to Christopher Columbus that stands in the town green across from the public library.
“I want to know how the council feels about potentially replacing that with a real monument that promotes racial unity in diversity instead of a genocidal European explorer,” Holly said.
West Orange and Camden are two New Jersey communities that have recently taken down monuments to Columbus, which – like many other monuments to Columbus – were erected “during a period when [Italians Americans] suffered rampant racism, discrimination, and marginalization,” according a statement from the Italian American One Voice Coalition, a Bloomfield-based cultural organization.
In fact, one of the largest recorded mass lynchings in the U.S. was of 11 Sicilian Americans in New Orleans in 1891 during an era of extreme anti-immigrant sentiment. The organizer of that lynching would later become governor of Louisiana and is quoted as saying that Italians were “just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in [their] habits, lawless, and treacherous.”
In the early 1900s, Italian Americans were among the groups discriminated against in federal housing policy through the systemic denial of home mortgages to people based on the ethnic and racial makeup of where they lived, a practice also known as redlining.
In Essex County, redlining maps from a federal New Deal-era agency, highlighted the “undesirable” residents of certain areas.
In South Orange, there were “…one or two Negro families and a few Italian from Waverly Place to Lindsley Ave.”
In Maplewood, there was “one very small section south of Millburn Avenue which [contained] a mixture of Negroes and Italians” that was “not spreading.”
And in Montclair, “Wildwood from North Fullerton to Grove [contained] older houses and Wildwood from Grove east contains Italians” where “the latter settlement is small and cannot spread as it is hemmed in all sides by new and better developments.”
What is also true is that Christopher Columbus was a kidnapper, slaver, and mass murderer who’s actions precipitated centuries of violence against indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere. So monuments to him, like other key figures in white supremacy, are among the targets of anti-racism efforts.
Mayor Venezia said he has no problem looking into it. “I have no loyalty to the Christopher Columbus statue,” he said during the meeting.
6. End immunity for police officers
One meeting attendee, who only identified themselves as Christian, asked about officer immunity in Bloomfield’s police department.
“Can police in Bloomfield be treated the same way by the legal system that regular people living here are treated, because I think that you can’t end all of the corruption. There still will be those few bad apples, right? So, how do we make sure that justice is served and served swiftly?” Christian asked.
Citing state law and police union protections, Director DeMaio outlined the steps for firing an officer found to have done something wrong:
- The officer would be suspended without pay
- The officer would need to be found guilty of a crime
- The department would hold a disciplinary hearing
- The department would fire the officer
But both Director DeMaio and Mayor Venezia discussed opting the police department out of the state’s Civil Service Act, the law currently guiding how they can hire and fire officers. That law is also what offers police in New Jersey protection from termination unless they violate a specific policy or law, also known as qualified immunity.
“You know, because you wear a badge – you shouldn’t have any immunity. You shouldn’t have any special privilege. You should follow the law that you are paid to enforce,” Director DeMaio said.
On Tuesday, June 22 at 7PM, the Bloomfield council will hold a public meeting on the township’s 2020 budget, which includes the above mentioned police budget increase.
The meeting can be steamed live on the township website, Facebook page, and WBMA-TV channels 30 and 35. The public can call 425-436-6348 and use access code 277839# to join by phone.