Julie Brown, Special Writer
A newly formed group will oversee the Canton Police Department.
“How do you essentially police the police? It comes down to legitimacy. You need public trust,” said Chad Baugh, Canton director of police services during the regular meeting of the board of trustees last week.
To that end, he said, the Canton Police Department in collaboration with the Canton Coalition for Inclusive Communities (CCIC) has developed a new initiative called the Police Transparency and Guidance Subcommittee. This group will operate as a subcommittee out of the CCIC, and be tasked with examining police misconduct investigations, with an emphasis on complaints regarding use of force, false arrest and complaints alleging racial profiling or bias-based policing.
“This committee will help express a community-driven voice as it relates to police service,” said Baugh. “As we deploy some of the best police officers in our state, we are at the same time increasing our transparency and developing another mechanism to find solutions and build a stronger bond with our citizens,” Baugh added.
The committee will be citizen-led, consisting of five diverse members of the CCIC who will provide annual reports with possible recommendations to the police chief. These reports and recommendations will be reviewed with the township supervisor and board of trustees, and the chief will address any strategic programming needs to meet the service expectations of the Canton community.
“We are proud to say that Canton is taking a proactive step in strengthening our police and community partnership,” said Township Supervisor Anne Marie Graham-Hudak. “The new committee will not replace any of the current policy processes we have in place, but instead increase transparency and commitment to our residents,” Graham-Hudak added. Committee members will receive on-going comprehensive legal, labor and educational training related to the best practices of holistic policing in the United States.
Conversations about such a group began last year with Trustee Sommer Foster, Graham-Hudak and Canton Library Director Eva Davis, as well as representatives of the police department. Davis is co-chair of the Police Transparency & Guidance Subcommittee of the Canton Coalition for Inclusive Communities.
The group was formed following discussion at a Hate Crimes Coalition, said Baugh, and will focus on excess force, racial or bias inferences, and false arrests. Co-chair is Deputy Police Chief Craig Wilsher.
Davis said the group will “give us visibility and have us have additional volunteers.”
Other members are Kanye Gardner, Denise Lilly, Rachel Miller, and Rohit Singhal.
“This will not be a rubber stamp” Baugh said. “In reviewing situations, the facts and circumstances around them will be provided.”
“The main thing will be guidance coming back to me,” he said of the group.
Foster had also talked to former township Supervisor Pat Williams about this work “because we were in this place of turmoil in the country” with the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd deaths in Louisville and Minneapolis, respectively.
Two members of the community spoke during public comments at the April 27 Board of Trustees meeting, both praising the initiative.
“I am looking forward to the work they're going to be doing,” said Trustee Tania Ganguly.
The Hudson Webber Foundation likely will through a grant assist with police legal matters, added Baugh.
“I'm really looking forward to seeing how it works out,” commented Trustee Kate Borninski.
Trustee Steven Sneideman thanked those involved for their work, with township Clerk Michael Siegrist adding, “This is the kind of thing that makes me proud to be associated with Canton Township.”
In other business at the meeting, township retiree Brad Sharp was lauded for his work in helping oversee construction of the Village Theatre at Cherry Hill as well as working to develop parks in the community.
“You certainly will be missed,” said Greg Hohenberger, township director of Leisure Services.