Groton City forms an Advisory group of Police and Citizens
Groton City forms an Advisory group of Police and Citizens

Groton — The city plans to convene a group of diverse community members to voice their concerns and expectations about the police department.

Groton City police Chief Michael Spellman and Mayor Keith Hedrick announced this week the new Police and Citizens Together initiative, an advisory group that will meet monthly for open-ended roundtable discussions based on issues and concerns that residents raise.

The group then will provide reports to the Public Safety Subcommittee of the City Council, Spellman said.

“This will give a voice and a seat at the table to the community we serve,” Spellman said at this week’s City Council meeting. “This will give unprecedented input into police operations.”

Spellman said he began planning for the citizens advisory group, in consultation with Hedrick, in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

Spellman also had issued a statement saying that being silent is being complicit: “The actions of the Officer charged and the Officers failing to confront or stop him exhibits a troubling and unacceptable culture in this profession,” he said in the statement. “We collectively have to do better. The core values of our agency are honesty, integrity, trust and service. What was observed on tape in Minneapolis reflects none of these values. What occurred is inexcusable, as a profession we collectively own its consequences, and are committed to doing all we can to earn again the trust of ALL of our community we serve.”

Both Spellman and Hedrick will be part of the new advisory group, which is still being formed. Hedrick is expected to serve as chairman, at least in the beginning. They are seeking members to join the group, which they said they envision being as diverse as the city itself.

“This forum should allow community concerns to have a myriad of pathways to get to City leadership and your elected officials,” according to an announcement posted on the police department’s and the City of Groton’s Facebook pages. “We are looking to get this group seated and working for our community soon. Please consider serving here and be part of proactive community change that strengthens our approaches in service to our citizens.”

People interested in joining can email Mayor@cityofgroton-ct.gov with their name, address, contact information and reason why they are interested, or can call (860) 446-4103, according to the announcement.

In a phone interview, Hedrick said it’s important to get representation from all the different ethnic communities and different areas in the city to participate in roundtable discussions on what’s going on in the city — both the positive and negative — and how the city can be better for all residents.

“The part that I’m looking forward to is how do we make the city better and how do we make it so that we have more equity amongst all of our citizens?” he said.

Hedrick said the police department has spoken with and listened to community members through “Coffee with a Cop” events and engaged with the community using Facebook. He also authorized the police department to create an Instagram account to better reach younger community members.

During a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Groton on June 7, Spellman said he wanted to form the group and also invited anyone interested to have a cup of coffee with him.

Spellman said by phone that he also is calling for the group to look at creating mentoring opportunities for at-risk youths, including expanding a long-running program offered through Groton Public Schools, to pass on knowledge and life experiences to the next generation.

“We have an outward migration of young people that are not staying in the area,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure they have jobs and feel valued, and we make southeastern Connecticut an area they want to stay.”

Spellman further said the group’s efforts should include input from Groton Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention and Community Speaks Out, which is based in the city, to stop the scourge of heroin that touches every demographic. The police department has a liaison officer to Community Speaks Out, Alejandro Rosa, who is bilingual, and Spellman said his position really accentuates the department’s outreach to the community.

He said the police department is trying to keep as many doors open as possible and take a proactive community approach to address issues.

Spellman said the police department reflects the demographics of the community and, among its members, seven languages are spoken with proficiency.

“We’re probably the most diverse agency of our size in the state, and we have an incredibly diverse community in the City of Groton that we serve,” he said.

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