Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

At town hall, community questions city officials on policing reform, advisory board

A woman speaks to the panel of city officials at Thursday’s town hall.

Thursday night turned out to be a cool, breezy evening, but things in Reservoir Park were rather heated.

Yesterday, a town hall was hosted by The Movement, an activist group in Harrisburg. City officials sat in front of a decent-sized crowd to take questions on policing and policy from the community.

“Today is a day we are demanding policy reform,” Brent Lipscomb, leader of The Movement, said. “We are here because policies must be adopted that center black and brown lives.”

Community members were given the chance to question panelists including Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse, City Council members Ausha Green, Ben Allatt, and Westburn Majors, school board member Jayne Buchwach and Police Chief Thomas Carter. Questions centered around the proposed citizen’s police advisory board, policing in schools, the “defund the police” movement and racial inequalities in the city.

Granting more power to the proposed advisory board has been the plea of many citizens lately. Green addressed this by saying that council is considering it.

“As representatives of the citizens of Harrisburg, it’s our job to put the legislation forward and then work around what needs work,” Green said.

She explained that she has town hall-style meetings planned in order to receive more feedback from the community.

One person asked, “if citizens can’t have subpoena power, how will the stark power imbalance between citizens and cops be addressed?”

“There’s a lot that an advisory board can do that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand,” Papenfuse said. “With or without subpoena power, there’s a lot that the board can do to shine a spotlight on police misconduct to inform the public about information that is available and to educate the public.”

The mayor added that he would sign whatever legislation passed by City Council.

“He said something just now that I’ve never heard him say before,” Majors said. “The mayor said he will sign anything that we pass. So, let’s get together and work on progressive things to make some changes to this committee to make it work for everybody.”

Another topic brought up by the community was policing in schools. Buchwach and Papenfuse butted heads on this issue, the former calling for police to be taken out of schools, the later in favor of them.

“In Harrisburg, we do not need police in schools,” Buchwach said. “In fact, I would much rather have the police work on themselves than to be in schools.”

She called for more counselors and mental health professionals to replace the police. However, Papenfuse said that policing in schools should be about mentorship with students, not discipline.

“There is room for police in our schools in Harrisburg,” he said. “What I’d like to see is the creation of a career pathway that’s going to lead more of our youth to consider a career in policing.”

Moderator Kimeka Campbell, co-founder of Young Professionals of Color—Greater Harrisburg, brought up the “defund the police” movement, which calls for the re-allocation of funds from the police department to mental health programs, amongst others.

Green said that, while she didn’t agree with removing all funds from the police bureau, she was in favor of recrafting the department.

“I believe that not only in this city, but in this nation, we need to have a more comprehensive approach,” she said.

Overall, Campbell said she was pleased with the event and plans to be a part of holding more meetings like this.

“We usually definitely don’t get anything like this,” one Harrisburg resident said of the town hall. “So I definitely appreciate this chance.”

For more information on The Movement, visit their Facebook group.


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