Will the Election Change Lowell’s Police Policy?

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Post Election Community Dialogue, the latest in a series of open events the police force has held to try to clarify their own values and policy, while taking input from citizens about what their experiences and concerns are. This one focused on the “Post Election Environment” in which, politics aside, I think we can all agree a lot of people are feeling afraid and that evidence shows that hate crimes seem to be spiking.

Dialogue about community police lowell ma

Captain Taylor at the dialogue. (Image courtesy Lowell PD’s Facebook)

Chief William Taylor, dressed in a suit and Christmas tie, started things off by introducing the officers in the room, as well as a representative from the FBI and State’s Attorney’s office. Then he read a prepared statement, clarifying the LPD’s policy on immigration status. In essence: regardless of your immigration status, the police want you to feel comfortable reporting a crime, calling emergency services, or asking for help. They say they don’t routinely run immigration checks in any of those cases. However, when they arrest someone, they do run a check, and it’s likely that problems would come up there.

The police in Lowell do collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when ICE reaches out to them, but they don’t routinely reach out to them to try to remove otherwise law-abiding members of the community. Other cities, including Lawrence, have passed a “Trust Act” which limits their collaboration with ICE. Efforts like this are one of the things people are describing when they talk about becoming a “Sanctuary City” which actively tries to protect people living there from federal government deportation.

Right out of the gate, the first question was about this possibility, and it came up several more times. The question was raised by a representative from the emerging group Solidarity Lowell. Chief Taylor had clearly anticipated this question, and he explained that, as far as he’s concerned, that’s a question for the City Council. He did go on to say that, though he had no strong opinion about it, he thought that the current system works well and didn’t really see further steps as necessary.

A representative from the International Institute asked for clarification about access to interpreters. If someone is being interviewed by the police, they do have the right to be interviewed in their own language. If someone calls in needing help from the police, it’s challenging in Lowell to cover all languages, but they have access to resources. Another representative, following up on that, suggested more translation at community meetings.

Additional questions along these lines clarified that they just hired their first Arabic speaking officer. They also try hard to do outreach to new groups, including building a good relationship with the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell. Working to make sure new Lowellians know their rights is a priority, as is avoiding discrimination and implicit bias at work in the actions of officers. The newly reformed Race Relations Council, a citizen advisory group made up of diverse community members is a step in the right direction that helps make sure that the Police force is hearing from everyone.

Next to come up is another issue on everybody’s mind: hate crimes. Captain Kelly said they haven’t really had any clear incidents reported to them. The rep from the International Institute said that she’s heard two reports of women having someone pull at their hijabs to try to remove them. For myself, I’ve heard about two separate incidents of Latino kids at school being taunted with the threat of being deported. The Attorney’s Office rep reminded people that these things can be judgement calls, but encouraged people not to hesitate to report them. It shouldn’t be up to the victim to try to figure out if something is a crime, the experts can do that. And if you hadn’t heard, in Massachusetts we have a newly created hotline to report harassment and intimidation.

Young CMAA Professionals

Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association Young Professionals after a community dialogue. (Image courtesy Sovanna Pouv/CMAA)

A kid from Teen Block suggested that police officers need to work harder to make community members feel comfortable. He mentioned that officers meeting with kids at Teen Block is a step in the right direction. One of the officers who’s been working with youth quite a bit, especially on Dance for Peace, talked about how fun and rewarding that has been. Another representative of Teen Block talked about trying to make kids feel more comfortable with officers, especially those stationed at schools. Captain Taylor agreed, and said that officers at schools are meant to help people feel safe. Captain Kelly talked about a time when that’s worked well, when a teenager texting with a friend wrapped up in a dangerous trafficking situation approached the school officer to share her concerns about her friend.

There was an intense discussion around the issue of scammers posing as police or other officials targeting the immigrant population. This can be confusing even for people familiar with the way things work in the US, but for people who may come from countries where a certain level of bribery and corruption is normal, it can be especially confusing. To clarify, no government official should ever ask you for money or your social security number over the phone. It’s always okay, if you get a call, to ask to call back the official office to make sure you’re talking to someone legitimate. Sometimes these scammers can also come to the door, so it’s okay to ask to see a badge and credentials. Chief Taylor said that our neighbors are the best protection we have, and that we should all try to keep an eye out for our elderly and recent immigrant neighbors. I think you’ll be hearing more about this issue from the department soon.

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Body camera similar to ones being tested in Boston (WBUR).

I asked about something I’ve been wondering about: whether they were still considering any measures to increase accountability, like body cameras or a civilian review board. The thoughtful response on body cameras was essentially “no, but we might pick this issue up again in the future”. Reasons cited included expense and legal concerns. In Massachusetts, the police aren’t allowed to record you without your permission, so this makes the cameras a logistical problem. Additionally, there are concerns that people won’t want to talk to the police if they fear being recorded. Chief Taylor did acknowledge that other cities, including Boston, are trying it, and that because of the increasing number of security cameras and cell phones, “that’s probably the way that things are going”.

A civilian review board hasn’t been discussed much, but Taylor said that the review process we have for police incidents works. I asked a follow-up to clarify whether it’s legal to film the police, and Captain Taylor said, “absolutely”. In fact, they said they seldom arrest somebody these days without someone filming it.

Many people expressed concerns about the current political climate, and the refrain from the police was along the lines of, “nothing in Lowell is going to change on January 21st”. A pointed question from a person who felt less safe because so many police unions had endorsed Trump got a candid answer from Kelly: “I can understand why some officers sided with Trump, while I hope they didn’t agree with everything he said.” He explained that attacks on officers are way up, many of them feel less safe and their families are worried about us coming home at night. Additionally, he said that he’s seeing some evidence that officers hesitate to use some methods now, because they “don’t want to end up on TV.” He said he tells officers that that’s good, but that it’s still their job to come home safe at night.

15355736_10209981832835749_9141968903883996996_nThe packed house for this event makes clear that the community is concerned, but also that the community is actively committed to working together. Frankly, I’ve lived in communities where not only would the police never attempt to invite community input, if they did tensions were high enough nobody would be able to have a real conversation. In Lowell, there really is a genuine effort to be open to criticism and to hearing the fears in the community.

If you have a bad experience, especially if you feel your treatment is unfair, Captain Taylor is very clear that he wants to hear about it. You can come in to the LPD’s Headquarters at 50 Arcand Drive to file a complaint in person. Or you can call the LPD’s Professional Standards Division at 978-674-4507, or you can fill out this form and mail it in. If you have a broader concern or you’d like for officers to meet with your community group or attend an event, I’d consider reaching out to Sara Kuhn, who’s the Director of Community Relations and a very warm, easy to talk to person. She’s reachable by phone at 978-674-1906 or email at Skhun@lowellma.gov.

(Featured Image courtesy Lowell PD Facebook)

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What Lives Matter?

All lives matter, of course. Black lives matter. Police lives matter. Mentally ill lives matter. Addict lives matter. Each of us is important. Every life is worth saving. Have I said anything controversial yet? Have I said anything you disagree with?

Chris and I have really struggled with whether to post anything about this issue, especially as two rallies, seemingly in opposition to each other, were scheduled on back to back Saturdays. Last week a “Police Lives Matter Rally” on Kennedy Plaza in the freezing cold drew a hearty crowd, as covered in the Sun story here. This Saturday (the 24th) at the same spot, there will be a “Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Discrimination”, organizing on facebook here.  This is an issue where tempers easily flare, and both sides have had difficulty approaching the issue calmly. I think people voicing their opinions is a great thing, but I think it’s very easy—when this discussion takes place only in charged-up Facebook comments and fiery protests—for everyone to get defensive and nobody to take the time to listen to each other. I want to explore what we are arguing about when we argue about the police in Lowell, and whether there is any overlap between these two points of view.

What concerns would each side have?

I hear police supporters object to the way hardworking and self-sacrificing police officers are often lumped together with bad ones. I hear anger about an issue they feel doesn’t apply to Lowell, because Lowell has such a small black population*. And I think also there’s the reflexive defensiveness that happens when somebody calls you racist and an understandable suspicion of a national movement stirring up issues in Lowell that seem like they have more to do with the South or New York City.

The people at the rally against racism and police brutality say that they are indeed part of a national movement, but with local relevance. They voice concerns about two occasionally separate but frequently interconnected issues: problems of officer-involved violence, and problems related to racial profiling by police, especially of black people. While this movement is playing out on a national scale, and many want to show their solidarity with residents of other cities, they also have specific local concerns based on incidents that have occurred here.

Many cite last year’s Alyssa Brame case, in which a woman died in police custody after a series of mistakes that directly contradicted written policy. Alyssa Brame was white, but the clear lapse in protocol weakens some people’s trust in the police.

Others say that racial profiling is an issue in Lowell. Although to my knowledge no one has done much real research into this topic, anecdotal evidence does suggest it’s at least perceived as an issue. When UTEC did their City Council Candidate forum in 2013, they surveyed Lowell High youth to find out what their concerns were, and police relations were high on the list. According to their survey, more than half of the students had had “negative interactions with the police, and have felt profiled”. Of course, that’s far from conclusive, you’d need a lot more than a casual survey to really know what was going on. But more than half? That seems alarming.

Part of the issue of communication between the groups might be different uses of language.  The movement’s frequent motto “Black Lives Matter” can be confusing to people who respond “all lives matter”. However, it’s a rallying cry that’s not meant to suggest that other lives don’t matter, but that black lives don’t matter less than other lives. Everyone is familiar with the concept of “missing white woman syndrome” in which a blonde woman who is the victim of a crime is given endless news airtime, while people of color who are victims get much less attention.** Many African-Americans feel that their communities and particularly their safety are often given less attention in a similar fashion.

“Black lives matter” is meant to be a little shocking, to make you say “Of course they do!” Because of course they do. That we are all equal, and that all of our lives are important, is one of our most fundamental principals, something we can surely all agree about.

What do we want policing to look like in Lowell?

I think if you polled the police support rally, and this Saturday’s upcoming one, you’d actually get surprisingly similar answers. The police should treat everyone fairly and with respect. The police should be a regular part of the fabric of the neighborhood, friendly and helpful. Officers should use force only when truly necessarily, and deadly force as a very last resort. Police officers should be respected as having a very stressful job that can also be dangerous.

What if you asked police officers? Well, as you’ve probably heard, Lowell has recently renewed its emphasis on the community policing model, a holistic strategy that emphasizes approaching not only an individual crime but the larger environment it takes place in. Lowell police officers spend more time in the neighborhoods, walking, biking, and segwaying around to improve their own visibility and accessibility. The model also emphasizes building community partnerships, and thinking creatively about how to resolve chronic problems.

New Police Superintendent Bill Taylor has spoken frequently about this, emphasizing that having officers be assigned a particular beat, building relationships and getting to know the community can help people to feel safe coming to the police with a problem or with information. They’ve also introduced a series of events called “Coffee with a Cop” in which folks can turn up to chat with their neighborhood police officers about safety concerns and anything else they might wonder about. Chris wrote about one we went to here, and there’s another one coming up on the 28th from 8-9:30 a.m. at Starbucks on South Campus (Wilder Street) at UMass Lowell.

The worst thing that can happen to a police force is for it to find itself in opposition to the communities it is supposed to serve. When police feel unsafe, they naturally react more aggressively to people becoming angry and unpredictable. In turn, when a community feels police officers treat them violently and unfairly, they are unlikely to speak to the police when they need help and far more likely to lose their cool in a tense encounter with police. Think about the anxiety and frustration you feel when you get pulled over for speeding. Any encounter between civilians and police officers has an inherent tension. That situation becomes exponentially more dangerous when the police in a community are viewed negatively.

Even if the only lives we cared about were police lives, I think we would still design a model of policing that calls for officers to use force as little as possible. The more escalated a situation becomes, the more dangerous for all involved. In addition, the memory of having to hurt, or God forbid, kill someone can be a very difficult burden to bear, as soldiers struggling with PTSD suggest. I could be wrong, but I think most police officers would say that they try to use force as little as possible. Good training and mental health resources can help officers focus on deescalation of tense situations and deal with their emotions afterward.

I admire police officers because I’ve worked at a video store. Let me explain: at the video store I often had to give people the bad news that they had minor late fees. People hate that! They hate getting bad news, they hate having to pay money, they hate being caught in a mistake. People were often very rude and aggressive with me about this, occasionally even scary, and it was emotionally exhausting to have to deal with these kinds of unpredictable minor tantrums. Police officers have to give out a lot of bad news, deal with people a lot angrier than I did. Handling angry and unpredictable, even unstable people is very stressful, and it really takes a very special person with very good training and a good support system to be able to respond calmly and unemotionally to an escalating situation. True strength is the police officers that can let such abuse roll off their backs, and handle bad situations with empathy and calm.

What about documented cases of police aggression, scary video footage of police officers in situations like Tamir Rice, the 12-year old with a bb gun in Cleveland shot within seconds of police arriving at the scene? Police supporters often say that police overreaching is just “a few bad apples”. That may be so, but the rest of that expression is important. A few bad apples can spoil the whole barrel, creating an atmosphere of aggression and abuse. In other police forces, there are examples of good officers losing their jobs because they tried to report abuse in their colleagues. I know extra levels of accountability can be a hassle (I work for the federal government!) but truly, oversight like body cameras or citizen review  boards will only help good officers protect themselves. I understand that officers have a strong brotherhood (and sisterhood. siblinghood?), but how can it be offensive to suggest that those who “serve and protect” our community are accountable to us?

I’ve tried to drive this post directly down the middle, because I truly believe that if both sides could speak to each other calmly, it would not be that hard to agree on what the police in Lowell should really look like. We all want to be safe. We all want to be treated fairly. We want our friends, family, and neighbors to be treated fairly, too. We want police officers to go home safe at night. We also want criminals to have their day in court, addicts to get treatment, and the mentally ill to get help. There will probably always be tragic situations, but we truly can all work together to build a peaceful community. Each and every life in Lowell matters.

 

Notes

*It’s true that Lowell has many a much smaller proportion of African-Americans than many big cities, only about 7,000 estimated in 2013 (6.5%). It’s worth remembering, though, that Lowell has more African immigrants every year, and that many of the concerns of the the black lives matter movement are shared by other people of color.

**I think even the term “people of color” confuses some people, which is understandable because it’s relatively new. “People of color” means more than African Americans—it means everyone who isn’t white/caucasian.

Sobering Moments

I was going to finish a short piece about split tax rate, but the news of the third violent gun incident in a week in Lowell has turned my attention.

Each incident happened in a different Lowell neighborhood, and one of the incidents was fatal.

I feel it is disingenuous not to take a moment to reflect on this side of Lowell. Certainly, Aurora and I both feel safe walking and living downtown. Police do not believe the first two incidents were random (they believe perpetrator and victim knew one another), and I imagine the same is true for the third, if the pattern holds. In addition, it is good that nobody seems desensitized to these type of incidents. When something like this happens, Lowellians are angry. They’re angry that stray gunfire could injure or kill innocent bystanders. They’re angry that this casts a city with award-winning nonprofits, a thriving entrepreneurial scene, and great restaurants in a negative light. Of course, they’re angry for the victims and their families.

Even so, I am very distressed that members of the community feel so desperate or choiceless that they become involved with gangs or other high-risk activities, and it is harrowing that this leads to violence and, occasionally, death. However, violence is not a surprise to me, and I do not see it as a particularly Lowellian problem. Rather, I see it as an American problem: it distresses me that these incidents happen in good cities across the nation.

At times, it almost feels frivolous to write about restaurant experiences when such troubling events occur. However, I remind myself sharing news about local businesses, cultural events, and building community is one piece of the puzzle to eliminating the environment that produces violence. For example, Aurora recently wrote about the Merrimack Valley Time Bank. The childcare that a time bank member might offer to a mother or father might have an immeasurable impact on that child and parent’s life. Not only the service is important, but also the support network that comes along with that service.

Restaurants as meeting places, the city’s efforts in economic development, the efforts of the police to increase patrols and disrupt gangs: these all may potentially impact Lowell’s health as a community. It’s why we want to keep focus on them. We welcome your comments below or in facebook.

Sun Debate: City Manager, School, and Safety

The Sun Debate was about a week ago, but I’ve just finished watching the third at http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadlines/ci_24385207/crime-takes-center-stage-round-1-lowell-city. I’ve seen a few folks comment on the Sun’s follow-up articles, but the videos give much more context. The same pool of questions were used in each debate, although moderators sometimes didn’t address every question or varied the phrasing. This will be the first of two parts recording the questions and our reactions. The second is here.

Moderator Chris Scott, candidates Genevieve Doyle, Stacie Hargis, Bill Martin, Joe Mendonca, Van Pech, and Dan Rourke.

Debate Round 3; from left: Moderator Chris Scott, candidates Genevieve Doyle, Stacie Hargis, Bill Martin, Joe Mendonca, Van Pech, and Dan Rourke.

The City Manager’s contract expires next august. Would you give him a new contract? If not, why not? If so, how long?

This question, submitted by Sun readers, is considered the “hot” issue of the election. From my vantage point, the audience reacted more to this question than any other. However, a lot has been written about this issue already (Sun part 1 and 2) (Left in Lowell). Notably, Mr. Millanazo brought up an argument I hadn’t heard before: a contract longer than two years makes the next council “stuck” with the decisions of the former council. There was a followup in the third group: “Where is the current manager lacking?” Mr. Pech had a long list: some neighborhoods are underserved, there are some issues with board and committee appointments, and more departments need to be restructured. Counselor Mendoca noted better interpersonal relations with counselors were necessary, something Mr. Mitchell and Counselor Nuon mentioned in an earlier debate.

We were surprised by an answer by many: Mr. Rourke, Ms. Doyle, Ms. Hargis, and Counselors Martin and Nuon all said that more communication was needed with neighborhoods, the media, and those outside Lowell to gather input and promote the City. Some admitted, “We could all do better.” However, Aurora and I had just came from a listening session with the City Manager: an example of neighborhood outreach. Not only that, but we read his blog where he advertises events and developments and hear addresses with nothing but positives about Lowell.

I strongly believe in participatory planning, and I think there could always be more and better outreach. Lowell is no exception. However, a lack of outreach isn’t the first thing I think of when I think of City Manager Lynch.

Is a new high school the most important need in the City, or do you have another priority?

This question was also from Sun readers. Some quotes were printed in this Sun article, and this is the key issue discussed on Lowell2020. Counselors Lorrey and Mercier suggested there may be neighborhood resistance to moving, something not noted in the Sun’s article. However, this was just part of their argument to do community outreach, and Counselor Mercier’s larger argument was focusing on the students and a growing drug problem, not the building. Additionally, I thought it was especially notable that Counselor Elliott implied that additional code inspectors (and police officers) was a greater priority than a new high school building.

Also not mentioned was Mr. Mitchell’s argument of “dollars and cents:” that the choice should be made on what is least expensive in the long-term and what can keep young, taxpaying families in Lowell. He wasn’t the only one to make this argument in one form or another. Another interesting sidenote was a disagreement between Counselor Leahy and others arguing about doing well by those with low incomes. He was the only one to mention competition from private schools:

“…I shouldn’t have to send [my children] to a private school because I don’t feel they aren’t getting a good education or the facilities aren’t up-to-par in the City.”

Counselor Leahy also mentioned that the City must consider quality in the building rather than just pursuing the lowest bidder, implying the lowest bidder built the problematic 1980s expansion.

The Police Superintendent is off seven months, and the department’s been running with an interim chief. Do you think this has had an effect on public safety?

This questions resonated with several members of the audience. It also split the candidates. Although almost everyone didn’t see a connection, that was the end of the agreement. Some, such as Counselors Martin and Mendoca, focused on the argument that time should be taken to find the right person. Others, such as Mr. Rourke, Mr. Elliot, Mr. Gitschier, Counselor Kennedy, or Ms. Hargis, mentioned the problems with having an interim superintendent and the need to select one quickly. The rest focused on overtime or community policing, not addressing the issue of Superintendent.

When asked what he did attribute the spikes to, Counselor Martin said, “I don’t think there’s any secret about it,” referring to drug use and weapon proliferation. Almost everyone discussed a variation on that reason, sometimes mentioning the reports of increased profit associated with Marijuana. Ms. Hargis even mentioned the need for preparation of medical marijuana legalization. I was surprised that only Ms. Doyle mentioned the other correlating crime factor: poverty and the hopelessness associated with it.

Stay tuned for the final four questions.

“What do you want in a police chief?” asks the City Manager

Lowell Police Department and monument

Lowell Police Department. Visit their site at http://www.lowellpolice.com

Last Thursday, City Manager Lynch, CFO Tom Moses, Solicitor Christine O’Conner, HR Director Mary Callery, and Executive Assistant Lynda Clark held the public listening session to discuss attributes the public desires in a new Police Superintendent. Unfortunately, this session competed with both the first of the three Sun Candidate Forums and a Red Sox World Series game–something the City Manager apologized for. It perhaps contributed to the slim turnout of about half a dozen. This meant Aurora and I composed a third of the focus group! A streetworker from UTEC, a reporter from the Sun, a fellow from the Senior Center actually just there to get photos, and a long-term resident rounded out the group. I’ll try to summarize what was discussed, but I’m largely working from memory.

This did mean everyone got plenty of time to speak. It might not be a surprise that everyone there desired a focus on community policing: reopening of closed precinct offices, police on foot, and events to build trust between police and residents. On the topic of trust-building, I asked if Lowell had any type of Citizen Oversight Committee, an outside, elected lay committee that works with the police to investigate complaints (click here for a report on these type of committees). This isn’t to suggest LPD needs such a committee, but I feel openness to ideas such as this is important for a police chief wishing to build trust with a community. Mr. Moses apparently used to work for Cambridge, so is familiar with their Police Review & Advisory Board. This idea might have some traction: later, I realized Candidate Van Pech is proposing a Human Rights Commission that would work toward many of the same goals, and Mr. Lynch was aware of the conversation. I’d like to note that such boards do take dedicated volunteer hours and City staff support, which are both finite resources.

Stories were used to illustrate points: One of the attendees relayed a story of lingering around the scene of a routine car stop for quite some time afterward, seemingly only talking to one another. Although generally trusting that police are doing their best, this made her question that belief. The UTEC streetworker discussed the distrust of police from those he works with. We brought up the question of diversity and number of women in the force, and another added on the importance of understanding cultural differences, something of which Mr. Lynch seemed keenly aware. During these stories, all five from the City took careful notes.

Another important point discussed was continuing to break the divisions between urban planning, education, code enforcement, and policing. Surprisingly, although I’m an urban planner, it wasn’t I who brought it up! One of the residents believed designing streets for lower speeds would encourage slower driving and free up police for tasks other than traffic control. He also mentioned the importance of broken-window theory: that repairing and cleaning areas after vandalism keep neighborhoods from spiraling into more serious crimes. There’s debate whether this is actually true (I don’t normally link to Wikipedia, but this is a good review of studies about it), but a 2005 study that took place in Lowell found “cleaned up” areas had a 20% reduction in calls to police compared to the “control” group. The results were discussed back in 2009. The City Manager said the City was very familiar with the strategy. I’ve heard their anti-vandalism unit responds quickly to complaints (SeeClickFix was released to assist residents register complaints in 2012).

The group from the City was asked what groups at other stakeholder-specific sessions discussed, but largely it was the same things we did. The City mentioned the business community said they knew Lowell is safe for visitors, but wanted a visible police force to make them feel safe. One interesting question that was brought up was whether it was more important to bring an outside perspective or an intimate knowledge of Lowell. The City staff reported the search was much more complex than he anticipated, but wanted to do it right, because the choice would affect the City for decades to come.

First Impressions: Sun Debate

The Lowell Sun hosted three debates last Thursday. They posted videos of each debate here. I haven’t seen the first one yet, so I will save everything but first impressions for a later post. The debate was at Lowell High School Six candidates and a moderator were closely packed around one side of a table draped in red. It and the Sun logo were the only splashes of color against black drapes and grey carpet. A spotlight focused on the candidates like a laser, and a couple dozen in the audience circled around them.

Tense, dramatic setting, right? However, the candidates seemed at ease, appearing to enjoy one another. The tension one often sees in the City Council chamber isn’t apparent. I thought, for the most part, it was a cordial discussion of issues rather than a heated debate. Between debates, I half-joked to one candidate that they put on a “good show,” and the candidate agreed something along the lines that “it’s all theater.” The theatrical aspect was no surprise. What surprised me about the debate is some of the chatter I heard during and after. Two things stood out:

1. The Sun posed at least a couple of, to me, strange questions. For example, moderators posed a question about a link between the lack of a permanent police superintendent and a recent spike in violent crime. (This Sun story notes the City Manager originally estimated a 4-6 month search, and it’s now been 7 months.) I would never have made this connection. Crime tends to clump in spikes or hotspots for a number of reasons, including copycatting and gang retribution (short NSF video about 2010 hotspot research in LA). The police have already mentioned a major factor in Lowell is a changing Marijuana market. On top of this, the crime rate isn’t worse than last year (the Gerry Nutter page referring to this is down). All the candidates agreed–there’s no reason to think there’s any causation, although some did imply “seven months is too long.”

Yet, during the questions I thought were strange, I heard the audience whispering, “Good question!” It is the responsibility of journalists to ask questions others don’t think of asking. However, it is also an easy tool to misuse, as journalists may plant an idea in folks’ heads without actually misstating facts or making any jumps in logic. These types of questions may also derail the conversation from important topics. Nevertheless, as the debate showed, these types of questions are also very appealing to the news audience.

2. More than one member of the audience said that the debate changed their voting plans. Aurora and I have been following the election and there were no surprises to us. Yet, perhaps this debate was the first exposure many had to many of the first-time challengers. I have heard people express surprise by the eloquence of Ms. Hargis or Mr. Mitchell, and I wonder if it’s because of their youth. Bill Samaris shares many of the same beliefs as Mr. Mitchell in particular, but he did much better in the preliminary. It might be because he seems an elder statesman and is familiar, as he was a Lowell High School headmaster. Dan Rourke, who did very well, is an exception to this hypothesis. However, he is related to and has been promoted by a popular State Representative, Tom Golden. Regardless, it highlights the challenge newcomers without some connection have in getting their message heard, even after countless radio interviews and neighborhood forums.