CENTRAL FALLS – A 13-member commission tasked with reviewing the Central Falls Police Department’s use of force policies and relationships between the community and police department met virtually for the first time on Monday, discussing the goals of the commission and how the group would address its objectives going forward.

The Policing and Use of Force Commission was constituted on July 27 after the signing of an executive order by Mayor James A. Diossa. Following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota earlier this year, Diossa announced that he was committed to addressing police use of force policies in Central Falls.

“I’m excited to have these conversations and I hope that the end result will yield what we all yearn for, and it’s excellent police relationships with our community and I think that all of you and your backgrounds will help us do just that,” Diossa told the commission members during its inaugural meeting via Zoom teleconference on Monday afternoon.

The 13-member commission includes New Life Church Pastor Bishop Stephen Harper, city resident Loretta Johnson, NAACP Providence Branch President James Vincent, Central Falls City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk, Central Falls High School Director of Family Engagement Denise Debarros, Central Falls Police Chief Col. Daniel Barzykowski, Ward 5 City Councilor Jessica Vega, Nonviolence Institute Senior Nonviolence Facilitator Sal Monteiro, Veterans Elementary School Principal Emily Santelises-Ramos, local resident Leslie Moore, two students from Central Falls schools, and Attorney General Peter Neronha, who is serving as an advisory non-voting member.

The commission laid out four goals during Monday’s meeting:

• Review police use of force policies and police/ community relations

• Engage communities by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in the review

• Report the findings of the review to the community and seek feedback

• If necessary, reform the police use of force policies and any other relevant policies or laws

“The hope is that obviously to continue to engage our community, to build more community trust,” Barzykowski said on Monday. “I prefer to believe we will be unsuccessful in our mission unless we maintain that public trust. That’s what I’m hoping to make sure we get out of this.”

Jerzyk explained that once the police chief circulates the relevant use of force policies among the members of the commission in advance of the next meeting – scheduled for Monday, Aug. 17 – as well as any redacted civilian complaints and reports that have been issued regarding excessive use of force or police-community issues, the commission would be able to review whether there’s “any types of patterns or any specific issues that they would like to address.”

Vega, the lone council member on the commission, said: “I think this is a good place to start, first reviewing the police force of policy and engaging the community.”

With the commission slated to release a final report to the public no later than 90 days from July 27, Vega wondered if the commission would continue indefinitely or would dissolve after the final report was published.

“After 90 days, we can talk about whether we should continue,” Diossa answered. “With the same format, just so that we’re in constant communication.”

Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette

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