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Human rights commission study in the spotlight at Lambertville city council meeting

By Karen Taylor

Lambertville’s City Council on Thursday approved the appointment of Paul Rotundi from Lambertville MUA for the Class II position on the Planning Board. Lt. Robert Brown had initially been proposed for the position but residents had expressed concern about the appointment because of Lt. Brown’s position as head of the police department.

Councilwoman Lambert volunteered to work with the Green Team which is being established to facilitate grants from Sustainable New Jersey.

The bulk of the meeting was consumed by a presentation from the Human Rights Commission. Roni Todd Marino presented findings and recommendations based on many hours of volunteer work which included reviewing statistics to determine any evidence of racial profiling. The numbers indicate Lambertville has no egregious problems and no excessive use of force. HRC has made recommendations so that improvements will be ongoing. These include increased communication from under-represented resident groups, broadening of community services for mental and physical health, food insecurity and social supports, community dispute resolution and the creation of a crisis resolution team as an alternative or addition to the police department. Anti-racism city-wide education and review was also mentioned.

Lt. Brown presented recommendations from the police department as part of the HRC study. The Attorney General has promoted the first two which involve implementing less lethal force options and creating two additional intermediate LPD supervisors from already available staff. De-escalation training will be continued along with race and gender training. Increasing use of resident volunteers for events where police are not required and their presence might discourage attendance of people of color is under consideration but requires extensive training and state certification on the part of those volunteers. The police continue to collect demographics on stops and are prioritizing recruitment of a Spanish-speaking officer. An officer with limited Spanish language skills was hired Dec. 1 and is currently in training, but the department would like to hire someone fluent in the language.

HRC goals call for an annual sharing of immigration information, review of ordinances for racism and classism, community building activities to educate the public on regional resources and a joint effort to research information on creating a crisis response team.

During the public commentary portion of the meeting, several residents referred to the HRC presentation. One questioned whether it is necessary for all our police officers to carry firearms, but was told this is a state mandate. Another person suggested de-funding the police to support other social services. Mayor Julia Fahl replied that de-funding the police would mean firing them. The mayor’s statement was countered by another resident who pointed out that redirecting one percent of the police budget would not require firing anyone, as the department has non-salary related expenses. One speaker also claimed that statistics don’t tell the entire story, as there are residents who feel they’ve been victims of systemic racism.

Philomena Hengst asked residents to virtually attend the Board of Education meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 25.  The superintendent will be making a presentation on facility challenges.

A question was also raised about the city’s joint agreement with Flemington to hire a business manager. The mayor said the process was taking so long that Flemington decided to withdraw from the agreement. Lambertville is now investigating options which are feasible with the approved $120K salary.

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  • I have not seen any signs of abuse in Human Rights in New Hope or Lambertville. Can someone send me an instance. Paul said the majority get along and I totally agree but that one person who can make the majority us all suffer for some injustice they can’t even give an example of.

  • These Human Rights Commissions are a waste of time and taxpayer money. As is, most people have been relentlessly badgered into submission by the media for decades, and the reports of police abuse have been been slanted and exaggerated by that same media, so this is all redundant. It’s time people put aside their 1960’s playbooks and wake up to the reality that generally everybody gets along quite well. The city council should do the right thing and focus on lowering taxes and running the government more efficiently and not chasing phantoms.

  • Don’t these people have anything better to do than sit and wring their hands and talk,talk,talk. Always looking around the corner for the bogey man and STILL getting nothing done.Pick up litter on 202 or better yet in Lambertville after the tourist leave.

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