MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Deputy Chief Albert Sally told the Community Board on Police that the Maplewood Police Department will “use restraint” during any protest in the township.

Sally’s remarks came during a discussion at last night’s meeting, held via Zoom, about police behavior during potential local protests. Deputy Chair Kasia Piekarz asked, “What will the directives be to officers should protest or any form of demonstration take place within the Township of Maplewood?”

“If it’s peaceful, lawful, [then] less police interaction,” said Sally, who is the MPD liason to the Board. The MPD will be there “to make sure everybody’s safe in the roadways,” he said. At “the protests we’ve had in the past in SOMA, we haven’t had any unlawful” behavior or damage to buildings, he added. “We support peaceful and lawful protest.”

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When asked how officers would handle potential aggression such as being spat upon or having something thrown at them during a protest, Sally was clear: “If we were able to effect an arrest, we’d arrest that one person…. To me, spitting on an officer is simple assault.” It was affirmed by a couple of the board members that this was especially egregious in light of the danger of transmitting coronavirus.

“Clearly we want to not escalate existing tension,” said Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis, and Sally agreed. 

“We try not to incite the crowd. Temperatures are high with what happened,” Sally responded, referring to the Minneapolis death of George Floyd and the ensuing nationwide unrest. “With large crowds and what’s going on, we [will] use restraint.”

Board member Paul Williams cautioned that there may be the need for “leeway” for low level misbehavior as any potential protestors may direct anger directly at the officers “in a way that you might not have experienced before, and I think it would go a long way for the officers to know that going in and put some latitude in there.”

Piekarz also noted that for the officers, “this is not just another protest happening in town and so…mentally they need to be prepared so that we don’t escalate this unnecessarily.”

Although the conversation was general with no specific action cited, a June 1 post in a local Facebook group said that a protest organized by Columbia High School Students was to start at SOPAC at 12:30 and walk to “the courts” in Maplewood. TAPinto SOMA was unable to confirm such a protest or who the organizing body was.

In other business, the Board is seeking a youth member, aged 16-20. For further information, see the Board’s page on the Maplewood website and click “Contact the Board.”

The Board was created in April of 2018 by the Township Committee to “review police activity within the Township of Maplewood and to make recommendations to the Township Committee on improving the relationship between the Maplewood Community and the Maplewood Police Department.” The Board’s advice to the MPD is advisory-only in nature, noted Board Chair Erin Scherzer to the public during the meeting. 


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