Lewiston Police Detective Tom Murphy, center, at a recent scene in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — The Lewiston police union is pressuring the city to speed up a proposed timeline for issuing body cameras to all personnel, and says it no longer supports the recently established equity and diversity committee.

In a lengthy statement Wednesday, union President Detective Tom Murphy said the council-imposed timeline of Dec. 31 for establishing a plan for obtaining body cameras “does not demonstrate a serious effort on their part to supply our officers with the necessary equipment required to protect both themselves and the public.”

The union is requesting that all officers be outfitted with body cameras by June 1, 2021, or sooner, meaning the council would likely have to take action on a purchase before the end of the year.

A rift between city officials and the police patrol union began after a City Council resolution that condemned racial profiling and excessive force nationwide and in Lewiston, which prompted some pushback from the union that included a request for body cameras.

While both sides support cameras to ensure accountability, Wednesday’s reaction from the union shows stark differences in how they envision the process unfolding, including specific concerns over a related ad hoc committee.

The union said Wednesday that it will no longer support Mayor Mark Cayer’s ad hoc committee on equity and diversity due to disagreements over its membership. A short time later, Cayer said he was disappointed by the statement, and asked the union to “consider the message” it sends to those volunteering to serve on it.

Cayer announced his appointments to the committee in early July. Its membership includes Ayesha Hall, social emotional learning and equity resource coordinator at Lewiston Public Schools, who will co-chair the committee; Councilor Safiya Khalid, who introduced the initial council resolution, and Elgin Physic, a Maine State Police trooper who was also recently appointed to the School Committee.

In the statement Wednesday, Murphy said the union was told that it would be allowed a seat on the committee, but was ultimately not given one.

“The union has serious concerns regarding the fairness and purpose of this committee,” he said, adding that the union was “saddened to see that one of the City Council members chosen to be on the committee has made repeated verbal attacks against this police department.”

“The union would like to see a committee which truly represents the honest and equitable majority of our city,” Murphy said.

Cayer issued his own statement later Wednesday.

“I encourage our union members to consider the message this sends to our community and the community members who are volunteering on the mayoral ad hoc committee on equity and diversity,” he said. “I’m proud of the members of the committee and I’m encouraged with the direction the committee is taking to conduct reviews of policies, training and hiring. These reviews include a broad citywide review.”

He said that while the nationwide protests have become a politically charged issue, “the mayoral committee, however, will not be distracted by protest agitators or police unions. I took great care to invite members in our community who specialize in equity and diversity and prior and current law enforcement officers. The committee will continue its work and will not be distracted by the noise around us.”

Regarding police body cameras, Cayer said the initial cost estimate is $200,000, plus one-time capital costs and additional licensing and maintenance costs ongoing. He said he agrees with the union that “a public process through the budget process is what our community expects of its elected officials.”

“Since the first protest that was held in Lewiston in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer, the mayor’s office, city councilors and our community has been quick to note that although incidents around the country have been shocking, we are fortunate here in Maine, and more specifically Lewiston, to have a department full of officers in the profession for all the right reasons,” Cayer said. “I have said this many times and will state again that the Lewiston Police Department is second to none.”

Murphy’s statement also said the city and its police should be focusing on issues like the opioid crisis and other “serious issues that deserve attention.”

“Instead, this attention is being focused within the department, rather than working together to make the city itself a safer and more welcoming place,” he said.

The original council resolution, approved in June on the heels of nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, commits the city to conduct anti-bias and de-escalation training for police personnel, expand efforts to recruit and hire individuals from minority communities, and through an ad hoc committee, review the process by which citizen complaints against police officers are investigated.

In response, the union requested that the council fund body cameras; institute mandatory paid monthly use-of-force training for all patrol officers and detectives; and require all city councilors to attend a Citizen Police Academy course, “Shoot/Don’t Shoot” training, and at least five patrol ride-alongs within one year of taking office.

Following the back-and-forth, Cayer and council President Michel Lajoie sat down with union officials.

Murphy said the union took issue with the council resolution’s language regarding racial profiling in Lewiston, which he insisted is not an issue in the city.

However, prior to the council’s vote on the resolution, a number of people identifying themselves as Black residents said they’ve witnessed racial profiling by police in Lewiston. At least one of those people, Tonya Bailey-Curry, is slated to serve on Cayer’s diversity committee.

The patrol union represents 65 patrol officers, detectives and corporals of the Lewiston Police Department.

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