Air guns, police training, overdoses...

4/15/20223 min read

There is so much happening at the Public Safety & Transportation meetings, it needs an update. Very soon, Council will work on the budget and I will want to write an update focused entirely on that.

Tomorrow: two street designs

At our April 6 meeting, the committee considers options for the Commonwealth Avenue Carriageway from east of Ash Street to the Marriott and for Grove Street just west of 128. Both of these are state-funded, and safety for those outside of cars is my main concern.

Air gun regulation

After hearing about a backyard air/pellet gun practice area in a West Newton neighborhood, PS&T and the full Council speedily approved an ordinance to ban discharge of such weapons (and BB guns). We learned that they can fire not just plastic pellets and ball bearings, but also hollow lead bullets, sometimes in quick succession (ie automatic). Thanks to Councilor Andrea Kelley, the Law Department and the Police Department for quickly drafting a feasible ban.

Training for public safety

We also had a long discussion on March 23 with Newton Fire Chief Gino Lucchetti and Chief Greg Gentile as well as Police Chief John Carmichael about training. Council became concerned after settlements with two fire department employees who alleged harassment and discrimination. Human Resources’ Director Michelle Pizzi O’Brien and Chief Gentile described an inclusive and ramped-up series of trainings (exceeding state standards) that they have recently implemented in the fire department. Most (94%+) of the department is now trained. They have heard positive feedback from our firefighters and leadership on the programs, and I look forward to hearing more about improved workplace climate.

The NPD hired a consultant to work closely with the department on implicit bias, respect, diversity and other workplace and customer-facing issues, starting late last month. In the meantime, they were actively training the force as required by state and Newton police reform laws and policies. Community policing is a big focus of Chief Carmichael, which I welcome.

Police data: Overdoses/mental health calls up

Our quarterly review of police statistics showed steadily high numbers of mental health calls and overdoses in Newton. Already, the city had two residents overdose—one sadly fatally--as well as 7 non-residents (for comparison, last year Newton had four overdose fatalities and 10 calls total). Chief Carmichael, the NPD and a team of professionals, including an NPD social worker and the Health and Human Services Department, as well as non-profit mental health organizations, have developed creative and focused mental health crisis responses and preventive measures, including mental health first aid--in which 100% of the department is now trained. The department is also applying for funds to work with teens on various kinds of prevention—from drug use to domestic abuse.

FYI--the state’s “good Samaritan law” shields those who report overdoses (including from alcohol) from arrest or prosecution. So if someone calls in an emergency, they should stay on the line so the dispatcher can get timely help to anyone in danger.

While so far there have been no hate crimes reported in Newton, police have recorded 30 bias-related incidents in this first quarter of 2022. Last year, there were a total of 58.

Public Safety will continue to review police statistics quarterly, including looking at year-over-year data and traffic safety. The full report on this meeting is here:

Short Items:

  • School transportation: I recently sent my colleagues a summary of the past two year’s work of the School Transportation Working Group, on which I sit with Councilor Bowman and School Committee Chair Tamika Olszewski and member Paul Levy.

  • Green Line: According to the MBTA, weekend maintenance work on the D-line is finished. However, if your travel plans go past Government Center station, you will need to switch to the Orange Line until it’s clear that the Government Center Garage collapse won’t affect safety.

  • Why is new housing so expensive? This article uses Portland, OR examples of all the hard and soft costs of apartment construction—and why zoning is only one piece (the least painful piece) of the puzzle. While the actual policies and numbers differ somewhat, you’ll get the basic idea.

  • Housing near transit may be the best single thing municipalities can do to combat climate change. Hear the podcast.

Hope to see you soon!!