Worcester Board of Health meets with city’s police department to address racism, police bias


Worcester’s Board of Health met with the Worcester Police Department leadership over Zoom on Monday to discuss a dozen recommendations put forward by health officials pertaining to racism, police bias and discrimination.

“I believe we should stand united against racism,” Worcester Police Chief Steven Sargent said during the meeting, adding that he has not “personally witnessed acts of racism by Worcester police officers.”

Sargent stood behind his department amid questions from health officials over potential police misconduct during a June 1 protest in which 19 people were arrested, including four Clark University students. A law firm hired by the college found that the four students did not act “violently or destructively,” and that actions taken by the Worcester Police Department did not meet the “standard” that should be afforded to the public.

The Worcester protest came in the wake of the officer-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Health officials also questioned the department’s diversity. Responding to questions, Sargent said that nearly a quarter of the Worcester police force qualifies as minority status under state civil service law. He said the department has one non-white police lieutenant and one non-white police captain.

“Our command staff does not tolerate any racism or racist views if they are brought to our attention,” Sargent added.

The recommendations discussed on Monday include:

  • Acknowledge that racist/bigoted viewpoints and structural racism are pervasive in society and in all institutions, even among police departments.
  • Adopt Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) and establish a statewide POST system to certify police officers and enable decertification of misconduct and abuse.
  • Commit to urgently develop a comprehensive plan to identify (i.e. through previous actions, social media, background check etc.) those police officers that may possess racist/bigoted viewpoints.
  • Once officers who may possess racist/bigoted views are identified, commit to educate and retrain them and if necessary dismiss officers who posses those views.
  • Be immediately and continuously transparent and fair in the investigation of police officers who have been accused of police misconduct/brutality.
  • Commit to working with newly established community police misconduct review board.
  • Every police officer should be required to attend anti-racist/anti-bigoted workshops at least twice a year while also reading/viewing information that is geared toward improving and understanding communities.
  • Commit to developing healthy and non-violent relationships with all members of the Black community and other members of communities that have a history of suffering police brutality and misconduct.
  • Adopt clear and statutory limits on police use of force, including chokeholds and other tactics known to have deadly consequences. Require independent investigation of officer-related deaths. Require data collection and reporting on race regarding all arrests and police use of force by every department.
  • Adopt Civil Service Exam review, establish guidelines and review for diversity plans and create a peace officer exam advisory board.
  • Commit to providing training on and implementation of internal and external deescalation resources.
  • Establish a consistent periodic schedule to update the members of the Board of Health and the Worcester community on the progress of the efforts of the recommendations.

Board of Health member David Fort, who developed the recommendations, said officials invited the police department to meet in early June. He criticized police leaders for not responding to the invitation in a timely manner.

“I called for an emergency meeting back in June,” he said. “I don’t understand why it took 60 days for you to show up.”

Sargent described the board’s invitation to meet as more of an “ambush.”

“We want to listen, we always do, and once again, I think it could have done better, and I would have appreciated more of a heads-up,” Sargent said.

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