Haverhill Mayor to Declare Racism a Public Health Emergency; Councilors Probe into Issues

Haverhill Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro at the podium in 2017 while Capt. Stephen J. Doherty Jr. listens at left. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini will issue a resolution, declaring racism a public health emergency; name a committee on diversity and inclusion; and continue reviewing the police department’s use of force policy.

The early steps came last night from a Mayor-City Council remote conference with Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro, Deputy Chief Anthony Haugh, school Superintendent Margaret Marotta and concerned citizens.

The program, requested by Council President Melinda E. Barrett, and Councilor John A. Michitson, began with a review by Haverhill Police on the department’s “Use of Force” policy. Capt. Stephen J. Doherty Jr. outlined a nationally accepted policy called “Eight Can’t Wait,” which lays out the appropriate use of force in various situations.

“The first item is to ban chokeholds and strangleholds. The second is to require de-escalation. The third is to require a warning before shooting. The fourth is exhaust all other means before shooting. The fifth is the duty to intervene. The sixth is to ban shooting at moving vehicles. The seventh is to require a use of force continuum and the eighth requires comprehensive reporting,” he explained.

The captain went on to say the full Use of Force policy is posted on the Haverhill Police website and the public is encouraged to read it and respond with ideas for improvements.

Overall, the participants in the conference gave high marks to the Haverhill Police Department, suggesting only there could be better racial diversity on the force.

Kenneth Young, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, pointed out racial bias doesn’t stem from police, but is actually an educational problem.

“I’m really concerned about younger folks that are in the city when it comes down to this system. I’ve had younger members tell me that their teachers have told them that they’re going to be going to jail,” he said.

Young added that he has had middle and high school students report incidents of racism coming from teachers and other students.

Marotta asked to follow-up with the pastor to learn more and discuss avenues the schools can take to help eliminate the problem.

All participants agreed that, although this is a large, multi-layered issue, it is one that must be addressed. Councilor Michael S. McGonagle said it is only the beginning of the discussion. “These are all steps in the right direction. They’re not the cure but they are steps in the right direction.”

Councilors, whose major thrust was on collecting data and asking questions, and mayor agreed to have more meetings.

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