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Allentown City Council vows to further debate police oversight, funding measures; Zucal says officers are demoralized

Allentown Morning Call logo Allentown Morning Call 8/13/2020 By Andrew Wagaman and Andrew Scott, The Morning Call
a group of people that are standing in the rain holding an umbrella: People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting.

Allentown officials expressed unanimous support Wednesday for further researching and discussing various police reforms while also continuing to clarify their sharp differences in opinion.

Councilman Ed Zucal joined his six colleagues and Ray O’Connell’s administration Wednesday in endorsing an updated resolution that promises more debate down the road over police oversight measures and a rethinking of how to fund public safety.

But the former Allentown cop also doubled down on concerns that his colleagues’ participation in protests the past month have demoralized police officers and could lead to nearly two dozen retirements later this year, jeopardizing public safety.

The protests followed officers’ controversial use of force against an intoxicated resident July 11 outside St. Luke’s Hospital-Sacred Heart, which was caught on video. Granitz and Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin concluded the officers acted reasonably in taking down and restraining resident Edward Borrero Jr.

Zucal also pointed to the resignation Tuesday of Seattle’s police chief as a harbinger of what may come if council and the mayor don’t support Allentown Police Chief Glenn Granitz Jr. more vocally.

a group of people that are standing in the grass: Jon Irons, left and Allison Mickels, both of Bethlehem and with Lehigh Valley Stands Up walk towards shelter from the storm. People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS Jon Irons, left and Allison Mickels, both of Bethlehem and with Lehigh Valley Stands Up walk towards shelter from the storm. People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting.

“Unless you want a city that’s going to be in complete chaos, I think you better start supporting” the police, Zucal said before adding directly to O’Connell, “You’ve made no statements for or against the police department since all this stuff started.”

O’Connell took exception, noting he made public safety his top priority during his past two mayoral bids and that he maintains a daily dialogue with Granitz as well as rank-and-file officers.

“My public statement is my actions,” he said. “I don’t have to [issue] a press release, [hold] a press conference, or [make] a public statement every day. They know I support them.”

O’Connell also pointed out that his administration has fired officers when warranted.

Zucal in late July drafted a resolution censuring Ce-Ce Gerlach and Joshua Siegel for, among other things, actions and remarks critical of the police department’s handling of the Borrero incident. The resolution was ultimately withdrawn, but not before community activists called for the resignation of Zucal plus Daryl Hendricks and Candida Affa, who initially supported the censure.

a group of people that are standing in the grass: People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting.

Siegel on Wednesday maintained his support for exploring the reallocation of some police funding to social service agencies that specifically address mental health, addiction and homelessness issues. Criminalizing certain behavior is “akin to a Whack-A-Mole strategy,” he argued, because incarceration and other punishments don’t resolve the underlying causes for such behavior.

Wednesday’s resolution, he hoped, would move the discussion away from “inappropriate language about chaos and disaster” and instead focus on creating “pure, evidence-based policy.” He took issue with some of the comments submitted by residents and businesses opposing police budget cuts.

Council President Daryl Hendricks vowed to “keep an open mind” as proposed reforms come before council. But he also suggested the many concerns he shares with Zucal should not be dismissed simply because they’re both former police officers. Their six decades of combined experience, he said, offer valuable perspective on some of the proposals’ likely pitfalls.

Siegel and Councilwoman Ce-Ce Gerlach, Granitz said, were right to point out how some people have rushed to judge the “defund the police” movement, mischaracterizing some elements along the way. The police chief asked elected officials to not make the same mistake when evaluating officers and their actions.

a group of people that are standing in the grass: People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting.

Granitz said he would continue to work with “anyone and everyone” on proposed reforms. But he’s skeptical that social workers can, with a bit of additional funding, adequately replace police officers in some of the roles they have been playing. During the pandemic, he said, the county’s social service agencies have not had much of a presence in the community.

a group of people that are standing in the grass: People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting.

“I’m interested to see where these talks and data take us,” he said.

a person wearing a costume: People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting.

During the council meeting, about 50 people gathered outside City Hall for a “Back The Allentown Police” rally against defunding the police.

“These guys wake up every morning and don’t know if they’re going to come home,” Scott Correll of Bethlehem said. “Some cops do things that aren’t OK, and those things need to be addressed. But, in general, I don’t think police officers wakes up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to go beat up or shoot somebody.’”

a couple of people that are standing in the grass: Ashleigh Strange, organizer for Lehigh Valley Stands Up wrings water out of her hat. People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS Ashleigh Strange, organizer for Lehigh Valley Stands Up wrings water out of her hat. People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting.

At the same time, the Allentown People’s Council, a coalition of organizations including Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley and Lehigh Valley Stands Up, held their own rally attended by 40 people on Zoom after rain prompted them to cancel an in-person demonstration at Grand Plaza.

a group of people holding a sign: Protesters gather to chant and pound on the windows. The crowd brought of various issues including police defunding while listening to a live broadcast of the meeting on Wednesday July 15, 2020. \rAllentown city council members met virtually while over 100 people gathered together chanting and speaking out. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS Protesters gather to chant and pound on the windows. The crowd brought of various issues including police defunding while listening to a live broadcast of the meeting on Wednesday July 15, 2020. \rAllentown city council members met virtually while over 100 people gathered together chanting and speaking out.

“We wanted to make sure people had an opportunity to make their voices heard,” rally organizer Ashleigh Strange of Allentown said. “The issue is making sure the police department is not the number one money grab in the city when mental health, housing, education and other needs in our community need funding.”

Allentown’s police budget is $40.3 million. Personnel costs such as salaries ($19 million), pension contributions ($9 million) and overtime pay ($2 million) make up 96% of that budget. The department also receives occasional state and federal grant funding earmarked for specific purposes. Reallocating funding away from the department would almost certainly translate to personnel cuts.

Rather than specifically calling for the divestment of the police department’s budget, the updated resolution strives to tackle the broader issue of “priority budgeting and allocation of resources as they relate to community needs.” Council also promises to meet with “appropriate agencies and stakeholders” throughout the process.

a person standing in a field: Jon Irons, left and Allison Mickels, both of Bethlehem and with Lehigh Valley Stands Up walk towards shelter from the storm. People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS Jon Irons, left and Allison Mickels, both of Bethlehem and with Lehigh Valley Stands Up walk towards shelter from the storm. People gather to hold an Allentown City Council watch party outside Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown on Wednesday. A rain storm caused a cancellation due to safety concerns with lighting.

Watch Wednesday’s council meeting here:

Morning Call reporter Andrew Wagaman can be reached at 610-820-6764 or awagaman@mcall.com.

Morning Call reporter Andrew Scott can be reached at 610-820-6508 or ascott@mcall.com

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