By Andrea Cordle
Grove City Editor
Grove City Division of Police Chief Richard Butsko held a virtual town hall meeting on Aug. 23 to give citizens access to the chief of police and to address misunderstandings of law enforcement operations. He spoke about law enforcement locally, as well as nationally.
Citizens were encouraged to email questions prior to the town hall but were permitted to ask questions as the meeting was happening.
Most of the discussion revolved around race relations.
On May 25, George Floyd, a black man, was killed during an arrest by a Minneapolis police officer. After his death, there were protests nationwide, even a few in Grove City. Some municipalities have considered changing police tactics; some have considered defunding police departments. Butsko said the narrative of “us versus them” is not the proper discussion.
“We are in this together,” he said.
Although Butsko said there are areas for improvement in policing, he disagrees with the notion of scrapping police procedure and starting over.
The chief spoke about the dangers of labeling people in general, but also labeling all police officers as racist. He said there are approximately 800,000 police officers in the United States and about 18,000 police departments. They operate differently.
“Labels can be a gross misuse of stereotyping” said Butsko. “Labels cheapen the conversation.”
According to Butsko, after the death of George Floyd, administrators reviewed policing operations in Grove City.
“We didn’t change a lot,” said Butsko. “We were against that type of policing before that happened. We believe in the ideals of professional and fair policing.”
According to the 2019 annual police report, there are 64 police officers in the Grove City Division of Police. More than 91 percent are white officers, while 3 percent are African American and about 2 percent are Hispanic. There are six female officers.
Butsko said each officer receives annual training on implicit bias and the division has a firm anti-racist, anti-biased policy.
“I do not believe Grove City officers behave in racist ways,” said Butsko. “We do not look at the appearance of anyone when arresting an individual. We look at their conduct, at the behavior.”
According to the police report, 1,800 white men were arrested in 2019 and 1,072 white women, while 414 black men were arrested in the same year and 217 black women. Butsko said most of those arrested were not Grove City residents.
One resident asked about the experience of officers when on a traffic stop.
The chief of police said officers usually do not know who is in the car when they approach. They do not know the race or gender of the driver or even how many people are in the vehicle.
“Grove City officers are not targeting people based on demographics,” said Butsko. “Does that happen and are there racist officers – yes, but not in Grove City.”
Butsko was asked if he supports Black Lives Matter.
“Do I stand with the organization of Black Lives Matter? No,” said Butsko. “They are anti-police and use ‘kill the police’ rhetoric.
“Am I against racist police tactics – yes. It is a disgrace to the badge and tarnishes the good work of hundreds of thousands of officers across the country.”
Butsko said he and his officers believe in the sanctity of life.
“We believe lives matter. That is an understatement. We put our lives on the line for others.”
The Messenger reached out to Black Lives Matter for comment, but representatives did not return correspondence by press time.
Race relations was not the only topic discussed at the town hall. The chief also addressed questions about the police budget and body cameras.
According to Butsko, the Grove City Division of Police does not use body cameras, but it does have cruiser cameras. He said the department does have body camera funding in the budget for 2021.
The chief was asked how the novel coronavirus pandemic has affected the police budget. According to Butsko, the division of police is well funded, but the full impact of COVID-19 is yet to be realized.
“There is no loss of services that we are concerned about now,” he said.
According to the 2019 report, the division of police is responsible for the police and communications budget. Last year, the police budget was approximately $10.5 million while the communication budget was $1.7 million, for a combined safety budget of $12.2 million.