The county NAACP will resume its discussions with 39 Bucks police chiefs next Wednesday amid ongoing concerns about racial profiling and lack of diversity in departments.
Organization President Karen Downer said the initial talks, which began last year, centered on policies and procedures, how complaints are handled, training initiatives, and also the racial makeup of departments and their hiring practices. “We asked questions about use of force; we asked them to provide the documentation, and most of the police departments didn’t have an issue with that at all.”
Other departments such as Central Bucks Regional, Doylestown, Pennridge Regional, Plumstead, Springfield and Warminster were less willing, instructing the NAACP to file right-to-know requests.
Springfield Police Chief Michael McDonald explained it was the largest request for information he had ever received, and said it would take some time for him to go through the paperwork given that the department lacks support staff.
Downer stressed the data on traffic stops and arrests would be used for informational purposes, not as the basis for lawsuits. “We’re not looking to point fingers at people.” But she maintained the county continues to have a problem when it comes to equal treatment.
“This stuff is still going on in Bucks County. We’re not free of these things going on. We can keep saying all that we want. Oh, this is Bucks County. That sort of thing isn’t going to happen here, but most of these incidents have happened in small towns.”
She said one such reported incident involved a pastor of a church who was passing through Riegelsville. “He was with his family coming home from Nockamixon State Park. They were having fun in the car coming home after a really great day. And police stopped them and drew guns on them. And this was just a family, on their way home.”
“You get that feeling that there was a pretense as to a reason for stopping them,” she continued. “And you couldn’t come up with anything other than this was a Black man with his family. The police then just drive off, and they’re just sitting there, a 7-year-old child crying, totally upset, scared to death.”
Still, Downer noted bright spots. In 2019, Bensalem hired five minority officers, whom the NAACP regularly follows up with. She added that Falls Township recently began working with family services to refer some individuals they encounter to mental health providers.
Downer said she sensed the majority of the police chiefs recognize the need to look at new ways of policing. “We can’t keep doing the same things over and over again and just getting by and saying we’re lucky that nothing happened.”