Spurred through ongoing talks with the department’s community advisory committee, Johnstown police Chief Robert Johnson said efforts are underway to put city officers through deescalation training.
And a separate move is in the works to partner with the NAACP to set up a scholarship program to cover the costs to enroll minorities in the police academy – as part of a continued effort to add more diversity within Johnstown’s ranks, he said.
Even as the Police Advisory Board formally presented the city department a list of items communities are pushing for across the nation, both Johnson and committee President Jeffrey Wilson said many have already been in the works locally for months.
“The good news is that a lot of these points we’ve been working on all along ... whether it’s training for officers, deescalation of force and talking about no use of chokeholds,” said Wilson, a local church deacon. “Of course there’s challenges. But we’re working on them.”
Johnson said the group discussed all of those points Monday during a meeting in the Public Safety Building.
Several efforts to improve the department were moving forward “until COVID-19 basically shut everything down,” he said, noting the hope now is to get those efforts moving again.
Johnson, who joined the department as police chief in 2017, said discussions are underway with Cambria County officials about developing a “Crisis Intervention and Deescalation Training” program that can be easily implemented region-wide.
A citizens police academy is also being considered to improve communication and understanding between law enforcement officials and the public, Johnson said.
“One thing won’t fix everything,” Johnson said. “But we’re working to make improvements ... and looking for continued success as we move forward.”
Wilson said the advisory committee plans to have conversations with local, state and federal leaders to see laws changed.
He cited an anti-lynching bill as one example. He also called for a “bad cop” database that would prevent police who get fired with cause in one department from finding work somewhere else.
“We’re looking at the whole spectrum,” Wilson said.
The Johnstown Police Advisory Board was formed in the early 2000s.
Its meetings include representatives from Greater Johnstown School District, police in the city and surrounding townships, the Johnstown unit of the NAACP and Johnstown Housing Authority.