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Tiburon police forum series aim to build community relations

After a tumultuous summer last year following a confrontation between police and the owner of a Black-owned business, Tiburon police Chief Ryan Monaghan is on a mission to mend community relations.

The police department has launched a series of forums to engage community groups to learn how to best serve the town’s residents, while also providing an insight to how the department operates.

The “Living and Growing Together” series was broken into four sessions called “community circles,” each dedicated to provide a forum for specific groups to voice their needs and desires of law enforcement.

A forum is planned at 6 p.m. Sept. 28 for underrepresented groups, including people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and others. A session also is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 30 for all residents of Tiburon.

Monaghan said controversy aside, he would have organized a forum to get to know the community.

“As a new chief coming in, this is a logical first step,” he said. “It’s not only to find out what’s going on internally in the department, but equally as important, it’s to get a pulse of what’s going on in the community.”

Last summer, a video depicting Tiburon police officers in heated exchange with Yema Khalif, the owner of Yema, the town’s only Black-owned business, sparked community outrage.

The argument, in which police questioned Khalif’s after-hours presence at his Main Street clothing shop, resulted in the resignation of supervising Sgt. Michael Blasi. Michael Cronin, who was police chief at the time, said his retirement was long planned and resigned a short time later.

Monaghan is new to the department and to Marin. He was serving as a police lieutenant in San Mateo when he was named police chief of Tiburon in March.

He said, from his perspective, the Yema incident had a profound impact on the store owners, the community and the police officers that serve the town.

“My viewpoint is, if we leave any community member, and we walk away from that situation, and they’re not feeling good about it, or they’re not feeling that we treated them fairly, then, we could have done better,” Monaghan said.

“Now, what needs to happen, is what I like to call a recalibration, like a car,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that the car is broken down or it’s bad. It needs a tune up. This is about asking ourselves, ‘hey, how do we recalibrate as a police department.”

The sessions are moderated by members of the Transformative Justice Institute, including founder Rochelle Edwards and Lorenzo Jones, a diversity, inclusion and equity coach.

The San Rafael nonprofit started its work last year with Tiburon police officers, training them on racial sensitivity and racial bias as Undersheriff Jamie Scardina served as interim chief following Cronin’s retirement.

“What we’re doing is a continuation of that,” Jones said. “This opportunity is to support, to better educate each other on instances that might appear again. Now they’ll have the tools and resources to help them respond.

“Our role has been to co-create with Chief Ryan this process for the community to express their needs, but also to facilitate the circles to create greater community engagement and a higher level of communication,” Edwards said.

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