MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Four new members were unanimously appointed to the Maplewood Community Board on Police at the Township Committee’s Sept. 1 meeting, joining the seven other members on the board meant to review police activity in town and to work with Maplewood on improving the relationship between the community and the Maplewood Police Department. One of the four new members is the board’s first youth member.
“When I heard about this I was really interested in volunteering, and I’m grateful to be part of it now, because I really want to help build better relations between the youth in our community and our police force,” Piper Davenport, a junior at Columbia High School, said at the meeting. “We could use better policy and communication in general. I feel that’s what a lot of my peers and myself have felt is lacking in the most recent months.”
Stephanie Hoeler, another of the new board members, attended Seton Hall University and stayed in the area after she graduated.
“I care a great deal about this community, it’s where my family has begun and I really agree with the charter as far as trust and transparency being imperative,” she said at the meeting. “I want to be able to trust my neighbors and those policing the community, and ultimately my children and their friends. My experience has been positive, but it’s far from a guarantee.”
Hoeler said her husband has suggested introducing children to an attorney so they know their rights when interacting with police. Hoeler’s own children are 12 and 8 years old.
“Introduce them to the children, make sure they know who they are, and should they have any unwanted conversation, invoke their rights to speak to an attorney,” she said. “It made me sad to think that that was even necessary. Our son has toured headquarters through Boy Scouts and had all positive interactions. But we know what happens with girls and boys at school who get officers called on them more often than others. It wasn’t long after that conversation that I saw the opening and decided to act.”
A Maplewood resident for more than 30 years, Roberto Reyes was a teacher at CHS for seven years. He said at the meeting that he is especially excited to work with Davenport on the board, as well as with other young people in Maplewood.
“I understand how difficult this work will be,” Reyes said at the meeting. “It isn’t just police that are walking the street or riding around, it’s the whole system of justice that has to be addressed institutionally. The trust has to be built, and it’s very difficult. It will take a lot of effort, it will take a lot of people, and I want to be able to join in that effort.”
He pointed out that there are ripple effects when systemic change is rallied for and ultimately made.
“It isn’t just what our police officers in town do, it’s what policing does all over this country,” Reyes said. “Whether it’s in Wisconsin or Michigan or Georgia, we feel it here also. Young people in particular are very sensitive to the mistreatment of who they are as humans. If students are not feeling safe not only in the streets of Maplewood but also in the schools, then I want to be able to help with that.”
The fourth member approved to join the board at the meeting was Thomas Spoerel, who has lived in Maplewood for 14 years. The youngest of his three children is adopted and black, and his brother is a police sergeant on Long Island.
“I have a mixed-race family,” Spoerel said at the meeting. “Like many, I’m compelled to action to see how I can help shape the community we live in and the community abroad. My hope is that my membership on the committee will allow me to listen and learn and bring all those experiences to the benefit of the community at large, the police department and the residents. My hope is that I bring a balanced approach and that I learn from others and people can learn from me.”
Davenport’s term on the board will last one year, Reyes was appointed to a two-year term, and Hoeler and Spoerel will serve three-year terms.
“We’re very pleased and excited to have you all join us on the Community Board on Police,” Mayor Frank McGehee said at the meeting. “There’s a lot of work ahead, good work for our community.”