The Martha’s Vineyard Neighborhood Convention was founded on November 13, 1894 as a “neighborhood meeting” in response to interdenominational hostilities between the island’s churches. This Island tradition of peacemaking continues 126 years later, with a mission to foster care, connection and collaboration among Islanders. The convention meets at a different location on the first Tuesday of each month between October and June. Host ministers offer a short service and program of interest, followed by drinks and dessert. Participants are encouraged to bring friends and a lunch bag.
The November 1 meeting was hosted by the Edgartown Federated Church. Reverend Sharon Eckhardt led the worship service. “On Duty on the Vineyard” was hosted by Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee.
McNamee said how proud he is of the officers and the Island community. He noted how troubled he is about the lack of housing. “Across the island, we lost six officers. We lost an officer and the schools lost a special education teacher. We have to understand this.
He said: ‘The funding attitude of the police has had an effect on our morale. We are losing officers and struggling to attract new recruits. Normally there would be a lot of applicants, but so far I have only received one. And summer traffic positions are hard to fill everywhere. Cities lend officers as needed. During July 4 of that year, he got helpers from other cities, but there were 10 fewer officers than in previous years.
McNamee heads the Martha’s Vineyard Police Chiefs Association. Cities have different policing styles, and the neighborhood convention has been a way for departments to coordinate. After the murder of George Floyd, around 70 officers on the island underwent implicit bias training, paid for by donations to the convention.
A member of the public said he had been trained as an active shooter and wondered if we should do more. McNamee replied, “You are right to be concerned. Targets #1 are workplaces and #2 are places of worship. Parishioners mentioned their appreciation of seeing the cruisers pass by during services.
The leader said rising intolerance and increasing white supremacist protests off the island are a call for heightened vigilance. He was proud of how the island responded to Venezuelan migrants and advises a department from Kingston to Plymouth on what has worked.
What makes up most emergency calls? Apart from false alarms and calls that hang up, most relate to alcohol and domestic situations. McNamee said there is a lot of alcohol abuse on the island and he wonders if exposure to partying vacationers is contributing to the high rate of alcohol abuse among our young people.
In response to a question about whether we should continue to have a jail on the island, McNamee made it clear that he doesn’t want the police departments dealing with jails and stations becoming jails. . He said we needed the sheriff’s department. The prison offers lockers and a safe place where some can sober up.
Another question was if we lose officers, will that impact policing in schools?
He replied, “You can’t train compassion, and I’ve never seen anything like what we have in our school resource officers.”
Chief McNamee concluded with a story of an experience years ago when he was an off-island resident on vacation, visiting his mother-in-law’s house in Oak Bluffs. It was an open house, a ferry reservation and three greyhounds. When his mother-in-law said she was going to call the Oak Bluffs police, he said, “I was skeptical, but the cops came and they really looked. They brought the dogs home, and yes, we made our boat. Quarries are made of hills and valleys, and without a doubt, working with this community is the pinnacle.
The next Neighborhood Convention meeting will be on December 6 and will be hosted by the United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard and the Reverend Hyuk Seonwoo at Trinity Park in Oak Bluffs. It will include a performance by the Minnesingers and their manager, Abigail Chandler.