LYNN — More than 150 members of area churches met with Police Chief Kevin Coppinger Monday night and called for an increase in the number of blacks and Latinos on the Lynn force and anti-bias training for officers.
"I think in many municipalities across the Commonwealth this situation exists, that there is a disproportionate representation of whites on police forces," said Alexandra Pineros-Shields, executive director of the Essex County Community Organization, which organized the meeting, at Zion Baptist Church.
In an interview, Coppinger could not provide the number of blacks and Latinos working on the Lynn force, but said his department actively tries to recruit minorities.
"I don't particularly care what color they are, what race they are, I just want the best," he said. "We have tremendous officers of color on the job. I would take any one of them as a supervisor. I can't force them to take a promotional exam."
Coppinger also said that all Lynn officers would take part in a three-hour anti-bias training session this year conducted by the Municipal Police Training Committee, an agency of the state's Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
"We're also going to bring in an additional trainer in December to train our supervisors in preconceived biases and prejudice," he added.
ECCO is a consortium of North Shore churches and temples that is more than 30 years old. It works on issues that affect race and the economy. For the last year, members have met to discuss how to create a better relationship between police and the community.
Pineros-Shields said the members began to meet after an unarmed black teenager was shot by a white police officer and killed in August 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
"We know that the lack of trust between communities of color and the police is dangerous for us and the police," Liz Fortes, 59, a member of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, told the crowd, which included Coppinger and several other Lynn officers. "As in the past, we seek to work together with the Lynn Police Department to develop policies and programs that promote trust and respect for the community and the police."
Fortes alleged that in the past her two sons had been harassed and racially profiled by Lynn police.
"They've been stopped and frisked just for standing on the corner with their friends. There's an assumption that if they see a group of black men standing together they're conspiring to do something wrong," she said.
Coppinger, who addressed the crowd, acknowledged that police departments across the country have been subject to more scrutiny since the Ferguson shooting. He also said that officers are not perfect and pledged to work with the organization.
"I'll stand up right now and say we've got some knuckleheads that have done some bad things," Coppinger said, referring to police shootings in other states over the past two years.