Amherst police chief finalists stress anti-racism cred, discuss other issues in separate meetings with public

STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst Temporary Police Chief Gabriel Ting talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

Amherst Temporary Police Chief Gabriel Ting talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst Temporary Police Chief Gabriel Ting, left, talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

Amherst Temporary Police Chief Gabriel Ting, left, talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE—

Chelmsford Police Department Lieutenant Todd Ahern talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

Chelmsford Police Department Lieutenant Todd Ahern talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Chelmsford Police Department Lieutenant Todd Ahern talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

Chelmsford Police Department Lieutenant Todd Ahern talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Chelmsford Police Department Lieutenant Todd Ahern talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

Chelmsford Police Department Lieutenant Todd Ahern talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Chelmsford Police Department Lieutenant Todd Ahern talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

Chelmsford Police Department Lieutenant Todd Ahern talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst Temporary Police Chief Gabriel Ting talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

Amherst Temporary Police Chief Gabriel Ting talks with community members during a meet and greet for the two finalists for Amherst Police Chief on Tuesday evening the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-11-2024 6:22 PM

AMHERST — Both Chelmsford Police Lt. Todd Ahern and Amherst interim Police Chief Gabriel Ting are citing their lived experiences, as well as their significant service to public safety, as reasons they should become the next police chief of the Amherst Police Department.

In separate hourlong meet-and-greets with the public on April 2 at the Bangs Community Center, where they fielded a number of questions, the candidates each pointed to their lives outside of law enforcement.

For Ting, growing up in Amherst as the son of Chinese immigrants, it was fortunate that his family came to a place with diversity, but also where he could be assimilated, he said.

“I lucked out that this community was so diverse,” Ting said. “This town certainly welcomed me in and my family in.”

While Ahern said he understands he is privileged, as a white man who speaks English, born and raised in Chelmford, he is married to an African American and they have two children who are biracial. He appreciates that the three people he cares about most in the world have dealt with obstacles from racism that he doesn’t have to.

“I know how it affects them,” Ahern said. “It’s also personal for me.”

Ahern aspires to set up a police culture where racism won’t just be condemned, but will be stopped. He said there can be fair and impartial police training where officers understand implicit bias and recognize when people feel racialized harm.

The finalists were brought forward by a search committee chaired by attorney Everald Henry, who moderated the event. Town Manager Paul Bockelman will decide whether to select one of the finalists as the next chief.

Todd Ahearn

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As the head of Chelmsford’s Community Wellness and Outreach for the past 10 years, Ahern has also created a social response policy to deal with people experiencing homelessness and mental health issues.

“There’s a lot expected of police now. It’s not easy, it’s very complex,” Ahern said, adding that he sees the service aspects of policing as being similar to running a business.

Ahern started as a patrol officer in Chelmsford in 1994, became a detective in 2000, was promoted to sergeant in 2004, and then became a lieutenant in 2015. He holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice and a master of arts degree in criminal justice from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. In 2021, Ahern earned a Public Leadership Credential from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In addition, Ahern has coached youth wrestling, lacrosse, and soccer programs in Chelmsford.

Ahern said he aims to make the police accessible to all residents. “If I were to be selected, one of my first order of business would be to engage on a street level,” Ahern said.

Gabriel Ting

Ting was hired in 1997 by then-Police Chief Donald Maia, describing his career as wanting to be known as an asset to the department, someone who could be counted on. His perspective has changed as he rose through the ranks.

“You need to be able to listen to the community and what it needs,” Ting said.

Like Ahern, he has a vision of customer service in policing. “Sometimes I think that gets lost in the process,” Ting said.

Ting started as a patrol officer in Amherst in 1997, became a detective in 2004, was promoted to sergeant in 2010 and then became a lieutenant in 2016, followed by his promotion to captain of operations in 2019. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in sociology with a concentration in criminal justice from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a master of science degree in criminal justice administration from Western New England University.

Ting also is a certified instructor under the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Council and has taught at various police academies. In addition, Ting has coached youth lacrosse and hockey in Western Massachusetts. He also serves as a director for the Ancestral Bridges Foundation.

Ting said he would have an open-door policy, welcoming all segments of the community to speak with him. But he understands there can be discomfort among some residents, such as Black, Indigenous and people of color.

He would expand outreach programs such as to those living at apartment complexes, and he has a goal to bring back the citizen police academy so residents can see policing firsthand. “We have to make a concerted effort to reach out to the community,” Ting said. “It starts with conversations, it starts with building relationships.”

“We want to become problem solvers, not problem creators,” Ting said.

Ting emphasized the importance of helping youth, doing more to support the BIPOC kids in Amherst, in reflecting on his own life. “Youth of our community are an investment,” Ting said.

One of strategies during this year’s Blarney Blowout was implementing a partnership with UMass sororities and fraternities, who helped clean up of trash and debris so that the event was confined to a few hours, rather than lingering.

Candidates’ goals

Both finalists said the town’s Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service department is important, with Ahern calling it “definitely a worthy thing and there’s a place for it,” and that he would collaborate to make sure it’s a success. “I embrace it and think it’s a good idea,” Ahern said.

“It’s a work in progress, but I guarantee you it will come to fruition,” Ting said, responding to a question about whether CRESS teams would eventually be able to handle noise complaints.

Anti-racism would be at the forefront of Ting’s policies. “There is no way we would tolerate racism in the Police Department, because if it’s tolerated there (in the building), it’s tolerated out on the street,” Ting said.

Some of the questions centered on the July 5, 2022 incident in which responding Amherst officers told youths outside an apartment complex late at night they had no rights, eventually leading to Bockelman issuing an apology for errors made during and after the response.

Ting said he wasn’t police chief at the time and has an understanding of what happened, but not all details.

“We are not perfect — we have work to do,” said Ting, explaining that he wants to hear from the public to mitigate these kinds of situations in the future. “I want to see us succeed together. I take that as a learning experience, and I learned a tremendous amount,” Ting said.

Ahern, too, that problems may crop up from time to time. “Nobody’s perfect, but we have deal with each other with respect,” Ahern said.

Ahern said he would be moving from a civil service department to one that isn’t, allowing more leeway in hiring. “Diverse candidates, I would pursue that,” Ahern said. “I will leave no stone unturned to get the right people here.”

During Ting’s presentation, he received support from the Amherst Police Supervisors Union, which issued a statement calling Ting’s interim leadership progressive and collaborative.

“My lifelong goal is to retire from the Amherst Police Department,” Ting said.

Ahern said both use-of-force training and implicit bias training would be ongoing, but “it’s never enough” even though police have a responsibility to get it right.

“Building trust and legitimacy in policing is the No. 1 thing you have to do,” Ahern said.