On Thursday, March 2nd, the Needham Resilience Network met in Powers Hall at the Needham Town Hall. The NRN continues to focus on ‘The State of Needham’ while preparing to engage member sub-networks in preparation for our upcoming Rapid Response work.  


Members formed a circle and began a clapping activity aimed at reading each other’s cues and striving to be in sync with one another. First clockwise and slowly, then counterclockwise and more quickly, one person would pivot towards the person next to them and the two would attempt to match their claps. Then, the second person would turn to the person next to them, and so on. A more complicated version ensued, bringing laughter with it, when the “clap sync” was started simultaneously in both directions.   


In a small group discussion, members first thought about which pieces of the NRN mission resonate most for their sub-networks and then considered their roles as liaisons. 

As a network of networks, the NRN aims to:

  • support wellbeing and belonging for the whole community 

  • amplify shared community values and goals

  • build relationships, communications platforms, and skillsets for collaborating and communicating across difference

  • establish a rapid response protocol (and prevention frameworks) for hate incidents

Members noted how meaningful it has been for them to make connections with diverse individuals around town, and expressed excitement for the NRN’s upcoming work on rapid response which is currently scheduled for this summer. 

In preparation for that work, which will entail co-creating and then voting on a communications and event protocol, members began to consider what structures/processes they have in place or may wish to begin forming for sharing information with and receiving feedback from their networks.

Some of the themes that emerged in a large-group shareback included ways that members can prepare for their outreach with their subnetworks:

  • Reminders of the many platforms one might have available (structured meetings, informal WhatsApp groups, various FB groups, different email chains, etc).

  • Consideration of the individuals that might be missing from their existing lists that could be included.

  • Planting seeds about the upcoming rapid response work so that our subnetworks are prepared to provide feedback when the time comes.

The groups also suggested ways that the NRN administration can help:

  • Given the general barriers related to engaging people right now in this exhausted, divided, post-Covid moment, the NRN can make efforts to build trust in the next several months by moving more into the public sphere.

  • Create a calendar so people are aware of what feedback is being requested and when. This calendar can be shared with the subnetworks at the outset of the rapid response work.


By way of introduction to the presentation, the NRN team shared a recent news headline: 

According to a financial advice firm that ranked 600 small cities and large towns throughout the US using 2021 FBI crime data, Needham is the 9th safest community in the US.   

Needham’s Chief of Police, John Schittler, then presented data from the Needham Police Department’s 2022 Year End Review (slides available here). He began with its mission:  

The Needham Police Department is committed to excellence
in everything we do. We pledge to maintain a close working
relationship with the community to protect life and property
and maintain a safe and peaceful environment for all. We
will perform our sworn duties ethically, maintaining respect
for individual rights, human dignity, cultural diversity, and
community values.

The NPD contains 4 sectors, each directed by the Deputy Chief and three lieutenants respectively, holding extensive portfolios: 

  • Community Service/Professional Development

  • Investigative Standards/Professional Services

  • Traffic and Community Safety

  • Patrol Operations and Emergency Management 

Additional key staffing positions include:

  • The Uniformed Patrol Division

  • The Community Service Officers (CSO), navigating 62 school crossings a day and liaising with school principals, the Council on Aging, the Commission on Disabilities and the Norfolk County Sheriff’s department

  • School Resource Officers, who offer mentoring to students, help with driver’s education, bring students to school, offer transportation to eye exams, bring hospitalized students work and supplies, hold a junior police academy, and more

Chief Schlittler reviewed a range of crime statistics, highlighting those that had increased or decreased since 2021 and reporting which segments of the population were involved in various crimes (e.g., non-residents, breakdown by gender and race, etc.). We encourage readers to review the NPD section of the PowerPoint here for details on the crime data. 

One topic of note: Over the past years, the NPD has needed to focus increasingly on supporting mental health, and over the past year, the NPD has benefitted from a part-time (soon to be full time) clinician. In fact, the NPD took 164 calls related to mental health in the last year alone.

This kind of work involves a tremendous amount of thought and sensitivity, and requires training. Often, in the case of mental health calls, deep relationships are formed between the resident requiring help and the police responder, with residents often personally requesting and receiving follow-up from those who initially supported them. NPD officers also receive their own support in managing the great stress and trauma inherent in this role. 

For those interested in reading the full 2022 report, it will be available on the NPD website soon. 

Breaking into small groups of four, NRN members were asked to reflect on: 1) What was striking or surprising from the data review; 2) What experiences or perspectives exist in their subnetworks with regards to public safety; and 3) Ways that the NRN could support public safety for all in Needham. Members reported the following themes:

  • The great value in having officers trained in and attending to mental health amidst their daily operations. Is there a way to extend/expand on this effort by bringing officers and residents together to build trust around specific mental health-related issues such as sharing background data on local autistic children, connecting children in the LGBTQ+ community with officers, etc.? 

  • Huge appreciation for the Community Service Officer roles! 

  • Feeling enormously impressed that no firearm has been discharged in 27 years. 

  • Striking and significant to understand how difficult the police officers’ work schedule is (only 1 full weekend off every six weeks). This provided an angle into the officers as human beings, which helps to build common ground.

  • Wisdom in having a clinician on staff to co-respond with the officers, especially since Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital - Needham and other emergency rooms can be flooded and overwhelmed with emergencies. This allows for people to be screened at home.

  • Comfort in knowing that the police department receives mental health support for themselves with such stressful roles.

  • Sadness in hearing about such high suicide rates amongst police officers (nationally).

The groups also identified a few ways the NRN could potentially support the police: 

  • Providing food or other supplies.  

  • Amplifying stories about the human side of policing (some subnetworks in particular would benefit from and appreciate this), and highlighting the large number of mental health and overdose cases the police are responding to.

  • Asking what can be done upstream to make people feel supported enough that they don’t need to be unkind to one another. Can the NRN play a role in helping to change that?


Many of the closing pulse comments focused on gratitude for the depth and range of community service and mental health engagement that is included in the NPD’s public safety work. 

Comments included: 

  • Thank you for keeping us safe, and for the police officers’ presence at local vigils. I always appreciate when the police are there because it makes the vigil-goers feel safe.

  • Appreciation for the officers’ interactions with residents at events and in schools, because these interactions help people to see the human face of the person doing the service. Creates an open dialogue. These interactions help to create an atmosphere of breaking down barriers together, rather than the “us vs. them” narratives that can form against the police without such interactions.

  • Appreciation for the effort to change the tenor/orientation of officers within local schools. Helps to build trust. We need to study what education looks like and cultivate interactions with officers that build trust.

  • Big appreciation for the efforts the NPD has taken to build a connection with the community. For example, disability is a sensitive topic because people sometimes call the police on disabled children. The more officers understand the disabilities that might attend these situations (and know the local disability community), the better outcomes we’ll have in these situations. 

  • Recognition that the NPD has had a tough few years, and police everywhere have taken a hit to morale. We can boost morale with support – when we see a cruiser, we can wave. When we see officers at events, we can thank them for their service.

  • Struck by how our national issues with police simply do not reflect what is happening here in Needham, and yet the negativity that is directed at the police generally can lead to burnout, even here. 

  • Holding Needham’s police and firefighters in high regard. One’s overall feeling is of being very supported here.

  • Proud of Needham’s statistics. The NPD data reflect the leadership and hard work of the officers.

  • Grateful for Rocket (community service dog) and his visits to the Needham Schools before the holiday break. It was such a treat for the school kids. In fact, Rocket’s presence is a constant source of calming and security for so many in NPS.

NEXT UP                                                

The “State of Needham” reports will conclude over the next few months with the following data presentations and discussion: 

  • April: Needham Public Schools

  • May: NRN Belonging & Social Cohesion Survey + Omnibus Discussion of “State of Needham” Takeaways and Priorities for 2023-24


  • Read We Need To Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy by Evoo Patel. This is an exploration of social change that cultivates in people the importance of both individual parts and the connections between them, thus enhancing the health of the whole. Patel paints the picture of a pluralist society where people have conversations and can disagree on some fundamental things, while working together on others. 

  • Watch Joe Bubman, Executive Director of Urban Rural Action. This short video describes the work of Urban Rural Action and highlights the experience of folks in Maryland coming together from different ideological perspectives to tackle issues of immigration, economic development, and inclusion with practical local solutions for their state.
  • Watch Faith and Polarization. Vice President for Programs at One America Movement, Chandra DeNap Whetstine gave an inspiring talk at Stand Together’s Catalyst Summit describing their approach to combating toxic polarization, working with faith communities across the U.S.

The NRN Co-Directors