Needham’s Risks and Assets

On Thursday, October 5th, the NRN met at the Needham Town Hall. This meeting focused on some of the risk factors associated with hate incidents in Needham and sought to provide the Network with information about the community’s existing protocols and assets. As always, a synopsis of the meeting is provided below, with anonymized participant reflections.


Members broke into three groups and created a sculpture or movement that reflected their vision of the process or outcome of effective rapid response. Despite there being no coordination between groups, each sculpture ended up featuring a different aspect or goal of rapid response.

Group 1: enacted a football team poised for a play. Their positions conveyed readiness to tackle, yet they were pausing, watching and listening until they better understood the challenge.

Group 2: enacted a human shield, leaning in at various heights, each member reflecting a different ability/style/background. They connected to one another such that the integrity of the sculpture rested upon their interdependence. In this sculpture, hate was countered by supporting each other through collaboration.

Group 3: showcased individuals wrapped protectively and supportively around one silenced person (representing the crisis or trauma). One arm shot up, holding a public statement of upstanding for the victim. This group wanted to emphasize the importance of the final step in the rapid response protocol - addressing a crisis publicly through communication.   


Hate incidents in Needham have increased in recent years. A 2022 police FOIA demonstrated an increase of 350% (comparing reported incidents from the past 5 years to the 5 years prior). The most significant target populations were Black, LGBTQ, Jewish, and Asian-American. 

This uptick of reported incidents in Needham mirrors a trend we’ve seen across the country.  

Many factors influence the uptick and decline of hate incidents within a community, as well as the identity groups that tend to be targeted. It can be helpful to think about a community’s susceptibility to hate through the lens of “risk.”

The national landscape can affect local susceptibility via stability (or lack of it, due to declining trust in institutions), norms and rhetoric (e.g., dehumanizing rhetoric and narratives of collective identity-based blame that have become more prominent amidst an era of toxic polarization, and which normalize hate and extremism), and “trigger events” such as elections, political violence, or unrest. Further, both our town and our county are changing demographically, a factor associated with higher risk for hate and extremism. Norfolk County has an “orange” designation indicating higher risk based on online hate search data from Moonshot, as well as incidents recorded by the Anti-Defamation League HEAT Map.

After walking through FOIA data covering hate incidents in Needham from 2018-2022, the group reflected on two quotes from the 2019 arson attack against the Needham Chabad. The first evinced the message and impact a hate crime can have on its victims:

“Somebody out there wants to hurt us. Just because we exist and it’s
- Rabbi Mendy Krinsky (Needham Chabad Center)

The second focused on the power of community response. Speaking about the vigil put together by the community in the arson’s wake:
“It’s indescribable. It’s beautiful. It’s much stronger than the hate.” 
- Rabbi Mendy Krinsky (Needham Chabad Center)

Next, the NRN reflected on some of their own experiences with hate in Needham.
  • During Covid, some Asian students opted to attend school virtually instead of in person for fear of being targeted. 

  • It is difficult to determine the actual number of hate incidents that occur here or anywhere since most hate crimes go unreported. Similarly, how can we quantify and measure fear? 

  • All groups must be reassured that they have the support of the community when an incident occurs, and that the response will be appropriate and timely. 

  • With regard to creating a rapid response protocol: collaboration with diverse community voices will be a key factor; there is no belonging without co-creation.


There are many assets within Needham that can help us prevent and respond to hate, including existing community protocols. Since any effective community response will seek to complement and reinforce the protocols that exist within Needham schools, law enforcement, and other entities, we sought to learn more about them. 


Dan Gutakanst, Superintendent of NPS noted that NPS faces the challenge of bringing 5,700 students together every day to learn, blend and work together. This has inevitably led to clashes that are often rooted in racial and cultural biases.

The NPS bias protocol is derived from Federal, State and Local laws. It outlines policies and procedures for the conduct, management, and education of students with regards to homelessness, privacy, sex education, disabilities, school committees, bullying, hazing, student discipline and acts of bias/hate. Working with the Needham Police Department, NPS strives to provide equitable and appropriate responses to incidents, particularly when the need for disciplinary action arises. Recent years have seen an increasing number of incidents managed via restorative justice, which emphasizes learning, understanding of impact of behaviors and repair versus punishment. 

NPS is committed to developing open communication with parents, students and the broader Needham community through online surveys and NPS sponsored gatherings designed to foster the exchange of information/ideas. This includes carving out space for communities to share their cultural practices and comfort levels around reporting incidents, which can in turn inform the creation of pathways for reporting, discussion, and restorative practices.


John Schlittler, Needham Chief of Police shared the legal definition of a hate crime and then noted the types of hate speech that are not protected by the first amendment:

  • incitement to imminent lawless action (incitement)
  • speech that threatens serious bodily harm (true threats)
  • speech that causes an immediate breach of the peace (fighting words) 

Hate/bias crimes include the following elements: 

  • force of threat
  • attempt to interfere, or actual interference with an activity or process
  • intimidation or oppression
  • motivated by bias towards victims actual or perceived race, religion etc. 
  • exercise of legal right by the victim of a right secured by constitution (US, MA)

The NPD follows the following processes and principles when investigating bias crimes:

  • assigning a victim advocate
  • confidentiality
  • protection of the integrity of the investigation 
  • protection of juvenile offenders
  • collaboration with the DA to pursue charges
  • attempts at building and maintaining relationship with victims 
  • Juvenile Diversion Program
  • restorative justice in certain cases

With regard to communication, the police department works with the victim, and local, state and federal advocates/organizations. 

Reported bias incidents in Needham have averaged 5-7 per year over the past few years. When the perpetrator is a youth, there are no criminal charges filed for many hate acts, but there is an accountability structure. The restorative practices of apology, ownership, learning impact of behavior and therapy are quite impactful. 

The schools and police collaborate closely to respond and ultimately to promote greater understanding and change. 


Rabbi Jay Perlman shared how Temple Beth Shalom (TBS) seeks to foster a sense of belonging and safety for its members and for the community as a whole. 650 K-12 children and thousands of teens and adults walk through TBS doors every week. Given the recent attacks on Jewish religious places of worship, such as the 2019 violent attack at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, TBS understands that security and a dynamic relationship with our police are critical. 

TBS uses a 3-legged stool approach to creating a safe and welcoming community:
  • education on the history of antisemitism and how it is impacting communities like ours
  • action steps we take to promote safety and respond to hate
  • partnering with other communities to stand up against all forms of hate

A year ago, TBS began a formal program called The Antisemitism Initiative. It has created action statements and will soon seek partnerships with organizations outside of TBS to stand up to antisemitism in all its forms. Rabbi Jay shared that he feels blessed to be in Needham because the weave of leadership across groups and stakeholders in our community is unique and strong. 


NRN participants reflected on the following questions: 

What was new to you in tonight’s review of existing school and police protocols? 

  • I gained a new understanding that juveniles often aren’t charged with a crime and that the police and school partner to implement restorative justice. Good to see that the police partners with the community.

  • I didn't realize that our schools could be held legally responsible for not addressing bullying, hazing and enforcing discipline.

  • Some of the information regarding police protocols was new to me.

  • There is a great deal that goes on behind the scenes with NPD and NPS and the part that involves individuals cannot be made public. Most people are unaware of these protocols which can be a problem because people think there has been no response or an inadequate one.

  • I had not realized that the diversion program was created to fill an accountability/learning vacuum because there's no legal consequence when a minor enacts a hate crime in a public, non-school setting.

What have been your groups’ lived experiences around local protocols having to do with hate/bias incidents? Do you have any suggestions for addressing and engaging parenting and community concerns? 

  • A more in-depth review of police and school protocols would be valuable.

  • I would like to see more interactive and story-based school district assemblies, community meetings, etc.  

  • It's important that communities know what the protocols are, and why they are what they are. The limits and protocols that the police are required to follow may seem to have little impact on the perpetrator through the lens of those that have been victimized.

  • Publicizing the procedures is important, including examples of how various types of incidents are handled. People tend to talk with friends and neighbors, and post on social media, such as the Needham FB page. Sometimes the person who is targeted posts there, some have gone to a town group like the police, usually not. People are distressed about the incident and often about the response. Readers respond with advice and strong opinions, often not based on any factual information. It can be hard to untangle these events once they have been publicized on social media. Finding places for posting about the official protocols is key. Communications that happen within the school community are sent to students, staff and parents but are not seen by the rest of the community.

  • I really wish there were a robust disability awareness curriculum in the schools so that neurodiversity can be normalized, and kids have an opportunity to learn and ask questions about ability differences. 

How might a community response protocol be able to complement and support existing protocols? Are there ways in which a community response could hinder existing protocols, if not implemented thoughtfully?

  • Utilize the practice: “Simple, easy to understand- remember”’ or "See something, say something". We could accidentally respond incorrectly if we do not have all the facts. Gathering all the information takes time so we need an easy-to-understand communication that describes - "Pause, patience, we're gathering all the facts".

  • It is important that the community response teams are proactive in informing the community of the protocols. This way when issues arise, we can spend time reacting to the issue and not the protocols that may influence the preferred outcome.

  • A community response protocol would need to be developed with honest input from the groups that currently have protocols - NPD, NPS and HRC and probably some town protocols. NRN has a robust representation of other groups that might be responding such as NDI, EJN, houses of worship, political parties and various identity groups. A community response has to be one that develops trust from community groups and is widely known to resident groups.
  • The Needham Interfaith Clergy Association has talked about developing some generic responses that could help the group respond quickly in a crisis situation.

  • I wish the police had more information about the disabilities of kids. That would be useful generally. I assume that if a child with a disability causes a hate crime, the police would be informed about the disability and the consequence would be skill-level appropriate.

A heart-felt thank you to all of our NRN participants for their thoughtful and insightful comments and suggestions.