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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Police community outreach needs improvement

Reporting from King Street near Smyrna, Ga. police department headquarters
"There still is a large gulf between how the criminal justice system is viewed by Black and White Americans. There is no other area where the potential for misunderstanding can have such dangerous consequences...Departments operating under a community policing philosophy (should) endeavor to understand the concerns of the community. This approach requires that line officers move from such narrow functions as writing up incident reports to developing interpersonal skills that enable them to engage people of all  backgrounds, listen to their concerns and to devise collaborative responses to those concerns." ---Community Relations Service U.S. Department of Justice: POLICE USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE A CONCILIATION HANDBOOK FOR THE POLICE and THE COMMUNITY

I learned first hand yesterday that taking a police report was more important to Smyrna police than talking to a citizen about community policing.

Symbol on wall in police department lobby

Yes, I put my big girl pants on and went over to the Smyrna Police Department to give them some ideas to improve community policing.  I had driven 45 minutes in Atlanta Metro traffic to Smyrna City Hall to attend a press conference which ended up being canceled. The community relations director, Jennifer Bennett, came out with questions about why I was there with my camera, and after I informed her about the cancellation, I went on to tell her about my ideas on a community policing initiative I thought would help citizens and the police - an intiative that wasn't hosting a basketball league or teaching kids to run track (how to run from police)!

Bennett referred me to Louis Defense, supposedly over community policing, events, and public information. So I drove across the way to the police department and sat in the lobby, watching people lodge police reports and pay fines. Defense was not available. I was then referred to Michael Montgomery, training officer, but he was not available either. No one was available. After waiting an hour, I left and decided to write this post.
"An effective police-minority relationship can contribute to the reduction in incidents of excessive police force. However, in the event, an incident of excessive force does occur, the public is more likely to respond with an open mind due to the positive relationships and trust built up with the police through daily experience."--- same report as above

Yes, Virginia, a citizen with a valid recommendation on how to improve community policing cannot walk off the street and get an audience with anyone in the Smyrna Police Department, especially after one of their officers has been accused of murdering unarmed Nicholas Thomas. That's protocol. That's just the way it is without an appointment. And no, I don't think the outcome would have been different if more people had been with me, however, we may have been met with arms!

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