Metro Detroit officials talk bridging gap between police, communities in virtual panel
As calls for law enforcement reform spur protests nationwide in the wake of deadly police encounters involving minorities, a group of agency heads and community leaders spoke out Thursday during a virtual panel talk and agreed change is needed to bridge gaps between officers and communities.
"I think we need to get back to … community policing, protecting and serving," said Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield.
She joined others Thursday night during “Solutions Not Slogans,” a program led by media personalities including Mason and Angie Starr of WDMK-FM (105.9 KISS FM), 105.1 The Bounce morning show host Gello, the Detroit Praise Network's Randi Myles and WDIV-TV (Channel 4) anchor Evrod Cassimy.
Callers shared their thoughts with city officials, law enforcement leaders and others on ways to improve relations and prevent incidents such as the death of George Floyd, an African American Minnesota man, during an encounter last month.
His death, which resulted in the firing of the officers involved and criminal charges, has prompted weeks of protests in Michigan as well as across the country.
Meanwhile, federal lawmakers are divided on efforts seeking sweeping changes to law enforcement nationally.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows almost all Americans support some degree of criminal justice changes.
During Thursday's Zoom event, panelists suggested maintaining stronger police oversight, cultural sensitivity training, increasing diversity among officers and establishing community programs to allow the community and police to interact in positive encounters.
Detroit police Deputy Chief Marlon Wilson noted that when he ran the department's 8th Precinct, officers and residents met at local park events, which allowed residents to interact with police and build trust.
"I think it's important to have that interaction not at say, a crime scene or when I'm making an arrest," he said. "Have an interaction when there’s a neutral, calm environment."
Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton called for a shift in how departments approach their roles.
"If I have a mindset that I co-produce public safety, when I come in contact with a community member, I treat them like a partner, not like a criminal," he said.
Inkster Mayor Patrick Wimberly said "customer service is our duty," adding that he tells his police officers "you get more with sugar than you get with salt."
When callers pushed for more body cameras and noted how bystanders filming police encounters led to change, Clayton said he supported personnel adding more tools to record incidents.
"It’s good to have the entire perspective," he said. "So if you have the police version and the citizen version, I think it’s a good start to telling the full story."
Among other strategies, Sheffield said having more African American officers plays "a tremendous role" in influencing relations.
"I believe in making sure that the demographics actually reflect the cities in which officers are paroling and representing," she said. "That is extremely important for a young Black man to see in the police force."
Prioritizing funding to "invest in people" also could help, Sheffield said.
"Community policing, investing in neighborhood organizations that are doing great work right now. It’s doesn’t always have to be a 'lock up and arrest' approach."