CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The Charlottesville Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. is aiming to improve relationships between young community members and police officers through its “Local Blue and You Virtual Guide Right” panel.
Law enforcement officials from Albemarle County Police (ACPD), Charlottesville Police (CPD) and the University of Virginia (UPD) were panelists at the virtual Q&A on Saturday, answering a range of hard-hitting questions.
Panelists spoke about why they decided to go into law enforcement, as well as what they’re doing to build trust in the community. Dale Johnson, an officer with ACPD for over 29 years, said having events where they can interact with the area’s youth and young adults can make a positive impact, even if it’s just through playing a game of basketball or putt-putt.
“We’ve had some officers be involved in things like sport activities like basketball with the young so we could bridge that gap and be seen as more than just a person out to enforce the law and make arrests,” Johnson said.
Both Johnson and CPD’s James Mooney said more cultural competency and diversity training can also better help build relationships with community members.
“Twenty weeks at a police academy is just not enough. These officers come out here and they are not prepared for what they’re going to see and they need a lot more time in a classroom, in training, and not just defensive tactics and firearms and those kinds of things. They need to learn how to talk to people,” Mooney said.
Courtney Hawkins, UPD’s diversity officer, said understanding the history of policing and barriers to trust among different communities is crucial.
“My job as Officer of Diversity is to go out and actually discuss those hard-topic questions about those barriers that impact so many different communities and eventually maintain a bridge that can build trust and communication within those diverse communities,” Hawkins explained.
Officers also answered questions about what people can do if they have a negative experience with law enforcement.
“Most people have cell phones. Make sure that you have that on and make sure that you’re on the phone with someone,” Johnson suggested. “Call the 911 center and another officer shows up or hopefully someone else will show up, and hopefully that will give you some ease until you are satisfied with the way the situation is being handled and feel comfortable speaking with the officer or officers in regard to whatever the situation is.”
Mooney told viewers to file a complaint if they feel their interaction with law enforcement was unreasonable.
“If you feel you’ve been wronged, you should file a complaint and they should be held accountable for that. But I think the safest way to get out of a situation is to simply comply.”
Hawkins reminded viewers that panels and conversations between community members and police is just a stepping stone to making real change.
“Sometimes we can’t just talk, we have to be active, meaning that we have to actively go out and do the work. We have to go from eventually being invited into the community, to being neighbors,” Hawkins said.