Dialogue continues in Charleston to avoid a repeat of Ferguson

CHARLESTON, W.Va.– Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, police officers, religious leaders, and community members in Charleston met for the RESET conference Monday to develop relationships throughout the city in wake of last year’s civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo. and other communities.

The roundtable groups discussed developing strategies for recruiting new police officers, developing a crisis plan, and building strategies to expand dialog between the police and the community.

Leaders of the Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance, Charleston Area Religious Leaders Association and Charleston Police Department have been working with Jones to identify specific strategies since the last RESET meeting in December.

Brent Webster, Charleston Chief of Police, said one of the key ingredients to establishing community connections is to provide the public with the most information as they can.

Webster said the Ferguson case resulted in issues that did not contain transparency efforts, so the Charleston community is working to develop a crisis response plan, if for any reason, the police were to be involved in an officer shooting.

The groups worked to break down barriers of what needs to be done and how communication can be improved. Webster said these meetings can help community members understand an officer’s role. He said he wants to give officers as many tools as possible to deal with different segments of the population.

“In a lot of ways the law enforcement officer on the street is a social worker,” said Webster, “One interaction could be someone who’s lost, next interaction may be someone who has Alzheimer’s, and a third interaction could be someone who’s drunk. The only way the public truly understands that is through these kind of sessions.”

Officers discussed issues having to deal with the way the younger generation views law enforcement officers and how the officers view the public. Officers said, sometimes, the younger generation acts like all police officers are out to get them. Community members said, sometimes, officers make assumptions about people on the street. Webster said this is why the meeting was so important — so they can hear all different perspectives and figure out proactive solutions.

“We have to get involved, but it’s not always about arresting people. We do a lot of problem solving, meditations, conflict resolutions, and the best officers understand that,” said Webster.

The police are now working to develop creative ways to recruit new officers. Webster said recruitment has been an issue at the department because of many failed background checks. He said they are working to recruit a more diverse group of officers, specifically focusing on African Americans and females.





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