Law enforcement discussion held

Published 2:46 pm Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A series of open and intimate discussions between police and citizens were recently led by Longwood University students in an effort to better open the lines of communication between civilians and law enforcement officers.

About 60 people, including police, students and Farmville residents attended the Prince Edward County Community Discussion on Law Enforcement recently, sponsored by Cooper4Progress and Longwood’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice Studies.

Police and citizens spent most of their time in several individual groups, where activities were led and moderated by the students.

Email newsletter signup

The forum was held on the heels of recently reported incidents of officer and civilian confrontations, many of which have been deadly. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 95 law enforcement officers have died in 2015 — a majority of which was a result of gunfire. According to The Guardian’s The Counted database, which tracks civilian deaths by police, 176 unarmed people have been killed this year by law enforcement.

The discussions surrounded the role and responsibility of police and that of the community, perceptions by police and citizens of each other, a vision of a good community relationship with law enforcement, barriers that block good relationships, communications, relationships with youth and trust.

Members of the Farmville, Longwood and Hampden-Sydney College police departments were present, along with members of the Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Office.

Citing Farmville Mayor David Whitus’ recent keynote convocation speech, Longwood Professor Connie M. Koski said one of the primary purposes of the event was to have an open and honest communication promoting trust between citizens and law enforcement.

“Thus, in the spirit of Longwood University’s ongoing efforts to reach out to the town of Farmville and the surrounding communities, coupled with Longwood’s mission of cultivating future citizen leaders, myself and 10 of my students are here this evening in a supportive capacity,” she said.

“We know that research indicates that open and honest transparent law enforcement agencies actually receive higher citizen satisfaction ratings and greater levels of perceptions of trust in legitimacy from the residents in the communities they serve,” she said. “What better reason to hold an open, honest dialogue for a proactive, productive discussion about existing law enforcement practices and accomplishments in our community.”

The goal of the forum, Koski said, was to “simply bolster the relationship between law enforcement and the members of this community … By taking a proactive approach to these issues, it’s our hope that as [a] community, residents and law enforcement officers in Prince Edward County we will be in a strong position to avoid or more easily overcome situations similar to which have occurred elsewhere around the country.”

“Every law enforcement leader here is built around a focus of … developing transparency. All my officers wear this camera,” Longwood Police Chief Robert “Bob” Beach said in a small group discussion. “Our goal is to make it transparent. If we do it wrong, I’m going to see it.”

“The big word is perception,” said Megan Clark, the Democratic and sole candidate for Prince Edward Commonwealth’s Attorney. “You only see things when it’s in the media … That is just one small percentage of what police officers [do].”

Beach agreed perception was a big issue. He said his department had undertaken an outreach campaign on campus. “We can do all this, but if they’re not going to come in and participate … All we can do is keep doing what we’re doing and hope that they’ll take their part of the responsibility of learning and approaching and understanding what we do. It’s a two-way street,” he said.

Sam Entrekin, a detective with the Farmville Police Department, said that when approaching situations, the man wearing the uniform is just as afraid as anyone else is.

“We are truly grateful for those that participated in the discussion on Tuesday night,” Taikien Cooper, of Cooper4Progress, said after the event. “Local law enforcement agencies have made remarkable progress over the past decade, but it is important to hear what the community thinks could be better.”

He said the amount of participation from local law enforcement agencies “is a testament to their willingness to cooperate with the community to make this community not only safer, but a gold standard for public safety in the commonwealth.”

“We will compile the recommendations and ideas suggested at the discussion and offer them to local law enforcement agencies and neighborhood watch groups,” Cooper said.

“In addition to offering an opportunity to foster an ongoing, proactive approach to building positive police-community relationships in Prince Edward County, this event provided an occasion whereby Longwood University students had the opportunity to give back to the local community and hone the skills necessary to become strong future citizen leaders,” Koski said after the event.

She said that one participant pointed out that “many members of the community who might have benefited from this open two-way dialogue were not present. The recommendation that if each person in attendance this evening were to spread the word about the positive interactions that were had as a result of this event to five of their friends and colleagues was very forward-thinking,” Koski said.