The Police Advisory Panel held its community forums this weekend — one in Newtown addressing African-Americans and the other in Park East addressing Hispanics.
The purpose was to see if the Sarasota Police Department treated poor minorities differently than middle- and upper-class whites. This includes treating them differently on calls for help, when they are being questioned and/or during arrests and when they file complaints about officers.
The Police Advisory Panel debated whether to hold the forums, because it didn’t want to get mired in too many unsubstantiated complaints about police treatment from years past.
The organizers of the Newtown forum, held April 8, at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex, made it clear they wanted to find positive ways to have a better relationship with the police department.
“This is not a complaint session,” said Gerald Green. “We want to find a solution. Tell us what the problem is so we can tell the powers that be.”
About 40 participants were separated into four groups and were asked to respond to four questions:
• What makes a good police officer?
• What makes a bad police officer?
• What kind of policing does your community want?
• What does respect mean to you?
The respondents said good officers are respectful of the rights of others, treat others as they’d like to be treated and are sincere about their concerns for the community.
Some said they want police officers who are consistent, follow the rules and are more involved in Newtown activities.
Several residents said community members are as much to blame as the department for a breakdown in relations with police officers.
One woman said more neighborhood residents need to give information to officers, so they can help combat crime. Many are afraid to be labeled snitches and be subject to retaliation.
Another referred to a common double standard.
“We need to stop talking out of both sides of our mouths,” she said. “We can’t call them to do their jobs and then cry foul play when they do their jobs against someone in our families.”
Forum organizers asked residents if having more black officers on the force would help relations.
The most common response was that it didn’t matter what color the officer was, as long as he was fair.
The response from the April 10 forum at the Iglesia de Dios en Victoria church in Park East was similar to the Newtown forum.
“The community didn’t want to be stereotyped,” said Adam Tebrugge, panel vice chairman. “They wanted the officers to know that there are significant cultural differences between Mexico, Cuba, Central America and South America.”
The 40 to 50 participants in Park East said they want to get to know officers better, but some admitted to being afraid to call police, even in emergencies, because of immigration enforcement.
“Both were good meetings with a positive point of view,” said Susan Chapman, panel chairwoman. “(Citizens) want the officers to know who are the law-abiding people in their communities.”
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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