YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The city of Youngstown is taking steps to be proactive in improving the relationship between its police department and the minority community.
On Tuesday morning, supervisors began holding required in-service training sessions for officers. A new element this year is a three-hour block on building community relationships.
Even before Ohio Gov. John Kasich appointed a statewide task force to study these relationships, the Youngstown Police Department brought in the director of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence to organize the local program.
“We have religious leaders, we have school personnel, we even have students in there because we want the perspective of the total community,” CIRV director Guy Burney said.
The president of the local group known as ACTION said neighborhood organizations, churches and schools need to help spread the message to families.
“We have to get involved with our police officers and educate our children from when they are very young until they are older, that officers are definitely not the enemy,” ACTION President Dr. Rosie Taylor said. “They are there to serve and protect us. They are our friends. But if we do something wrong, they are there also to protect the public from us.”
Organizers hope by working now to discuss issues and build better relationships, they can avoid the rioting and violence that occurred in places like Ferguson, Mo., last year after a black teenager was shot by a police officer and ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.
“Instead of seeing law enforcement versus the community as two different factions, but really working together as one big relationship and we understand each other, then we have an event like Fergsuon, we have communities, we have a relationship and we understand each other’s perspectives,” Youngstown Police Capt. Kevin Mercer said.
But one local pastor said the community and police officers must accept that younger people always will feel the need to question authority and ask ‘why?’
“Until we address them where they are, I realize the confrontation takes place, but we have to understand them as well as wanting them to understand us,” Rev. Willie Peterson of New Birth Kimmelbrook Baptist Church said.
The training sessions are expected to continue for 10 weeks until all officers have taken them.