WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – Over the past year, relationships between police and the communities they serve have been under the microscope.
From Ferguson, Mo., to New York City, to Cleveland, there has been a lot of tension. Now, the city of Warren is working to make sure relationships there stay solid.
On Thursday, city officials unveiled a new initiative called “Bridging the Gap.”
“We have to continually reduce crime and fight crime. At the same time, we know that we can do that better if we have trust and understanding between the community and law enforcement,” Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said.
Lt. Brian Holt, commander of the Warren Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, was at Thursday’s announcement and said there is not a specific problem. But law enforcement officials don’t want there to be a problem, so they are teaming up with churches and neighbors to help explain what they do and why.
“Understand the mindset of a police officer whose goal every day is to stay alive and possibly keep others alive,” Holt said.
“It goes a long way to bridging some of the misconceptions that are out there in the community,” Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel said.
Merkel said the “Bridging the Gap” initiative will include several programs already in place, including the Safe Streets Initiative and the Citizens Police Academy.
“We are addressing the young kids. We are addressing some of the individuals that are involved in the violent crime. And what some would call the pro-police people,” Merkel said.
Rev. Todd Johnson of Agape Assembly said he hopes the program opens a dialogue.
“When there are questions, and there are questions, about possible abuse of practices, those can be asked in a healthy environment,” Johnson said.
He said it also educates people about the police process.
“Why are cars being searched or why are my plates being run, that type of thing,” Johnson said.
The mayor said reaching out to the community is already having a big impact.
“Complaints have actually gone down. And it is because of initiative like this,” Franklin said.