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In the wake of increased reports of officer involved shootings, public demands for body cameras, protests by social organizations like Black Lives Matter, the 24 hour news cycle and smart phone recordings by just about everyone, it is past time to seek ways to ease some of the tensions and more importantly, find solutions.

On Thursday, June 2, 2016 at the Crowne Plaza Phoenix Airport in Phoenix AZ, Police Chiefs from across the country convened for a forum designed to further police efforts to understand the challenges, bridge gaps, and identify ways to better connect and engage with the communities they serve.

The annual Bridge Forum—in its second year—was as co-hosted by the Checkered Flag Run Foundation and the Black Chamber of Arizona with the objective of presenting an interactive results-oriented dialog between police chiefs from across the country and an audience comprised of law enforcement professionals, community based organizations, business leaders, and government officials.

The Forum provided a way to dialogue, discuss challenges, share best practices, and formulate alternative ways to engage and build mutual trust between police professionals and the community. The event was moderated by Arizona State Representative Reginald Bolding, Jr. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Chairman Emeritus of the NNPA and Director of the Arizona Commission on African-American Affairs were among the list of special invited guests. The invitation-only event was included an opening general session, alternating AM/PM breakout sessions and concluded with a panel discussion and Q&A session.

Forum panelists included Chief Joseph G Yahner, Phoenix, AZ Gregory A. Thomas, President, NOBLE, Chief David O. Brown, Dallas, TX Chief Antonio Brooklen, Miami Gardens, FL, Deputy Chief Viki Foster, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolinaand Chief Alan G Rodbell, Scottsdale, AZ.

What Happened?

Breakout topics included Media Relations, Conflict Management, Crisis Management, Community Relations and Multi-cultural awareness, defined as follows:

  •          Media Relations: the relationship between the police, community and media
  •          Conflict Management: the time that an incident may occur through conflict
  •          Crisis Management: How to handle community reaction to negative events
  •          Community Engagement: What can the community take responsibility for
  •          Community Relations: The police professionalism toward the community.
  •          Multi-cultural Awareness – the racial biases in police and in the community.

In each session, participants were asked to address the following:

  •          What can the community do?
  •           What can the police do
  •           How can we take this back to the community post-Bridget?

An appointed note-taker for each session captured problem(s) and specific solution(s) discussed to be presented during the closing session.

Who Said What?

Participants had many reasons for attending the Forum and just as many expected outcomes. Here is some of what was shared.

“I came here today because I wanted to ensure that following the first Forum event, that things went beyond just conversations and having people brought in to actually implementing change and taking action” Richard Burrell, Richard Burrell Ministries and Buckeye Outreach for Social Services (B.O.S.S)

“Many of our “Littles” (term for youth in Big Brothers Big Sisters program) come from many different circumstances, including those with incarcerated parents. I think it is important with the work we do that we fully understand the issues and what is being done in the community. We have a program called “Bigs in Blue” where we match “littles” with police officers. This program give police officers and “Littles” an opportunity to interact and get to know each other as people versus a perceived threat.” Laura Capello, CEO Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Arizona

“There is a significant responsibility on the part of the media to get the story right and report the facts as accurately as possible. Often with the speed of news, the pursuit of the story and competition to report it first, facts may not be [completely] accurate when reported so collaboration on the part of the police department and the community is essential to make sure the initial reporting of an incident is as accurate, fair and transparent as possible. Conflicts can generally come in to play when that does not occur.” Karl Gentles, Chief Strategist, Goode Right Gentles

“If you are not part of the solution you are a part of the problem. It you don’t have a dialog to try to improve, how can you expect to improve? I hope that everyone takes a hard look at themselves and what they can do individually and collectively, then listen with action which means taking ideas, implementing programs, transparency, open to feedback and be willing to adjust as you go because these are not numbers, these are people and lives are being impacted.” Commander, Dennis E Prince, Post 65 Sons of the American Legion

“I wanted to attend because it included the community. As a police chief I look for ways to get feedback from the community. It was very honest, engaging and practical to where you can use some of the information shared to improve relationships, like the example shared where police officers connect and build relationships with barbers and salon owners in the community and they dialog. As an African American, that resonated with me and I believe it is an excellent opportunity to create not only create a dialog but establish a connection and build relationships with the community at a grass roots level.” Chief David O. Brown, Dallas, TX

“As an attorney and one who does a lot of criminal defense, I work a lot with both the community and the police department. With the Forum, hopefully we are able to achieve a win/win solution for communities and police officers throughout the nation to come together, have a dialog and work to resolve some of the issues going on. Communities understand what officers are faced with and officers have an understanding of what they communities they serve are faced with.” Benjamin Taylor, Attorney

“I want to know more about the role the police play or should play in terms of interfacing with the education system – particularly middle school and high school administrators, and community policing. “ Dr. Ann Hart, Deputy Associate Superintendent, Arizona Department of Education

“When it comes to the role police play in terms of interfacing with the education system, it is important to have clarity around what actions call for police intervention and what actions are the responsibility of the principal, superintendent or school system.” Deputy Chief Viki Foster, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina

What’s Next?

One day after the Forum -- Friday, June 3rd – amidst great debate, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) in Chicago, were compelled by public outcry and insistence to release videos, audio recordings and other material– following the release of the explosive 2014 dashcam video showing the death of Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was subsequently charged with first-degree murder.

In May 2016, The Phoenix City Council approved a plan that will pay to equip every police patrol officer with a body-worn camera with debate as to whether it made more sense to hire more police officers after a seven-year hiring freeze that ended in 2015.

While the Forum didn’t address all questions and concerns, it was a start to making things better. Additionally, many of the police chiefs, public officials and community leaders attending the Forum committed to leveraging ideas, programs and activities that were discussed to Bridge the gaps and bring about change discussed back to their states, cities and communities.

Final Thoughts

I commend participants for being willing to step outside the bubble of their day to day life to to dialogue, enhance their awareness and come with a willingness to explore new ingredients for getting to answers. We all tend to have an opinion about news, politics, current events and things impacting our communities. It was nice to see people step up, express their passion and get involved in identifying, clarifying, discussing and sharing ideas toward finding solutions. Hopefully progress evolves beyond discussion because as a country, we desperately need solutions.

About the Author: Lynn F Austin, MBA is an author, speaker and adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University. She is also managing director at Austin Group Consulting, LLC – A marketing, public relations strategy consultation and coaching firm founded to assist businesses impact revenue and profitability with a customized approach to marketing solutions that drive results. Lynn is passionate about helping others achieve the results they desire.

Find out more about Lynn by visiting http://austingroupconsulting.com