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Local Police Work to Strengthen Community Ties

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[From left to right] Assistant Chief Gerald Butler, Sgt. Tim Ball, Chief Tony Jones and Captain Stephen Maynard speak on how they interact with civilians on a daily basis. The event, which was titled “Right vs. Right,” took place Nov. 14 at the Gainesville Police Department and gave citizens a chance to ask questions and hear from law enforcement officials.
From left to right: Lake City Police Department Assistant Chief Gerald Butler, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Tim Ball, GPD Chief of Police Tony Jones and Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Stephen Maynard participated in an event for citizens to ask questions and hear from law enforcement officials. (Gabriella Nicholas/WUFT News)
Police interaction with the community is a concern that extends past big cities.

When the Rev. Milford Lewis Griner attended the “Right vs. Right” event Nov. 14, he learned useful information from law enforcement and community members that he could then share with his congregation and community.

“(Open dialogue) can foster more trust and create bonds and even friendships,” Griner said. “There needs to be a foundation. (These discussions) establish bonds that can last a lifetime.”

As a pastor, a father, a grandfather and an activist, he’s concerned with bridging the gap between the police force and civilians. He worked in security and law enforcement for more than 30 years before becoming the senior pastor at Pleasant Plain United Methodist Church in the Jonesville community.

The panel hoped to encourage open dialogue between police officers and city residents by providing them with a safe space to ask any questions. Individual questions ranged from the rights of drivers pulled over by police to local opinions on required body cameras for officers.

Capt. Steve Maynard of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said the office aims to remain open, honest and transparent to build trust with the public it serves, and the panel followed these goals.

“If we lose your trust and we lose your respect, we’ve lost everything,” Maynard said. “That is the single most important aspect of what we do. We cannot effectively police the citizens of Alachua County without your trust, without your respect and without your cooperation.”

This year, the Gainesville Police Department adopted a new model of law enforcement to better serve the city. Their model to increase citizen trust of the police, called the three C’s, is a partnership with citizens to remain constitutional, compassionate and consistent as a police force.

GPD, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and the University of Florida Police Department completed their first round of training in a series of optional ethics courses provided by the federal government in September. This specific course focused on promoting fair and impartial policing.

“We do these things to give officers extra tools on their belt on how to relate to individuals, but also to make us a better product for the public that we so proudly serve,” said GPD Chief of Police Tony Jones.

On Nov. 17, the University of Florida held a discussion between the Rev. Al Sharpton and former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. The event, which was sponsored by the university’s ACCENT Speakers Bureau, focused on policing, gun violence and civil rights.

Former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Rev. Al Sharpton discuss policing, gun violence and civil rights. ACCENT Speakers Bureau held the discussion at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts Tuesday night.
Former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and the Rev. Al Sharpton discuss policing, gun violence and civil rights. ACCENT Speakers Bureau held the discussion at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts Tuesday night. Gabriella Nicholas/WUFT News

Both Kelly and Sharpton agreed the police force should be improved to better serve the public. Suggestions for improvement included increased screening of officers, social interaction with the public and civilian oversight.

In Gainesville, local panels and on-site assessments help to achieve civilian oversight. In addition, the GPD interacts with the community through various projects like their Rolling Trunk or Treat Halloween event and their “Selfies With Shoppers” social media posts on Black Friday.

“You have to have the ability for citizens to be able to hold people accountable,” Sharpton said.

The Lake City Police Department, Gainesville Police Department and Newberry County Sheriff’s Department are among the cities in Alachua County that have offered a Citizens Police Academy for their community members.

The programs range from six to 12 weeks long, and the goal is to provide participants with a closer look at their police department. A public information training program provides participants with a closer look at their police department.

Similarly, schools in Columbia County have access to a “Know the Law” booklet, which aims to educate younger generations on law enforcement.

GPD works closely with the younger population in Gainesville through prevention and intervention programs such as teen court, a three-chances civil citation process, and regional assessments of risk behaviors.

At the Regional Juvenile Detention center in Gainesville, Jones said they are trying to come up with an assessment that addresses the risk behaviors and finds solutions to the behaviors.

“We’re trying to replace negative behavior with positive ones,” Jones said. “It starts at home and in the community. We’re trying to set up a system where we have multiple resources for families.”

About Gabriella Nicholas

Gabriella is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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