The police will hold community discussions within the next few months to better strengthen the relationship between community members here and the department.
The dates have not been set yet, but police Chief Brandon Zuidema, said he plans on advertising to neighborhoods, local churches, community centers and anywhere people gather.
Zuidema said recent incidents in Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., New York and North Charleston, where black men were killed by police, leading to mass protests and violent clashes in two of those cities, have sparked his interest in the discussions.
He said wants to ensure that there is an understanding between the community and the police department in Garner.
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Zuidema said the good thing about Garner is it doesn’t have the same issues those cities have.
But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be something that happens that causes the community to question what we do or why we did it, he said.
“I don’t think that’s an ‘if,’ I think that’s a ‘when,’ and that’s just the nature of policing no matter where you are,” Zuidema.
So what the police department is trying to do is stay ahead of the curve. Zuidema hopes to send letters out by the end of July to inform the public about the discussions.
“We’re not going to talk, we’re going to have listening sessions,” Zuidema said. “Because I don’t want to talk about what we do and don’t do. I want to hear what people think about what we do and don’t do and then try to answer any questions and concerns and try to establish ongoing relationships with those community members.”
He said the department will take that information and use it to help better train the their 63 police officers.
“It’s not just about what we do and the fact that we are authorized to do it,” he said, “we have an obligation to explain why we do what we do.”
Zuidema said it’s important to talk about the issues that are out there, rather than ignoring them.
The recent shootings of mostly minority men have created a distrust between the police and communities of color across the country, raising questions of when police officers should use force and what types of force should be used.
There were 44 incidents where force was used 63 times in Garner in 2014. The difference in figures means different uses of force could have been used in one incident, or two officers could have used force in one incident.
Thirty-four incidents involved pointing a firearm, eight involved taser deployment, 15 involved physical force, three involved use of a K-9, three involved accidental or negligent discharge of a weapon at the officer’s home or office.
Use of force incidents in Garner increased from 2013 to 2014 by 14 incidents.
But the 2014 figure is only a continuation of a trend that has shown those numbers bounce up and down over the last several years.
The Rev. David Forbes, a former Raleigh pastor and current Garner resident, said it’s better to meet the police before there is a need for the police.
“We’ve known always especially with children, if police visited the classrooms, that makes a rapport that in the future, if there’s a need for contact, it’s not as traumatic as it would be otherwise,” Forbes said.
Forbes said what happens in areas like Baltimore, tend to form the perception of how they view all police.
“Therefore relationships are critical to minimize that kind of effect,” Forbes said. “The investment in service makes a huge difference in keeping us a boring community.”