Trevon Carr of Fuquay-Varina is a black teenager. His brother Terrell Price is a police officer in Holly Springs.
In short, he already knows a lot of the lessons to be learned from a new video series of conversations between Fuquay-Varina police officers and young people. He’s featured prominently in one of those videos alongside Fuquay-Varina police officer David Taylor.
“When my brother gets home, he tells stories about people he had to arrest, crazy stories,” said Carr, a senior at Fuquay-Varina High School. “I put myself in his shoes, because that’s my blood brother. I don’t want anything to happen to him. But I see situations both ways. What if I did something and he had to respond to me?”
Fuquay-Varina Police Chief Laura Fahnestock and Mike Cole of Fuquay-Varina production company Amazing Studios have partnered to produce a series of eight videos released weekly on Tuesday afternoons called “The Other Side.”
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Each features a police officer and a young Fuquay-Varina resident sitting across from each other, asking each other questions that range from teasing – “Do you have a girlfriend?” – to probing – “What’s your greatest fear?”
Collectively, the series is envisioned as a way to humanize the police-civilian relationship, which Fahnestock said is more strained now than perhaps at any time since the late 1960s, when her father worked as a cop for Raleigh’s police department.
Cole approached Fahnestock after he attended an officer’s swearing-in ceremony last year. He told her about an idea he had for a video series featuring simple, honest conversations between officers and civilians. Fahnestock said she liked the idea. Cole offered to do the work pro bono. Fahnestock couldn’t say no.
“Our goal from the onset was that this isn’t just within the confines of Fuquay-Varina,” Cole said. “This is a story across the nation. Our hope is that it that these videos resonate with people all over.”
Videos and accounts of police shootings around the country have angered residents who feel the police are using force indiscriminately. Police and their supporters say some don’t understand the pressures of the job.
The Amazing Studios crew chose eight officers they thought would do well in front of the camera. Then they reached out to Fuquay-Varina schools for help casting the officers’ counterparts. That’s how Carr heard about it.
“I’m pretty well-known at Fuquay High,” said Carr, an aspiring college basketball player and theater student. “I’m one of, like, five people who will greet the administrators if I see them in the halls.”
Another video features an officer and a young boy discussing their favorite Star Wars Characters, among other things. A third pairs an officer and a young girl talking about what she wants to be when she grows up.
Fahnestock’s pursuit of this project is just one facet of a relatively new and still-developing policing philosophy she’s championed in Fuquay-Varina since becoming police chief in 2015. She has established monthly “Coffee With a Cop” gatherings around town and made the department’s Facebook page a lighthearted and popular source for community information.
A new approach
David Taylor, a patrol officer who joined Fuquay-Varina’s department a decade ago, said Fahnestock’s style has pushed officers to adjust their approach to the job.
“When we go from one chief to the next, it’s always going to be different,” he said. “But policing has changed, and we’re changing the way things have always been done. The more we do it, we’re realizing it’s very important to not be a rigid officer all the time. You have to be more approachable. It’s not about us against them.”
As a military veteran, Taylor said he was used to maintaining a rigid air of professional authority while in uniform. Since Fahnestock’s arrival, he said, he and his colleagues have been asked to learn to use that authority with a more personable touch. It’s a difficult balance to strike.
“You don’t want to display weakness,” Taylor said. “That was engrained in me. We’re always taught be able to stand your ground and portray this tough side. It’s different to sit down and be as human as possible, to show how you really are.”
That notion of the stone-faced, dispassionate police officer is one of many traditional understandings of police work that “The Other Side” videos want to reverse. Fahnestock remembers introducing boyfriends, including her eventual husband, to her father, a 6-foot-4 police officer. It’s hard for many people to relax and be themselves around police, she said, and it’s officers’ responsibility to reach out and help put them at ease.
“In policing, we’re perceived as supermen and superwomen, but we all are vulnerable,” Fahnestock said. “There is sometimes that hesitancy to open up, but to me, it makes them stronger. I see them listening and trusting and sharing, and I’m so proud of them.”
When Taylor first became an officer, he, too, noticed that people treated him differently when he was in uniform.
“People are staring at you,” he said. “People want to talk to you or talk about you, and it’s extremely overwhelming when you start out, because you’re not used to having the spotlight on you everywhere you go.”
In the video featuring Carr and Taylor, while their conversation features some of the series’ more sensitive questions, each said they were able to quickly develop an easy rapport.
Each talks about the ways they’ve felt stereotyped. In Carr’s case, that’s meant being hyper-aware of his identity as a black teenager while shopping.
“I don’t know if it was because of my skin or because I had my hoodie on, but they had security follow us around the store,” Carr said in the video of one trip to a store with his brother and cousin. “What people are afraid of is that they’re going to get judged by what they look like, not what they are.”
For Taylor, it has meant taking verbal abuse from people who would prefer the police left them alone. Taylor reveals in the video that his greatest fear is being hurt or killed because he hesitated to take action in self-defense out of fear of how the incident might be framed in the media.
“Honestly, I just want people to see that we’re just normal, everyday people,” Taylor said. “People see us as these robot law-enforcement people, that this is all we do. But when I’m wearing normal clothes, they don’t even recognize me. I hope that these videos would help people see that this is just our job.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan