DURHAM Members of the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police will gather at six University of North Carolina campuses Wednesday for a town hall meeting with students, scholars and community activists to discuss ways police can strengthen relationships with residents of the communities they serve.
The town hall meeting, dubbed “Unity in the Community,” will take place at the N.C. Central University School of Law and broadcast via live video at Fayetteville State University, Winston-Salem State University, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Wilmington and Elizabeth City State University.
“There will be interaction and a question-and-answer session,” said Pam Glean, an NCCU law professor and one of the organizers. “There will be a police representative in the audience at the other locations. It will be happening in real time. The moderators will be expected to take questions from each location.”
NCACP President Richard Hassell, who is chief of the Reidsville Police Department, said law enforcement commanders hope to field a list of recommendations and suggestions from audience members that will “open up dialogue” between police departments and communities across the state.
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“Come and be heard,” Hassell said.
Glean added that audience members will break up into groups to work on proposals for how to improve police relationships with residents.
The statewide conversation comes a little more than a week after a Charlotte police detective’s fatal shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott ignited protests, along with national and international media attention. Charlotte police said Scott was armed with a gun; his family said he was carrying a book.
At the center of the controversy were police dash cam and body camera videos. Soon after the shooting, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said police video footage of the shooting would not be made public because its release could compromise an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation.
But on Saturday, the police department released two videos that did not definitively indicate if Scott pointed a gun at the officers or if they faced an imminent threat.
Glean and other organizers say the issue of body cameras will be at the forefront of the town hall meeting.
Last year, the police chiefs association supported spending $2.5 million in state money over three years to help local police departments purchase body cameras in an effort to bring greater transparency and accountability to police.
But on Oct. 1, a new state law will keep police body camera footage secret unless a court orders that it be released to the public. Critics say the law undermines the premise of transparency that was supposed to be gained through the use of the cameras. The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the law makes access to body camera footage costly and often unattainable for the communities who have the most to gain from increased transparency.
The state’s police chiefs association supports the new law. Hassell said it gives “a clear procedure” regulating the release of law enforcement video. He said discussions with other police chiefs revealed “differences and inconsistencies” throughout departments on how the public could request or view a copy of a video.
“It’s a good balance of privacy, but with transparency,” Hassell said.
Glean has adopted a wait and see attitude with the body camera law.
“I’ll give it a test period, and wait and see what happens before I express an opinion,” she said. “I have hopeful anticipation. I’ll keep the faith.”
“Unity in the Community”
WHAT: A public, town-hall style meeting improving relationships between the community and police.
WHEN: Wednesday, 6 to 8 p.m.
WHERE: N.C. Central University School of Law, 640 Nelson St., Durham
For additional information or special accommodations, contact Staris Best Powell at firstname.lastname@example.org.