Last week’s news that another individual met his demise while in contact with law enforcement, this time in Los Angeles, reinforced the urgent the need to develop a less contentious approach to the contact between police and the public. In many cases, this can be accomplished by having both the community and the police meet and begin a dialogue. A true dialogue must occur in which both sides are willing to listen to each other as well as stake out positions to ensure that change can begin to occur. Staten Island is still working through the healing process from the Eric Garner incident and as result the need for this dialogue is clearly apparent.
During the Ninth Annual Youth Empowerment Summit, held at Wagner College, a key event was a panel discussion entitled “NYPD and Community Engagement”. The summit brought together a variety of community resources as well as entertainment directed to the young people of Staten Island. The entertainment included two notable presentations: a performance by Christine Dixon in the role of Harriet Tubman and demonstration of break dancing by the NYC Arts Cypher. In addition, representatives of organizations both cultural and social were available with guidance and information.
The panel discussion was spirited, energetic and productive thanks to both excellent panelists and the effort by the moderator, Bobby Digi. Mr. Digi’s role in the continuing efforts to reduce tensions and create a more peaceful climate on Staten Island is considerable and he has developed a strong network of contacts on both sides of the issue.
Panelists spoke of the major issues in the often difficult relationship with the NYPD. Cultural competency has become an area of concern. Many police officers are not familiar with the local communities in which they are serving and as a result misunderstandings take place. The deployment of resources is also another problem; the community sees area where police presence should be greater, yet the officers are “over deployed” in areas leading to concern regarding response time and effectiveness.
On the subject of policing, the panelists spoke of lack of understanding regarding the arrest process by many citizens. They made it clear that the police have arrested individuals without cause at times, but those individuals must submit to the arrest process all the same. This is a concept titled “voluntary compliance”. If the individual under arrest fails to comply the authorities are authorized to use up to lethal force to complete the arrest if necessary. Once arrested, the individual can use the law to press for justice regarding arrests that are dubious in basis.
One matter that all of the participants agreed upon, was the need for open conversation between the residents and the local police. There will be no changes unless there is one – to – one conversation between police and the community; this communication is especially critical for young males.
The use of social media to start the chat is important but the talk must continue with an understanding of what the reality is in terms of maintaining a safe and secure community. Police presence will continue to be necessary to create a livable neighborhood. The direction of that police presence can be guided by the community if they develop a positive relationship with the authorities.
The event ended with the presentation of awards to four people who have made a difference to the people of Staten Island. The recipients included: Jasmine Rey, president and CEO of Wallball World Handball Community and Assistant Chief Edward Delatorre, NYPD Staten Island Borough Commander.
This event was well attended judging by the fact that seats in the auditorium were at a premium. The next edition of the summit is eagerly awaited by both residents and participants.