Ron Ponder Opens Forum
Mayor Thomas Bernabei
Officer Lemar Sharpe
Officer William Watkins
Former Officer Bruce Allison
Security & Community Interaction
Security & Community Interaction
Wrap Up Interview: Mayor Bernabei
Thursday last, the Mayor Thomas M. Bernabei administration endeavored to show "how on the ball" it is in putting together a series of community forums in which citizens can dialogue with city of Canton police (CPD) officials on relationships between the citizenry of the city and the police.
First in today's blog, WHBC's Ron Ponder, the able moderator of the event, sets up the agenda for the evening:
Next, Mayor Bernabei:
Of particular is the noting by Ponder in introducing Bernabei cited their first encounter when Ponder as then president of the Canton NAACP was part of a lawsuit against Canton (Bernabei then a Canton law department attorney) addressing deficiencies in minority hiring at the time within the CPD.
All of this, of course, in light of police/community hostile even murderous interactions in Cleveland, Baltimore, Baton Rouge and Dallas to name just a few of the many, many encounters that occur across the American landscape daily.
As this blog is written, Canton's SWAT operation is the subject of a lawsuit which the city says is meritless that only WKYC television and the SCPR has dealt with (SCPR blog LINK).
Local attorney and civic activist Craig T. Conley has been pressing for an objective forum (Ohio attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice) in which to have the actions of the Canton SWAT team leadership scrutinized in terms of assessing whether or not a Massillon homocide was justified.
Conley and WKYC are suggesting, perhaps, that there was a cover up on the part of a local investigation of the matter.
The SCPR estimates that perhaps as many as 150 citizens showed up for Thursday's session.
Canton seeks to get out in front of the "can be" volatile police/citizen encounters and thereby prevent Baton Rouges and Dallases from becoming headlines in Stark County or possibly national media.
Accordingly, city officials headed by Mayor Bernabei working with community organizations and entities created the Thursday event.
All-in-all, it was a informative initiate.
However, there were several glaring weaknesses.
- There was not enough Q&A time which seemingly was stuffed in at the end of the forum thereby giving short-shrift:
- About fifteen minutes in a approximately two hour program?
- "Give me a break!, no?"
- A roving microphone should have been made available to questioners so that there could be a back and forth.
- There were several occasions in which the usually and certainly on this occasion masterful moderator Ron Ponder (Points to Ponder, WHBC) wanted to follow up on a written question but was stymied by the overall construct of the Q&A part of the session,
- Not of enough time was spent candidly addressing current police/community troubles which could mushroom into a "we have a problem" of great magnitude on the ignition a spark seemingly coming out of nowhere,
- One person attending the event described to the SCPR an alarming story of how a current African-American citizen of Canton has apparently be subjected to four racial-profiling contacts with the CPD in recent times.
- But not a word of these incidents or others of similar ilk came out at the forum,
- Only a vague, generalized acknowledgement that the CPD is not perfect and has personnel problems to deal with,
Although the focus on these community/policing events is on Canton and its citizenry, the quality of community/police relations in Canton is relevant to anybody who has occasion to be in the city of Canton whatever the occasion.
The highlight of the evening was the appearance of retired captain Bruce Allison of the CPD. Bruce served as a Pro Football Hall of Fame city policeman in days that it was truly a test of courage and fortitude to be a black police officer in an overwhelmingly lily white police department.
Cantonians should take in this absorbing account by Allison from his days as a member of the Canton Police Department which was clearly a frightening and scary is experience requiring a lot of courage which in the SCPR's book makes Allison a heroic figure.
Then there was Lemar Sharpe speaking about community relations.
Sharpe has been with the CPD since May, 2001.
He is one of 132 "on the beat" police officers that staff the Canton Police Department at an average salary of $50,645.70 according to payroll figures provided by Canton's finance director in response to a SCPR public records request in July. While $50,000 plus is a decent income to many, one has to remember that these folks put their lives on the line each and every day.
Highlights of the following Sharpe video include:
- His love of living in one of Canton toughest neighborhoods in terms of crime rate and poverty (re poverty: about 40% accordingly to a recent Canton Comprehensive Plan consultant survey) and his engagement with his neighbors,
- His candid admission of his disillusion with the recent happenings in the nation regarding the interaction between police and the African-American community and his determination to work hard to change the negative aspects of the relationship,
- His adventurous (i.e. how will the police hierarchy react) use of social media in reaching out to the Canton community in the furtherance of attaining a solid police/community relations in which "snitching" is not viewed as a "no-no,"
The Officer Sharpe video:
Right before Sharpe spoke, Lt. Greg Boudreaux spoke about "Training, K-9 Training, Body Cameras, & Use of Force." A poignant point was made by moderator Ponder on how the black community was at one time skeptical if not hostile to the use of dogs in police work.
Be sure to watch this short video snippet.
Next up was Canton PD officer William Watkins who has been with the department since 1998.
Watkins: (raised in northeast Canton)
- Talked about joint effort of the CPD and the Canton NAACP (about six months in duration so far) in which the focus is on teens and young adults who live in Canton,
- Described CPD interactions designed to focus on avoiding arrests by directing citizens to sources within the Stark County community to help them solve their particular problems,
- Shared some startling statistics about number of police officers killed in the past two years in the-line-of-duty and number of guns possessed by 300 million plus Americans,
- Pinpointed the dangers of being a police officer beginning with the commonplace police officer function of making traffic stops interacting with persons who have reason not to want to interact with a police officer,
- Described a primary function of his work in schooling kids on how to interact successfully with police officers,
- Provided resources to citizens who has had an unsatisfactory experience with a Canton police officer,
The Watkins video:
Also appearing at the forum was trailblazing for African-American police officers in Canton: Bruce Allison.
This video is a "must watch" for readers of the SCPR to get some measure of what it was like to be a minority CPD member "in the day."
Finally, here a a video of a "wrap up" SCPR interview with Mayor Bernabei.
In conclusion, The Report hails the likes of Sharpe, Watkins and Allison in being on the front lines as first-rate examples of minority police officers who are the vanguard the promise of improving police/community relationship.
For this contribution in and of itself these officers deserve be be thought of as heroic.
Each as officers enforcing the law have always had to deal with the potential of being subjected to harm as they perform there day-in, day-out jobs as police officers.
With their current focus on bringing local citizens on board in these trying times of a somewhat chaotic models across the nation of community/police relationship, they are even the more heroic in the eyes of the SCPR.