EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a two-part series on the “Bridge Builders” forum held on Thursday night. Part two will appear in the Saturday edition of the Daily Call.
PIQUA — The need and want for dialogue between the community and law enforcement was the emphasis of Thursday night’s “Bridge Builders” forum. During the event, panelists discussed with community members topics that are often highlighted in the national media, including the intersection of race, law enforcement, and community development.
“We all have lives, we all have families,” Clayton Brown, chairperson of “Bridge Builders,” said during the beginning of the meeting. “What can we do? We all want to help.” Brown explained that he reached out Piqua Chief of Police Bruce Jamison and they each got together with a group of concerned citizens who brought the forum together.
“Something we really what to focus on is race relations and community development,” Brown said. About law enforcement, Brown added, “We want to take sure we respect them and they respect us … If you run into a situation, how do we handle it?”
Brown stated that goal for the end of the meeting was to keep moving forward.
“We want to leave here with an action,” Brown said. Brown explained that they were looking for an action that they could implement within the city of Piqua and the surrounding communities to address race relations and community development.
The panelists each took turns going over why they were at “Bridge Builders” and why they were appreciative to be a part of the discussion.
“I’m the type of person who likes community involvement,” said Sgt. Veroman D. Witcher of the Piqua Post of the Ohio Highway State Patrol.
“I’m a resident of Piqua,” Municipal Court Judge Elizabeth Gutmann said. “I have a varied background.” Gutmann explained that before working as a municipal court judge for 15 years, she worked as a public defender and a city prosecutor.
Gutmann explained that a municipal court judge has to be fair and work with an open mind.
“One of the bad things of being a judge is no one wants to criticize you,” Gutmann added. Gutmann explained that she was hoping for an honest discussion.
“This is a topic I’m interested in,” she said.
“Miami County is a great county,” Chief Deputy Dave Duchak of the Miami County Sheriff’s Office said. “We thought it was very important to do some outreach … (and) start a dialogue.”
“Our young people play such a positive influence in our community,” Piqua City Schools Athletics Director Chip Hare said. “These issues are very important for us to have a dialogue.”
“Once you start that communication process, you’ll really get the ball rolling,” Sidney Chief of Police William Balling said.
Tipp City’s Chief of Police Eric Burris added it is “great” for them to have a discussion prior to having an incident occur.
For the first question, Brown brought up cultural differences, mentioning that approximately 2 percent of Piqua residents are African-American.
“What training do we provide for our law enforcement to deal with cultural awareness?” Brown asked.
Duchak explained that they do that in the academy and then it is up to each individual agency to continue that training. Duchak added that the solution to every problem is not always training, though. Sometimes the problem comes down to the individual officer.
Balling followed up with similar statements.
“It’s early warning signs,” he said. Balling explained that it is also up to the commanding officers to track complaints early on with an officer in order to track a problem and address it to keep it from getting out of hand.
“The incidents where we have young people shot for whatever reason … It’s just a bad situation,” Jared Thomas of Troy said. Thomas stated that he felt there is “a mindset that we have to deal with.” He asked the question of how to reach the entire community about how to change a possible “us” versus “them” mentality.
“I think that’s a great, great question,” Balling said.
Balling explained that in previously speaking with an African-American woman, he learned that “there is a perception among a lot of her friends and family that it’s them against the police.”
Balling explained that he wants to use community events and outreach in order to change this perception when people are at a young age. Community members and law enforcement need to work together as a team in order to build that bond and build that relationship at an early age between the two groups, according to Balling.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall