In response to past divisions between law enforcement and the general community, members of the Subcommittee on Police and Community Relations gathered to discuss its community engagement plan at a meeting Monday.
The committee is designed to address community concerns that arose from officer-involved shootings. The officer-involved shooting of Tony Robinson in March 2015 was one instance that triggered an outpouring of support from the community to improve the relationship between the public and its police officers.
The community engagement plan is only in the beginning phases, with a draft just sent to a separate subcommittee for review. Council members hope the revisions can provide members of the community a more active voice in the relationship-building process with the Madison Police Department.
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The plan proposes the creation of a social media presence for the group to interact with community more easily. The committee is hoping to use Twitter to interact with the community.
In addition to social media, the committee is considering a possible large, public forum to discuss police-community relations.
“Members from the community giving us input is very helpful because we need to know how we’re doing and how people feel about our services,” MPD Officer James Wheeler said.
The committee said they plan on having the plan exist as a living document because it would allow for revisions based on feedback received from various social media feedback and meetings.
Heather Allen, a council legislative analyst, said participation from college students is an important piece of this puzzle since demographics show that college-aged students are frequently arrested or interact with the police department.
Allen said she believes if students and community members educate themselves about the relationship with the police, everyone can benefit.
“The citizens know what to expect from police officers, so police officers know that they’re dealing with an educated citizenry,” Allen said.
Wheeler said it is also important for officers hear where the people in the community are coming from to simplify the interactions between individuals and officers.
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In order to eliminate the trust gap between many individuals and MPD, individuals need to voice their opinions so improvements can be made, Wheeler said.
Wheeler and Allen both said attending future subcommittee meetings and talking with the alders on the council can help improve the overall relationships with police officers in the community.