After the death of George Floyd in Minnesota while he was being restrained by law enforcement officers earlier this year, local law enforcement advisory groups were formed.
What started as one group was split into two as different needs and roles were identified among city and county law enforcement.
The Clark County Law Enforcement Advisory Team was launched in July, starting with a small group of organizers to seek out other members, Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt says.
“In the spring, some disturbing incidents happened between African Americans and law enforcement in our country,” Flax Wilt says. “We recognize that there are productive ways to go about discussing these issues, and unproductive ways. Having a process and a group in place to discuss these things is a positive.”
Since July, the team as been working to fill our its 11-member collaboration, which will include Flax Wilt, Clark County Sheriff Chief Deputy Jeff Meyer, and to-be-named representatives from the county’s townships, villages, and cities. It will also include representation from minority groups including Blacks, Latinos, and the LGBTQ community, as well as have local religious leaders.
“Because the organizing committee that started working on this was not super diverse, we didn’t want to make too many decisions about how the group would operate because we want that input,” Flax Wilt says. “The minorities will be the majority of this group.”
She says finalizing the members of the team is almost complete, and the first meeting should be at the end of October.
“We’ve stated the goals as three things. The first one is to improve relationships between minorities and law enforcement,” Flax Wilt says. “Also, improve law enforcement policies in Clark County, and provide a forum for law enforcement and minority communities to learn from one another.
“A secondary goal is by participating in this we hope to strengthen the county’s understanding and attention to minority issues in general that we may be able to apply countywide to how we recruit and employ minority segments.”
Clark County Sheriff Deb Burchett says her hope is that the advisory team will help get people on the same page and have a good understanding of one another.
“We want to stay on top of it and not wait until it’s too late. We want to have a basis for an open relationship where we’d be able to look into anything if there was a concern,” she says, adding that any group or individual should feel comfortable asking questions about how local law enforcement works.
Flax Wilt agreed, saying she wants the group to serve as a two-way source of feedback.
“We want to listen to the communities that are represented, and we want to use it as an education opportunity,” she says.
All the county advisory team members will be expected to go to an upcoming Springfield Police Division Citizen’s Police Academy. Though the city and county teams have split, Flax Wilt says the academy will be a good tool for people to learn the ins and outs of what policing policies currently exist locally, how they’re created, how they’re changed, and why. She says they’ll work with the sheriff’s office will present at the academy also.
After taking the lead from an advisor who helped create similar teams in other places, Flax Wilt says some of the group’s responsibilities will include:
- Reviewing policy complaints by the public
- Review efforts to attract and recruit minorities to the sheriff’s office
- Create a system to review local incidents
- Review and discuss national events and their local implications
- Educate the public about law enforcement policies and how they relate to minority public safety
“Within the team, it really should be an ongoing conversation that allows us to be better at what we do, but then also helps us to educate communities that traditionally may not have a real strong relationship with law enforcement about why decisions are made to do things the way that they do them or why policies are in place or not in place for certain things,” Flax Wilt says.