Averett University’s Criminal Justice Club and the Averett Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice hosted a “Policing in the 21st Century” Speakers’ Forum on Thursday to give Averett students and the public a chance to hear from professionals, and ask questions or give ideas.
The panel consisted of four members including Deputy Chief Dean Hairston, Community Improvement Council Head Start Program executive director Tara Martin, Averett Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness executive director Alexis Ehrhardt, and Averett Sociology and Criminal Justice graduate and professional studies director James Hodgson.
“This is bringing students together with faculty and staff, and community members,” Hodgson said. “We want to bring everybody together to present some ideas. We’ve got the panel members presenting some ideas and hopefully the next stage is to open up to the audience and get some feedback and some comments.”
The main topic of the night was the community relationship with the police. The speakers focused mainly on kids in schools. Martin was the first to speak and she started by saying that many kids see the police as the ones who “take people to jail.”
“We began to realize unfortunately that the majority of the contact our students were having with law enforcement was of a negative nature due to either the actions of adults in the child’s life, or the criminal activity within the neighborhood,” Martin said. “Students would often exhibit behaviors associated with fear or anxiety any time law enforcement visited a classroom for a safety presentation or any type of police business. They saw law enforcement as the enemy.”
Hairston said that in an effort to help build a better relationship with the youth in Danville, he visits schools regularly. When kids see him regularly at the school, it makes them see the police in a more positive light.
“When I first started going over with the kids, they would cry, hide and they were terrified,” Hairston said. “The more I’d entered the building and interacted with them, they would get excited. They’d want a high five and if one gives you a hug, you’re going to get 204 hugs if 204 kids are there.”
Hairston said that while a police officer’s main duty is to respond to a situation involving trouble, it shouldn’t be all they do. If the police only arrive when there’s trouble, then that’s what people will affiliate the police with. As a result, whenever the police go somewhere, everyone will immediately think that there is an emergency of some kind.
“There’s a difference between policing and community engagement,” Hairston says. “Community engagement is me coming to you as a partner. I’m a resource. When we go into a community to police, we have to be very careful because we can end up being like an occupying army.”
After the speakers were finished, Hodgson gave a presentation on policing and the community, and one of the examples he talked about was the use of the hose during civil rights protests. He also talked about some of the things that the police are doing to improve community relations because of what people can look up on the internet.
After the presentation, those in attendance were free to ask questions and present ideas.
“Community partners are not just something,” Hodgson said. “They’re everything. “Whether it’s police agencies or educational agencies, the idea of community partnerships are most important and we need to look at different ways to engage the community.”