Police Reach Out to Community, Engage in One-on-One, Heart-to-Heart Dialogue

‘Community Dialogue Meeting’ praised by participants, some hail the outreach as another sign the Department has entered a new era of greater transparency

Published : Friday, September 6, 2019 | 4:49 AM

It was shocking and confusing when a noisy, apparently disoriented man burst into a Thursday meeting of about two dozen community members and police conducting a forum in an office building conference room on Colorado Boulevard Thursday.

The man stumbled as he moved this way, then that. He insulted the speakers who had been addressing the group.

Then suddenly he grabbed an unattended laptop and darted out a door into the hallway.

Pasadena Chief of Police John Perez addressed the community dialogue meeting.

Participants at the Pasadena Police Department’s “Community Dialogue Meeting,” many of them local Blair High School R.O.T.C. members, were stunned. Some wanted to give chase. Others froze. A few yelled for the officers to run him down and arrest him.

But Police Sergeant Sam De Sylva calmed them immediately.

The robber was an actor, De Sylva explained. He was there to give the community participants a tiny sliver of what an officer might encounter on any given day.

And then Sergeant DeSylva asked the community members to describe the “thug,” who was in reality a large 6’ 2”, 250 lb. African-American.

“He was white, medium-build,” some said. “He was Hispanic,” said others. “He wore sneakers,” they said, though the man wore brown leather shoes.

“They finally had a small sense of what we go through,” DeSylva said, smiling.

Each of the participants—each officer and community member—was paired with one another as the morning began, and remained “partnered” throughout the day as they heard and discussed different police scenarios and contributed to the day-long conversation.

Pasadena Police Chief John Perez, filmmaker A.J. Ali—Director of the film “Walking While Black”—and a number of Pasadena Police officers engaged nearly the two dozen students, volunteers and an equal number of police officers on the “perceptions and expectations” of community policing.

It was the Department’s first such event.

Chief Perez, currently in the midst of a reorganization of the City’s police department, took hard questions from the group.

“Why was my friend stopped?” they asked.

Each of the participants—each officer and community member—was paired with one another as the morning began, and remained “partnered” throughout the day as they heard and discussed different police scenarios and contributed to the day-long conversation.

“Why does it take six police officers for one traffic stop?” they wanted to know.

Both Chief Perez and De Sylva answered through words and examples, trying to instill in the audience the sense that both community and police were there to listen and understand each other.

Both agreed that understanding and transparency were the keys to better trust between police and community.

As De Sylva pointed out, “the expectations on the police community are so great these days.”

De Sylva noted that so many police officers do their work today through the lenses of residents armed with cell phones.

According to De Sylva, he has seen new officers hesitate in their actions, knowing every move is under community scrutiny.

But, he said, “Body cameras was the best thing this department ever did.”

Filmmaker A.J. Ali, producer and director of the documentary, “Walking While Black: L.O.V.E is The Answer,” provided much of the original impetus for the event. As Ali recalled, De Sylva had previously attended one of Ali’s film screenings and workshops and saw for himself its tangible results.

Screenings of Ali’s film include Q & A dialogue sessions aimed at increasing the understanding between police officers and community.

“I knew we had to do something like this in Pasadena,” said DeSylva.

Ali agreed, saying “This was a wonderful day, this was the kind of dialogue, the kind of event that needs to take place everywhere. On a regular basis.”

Ali pointed out the importance of the partnering process, saying it gave participants “a chance to really discuss things that they might not want to discuss in front of the whole group.”

Ali’s own workshops, based on his film, are similar to Thursday’s event, but he noted that the day’s specific program was developed by the Pasadena Police Department.

Ali also emphasized the importance of young people in attendance.

“I get the most amazing responses, and questions, and just ideas, and other things, from young people, high school students, even middle school students,” Ali continued. “ I’m pleased with the interaction, and the honesty, and the great job they did.”

Police officer and community member alike agreed that the day of dialogue was powerful and effective, and perhaps its only shortcoming was that it was just the first such event. More are needed.

An officer told the group, “Community dialogue is important. Come talk to us. We’ll talk to you.”

Community member Steve Trejo said “These classes are great. This is huge.”

Volunteer Rosie Rice, agreed that the day was a success but added a caveat: “The people who want to be here are here, and the people who need to be here are not.”


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