Police-Community Relations: 'Moving Beyond Ferguson'

Police-Community Relations: ‘Moving Beyond Ferguson’

PORTLAND, OREGON - NOV 17: Police in Riot Gear Holding the Line in Downtown Portland, Oregon during a Occupy Portland protest on the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street November 17, 2011

The violence, mistrust and divide between law enforcers and community members symbolized by Ferguson, MO, and played out it news stories from Cleveland to Baltimore in recent months cannot and will not happen in Kane County, law enforcers said in a Wednesday symposium at Elgin Community College.

The symposium — hosted by Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Aurora Police Department, Elgin Police Department and Elgin Community College — was designed to ensure effective relationships between police and their communities.

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon “It is obvious that many members of our community feel their lives don’t matter,” McMahon said in his introductory remarks. “There is a distrust and a perception of ‘us versus them.’ I have a responsibility to start from the beginning and break this perception and mend this broken trust, and today is a small step toward that goal.”

“Moving Beyond Ferguson,” held in ECC’s Seigle Auditorium, featured multiple presentations by the U.S. Department of Justice, presentations about police best practices and effective crowd management, a panel discussion about how police departments can monitor themselves, and a panel discussion about strengthening relationships between police and the community.

Approximately 200 guests were in attendance, including representatives from dozens of police departments, along with elected officials, and community leaders including lawmakers, clergy, school officials, social service agencies, prosecutors, defense attorneys and members of the judiciary.

“My goal for the day is twofold,” McMahon said. “First, to continue the conversation about law enforcement and criminal justice that already is taking place in many communities across the region about events in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, and now in Baltimore. But also to highlight some of the good work that our leaders already are engaged in to reach out to the community we serve. Second, to provide information about substantive resources that are available to each of your agencies.

“The motivation behind this event is to stay in front of these issues and set an example in the region that good, aggressive police work and good community relations are not mutually exclusive but go hand in hand with fighting crime and holding criminals accountable,” McMahon said.

The event opened with four presentations from the Department of Justice:

  • Deborah Spence on Community Oriented Policing Services and federal assistance for departments
  • Vick Lombardo on federal civil rights issues and excessive use of force
  • Meg Gorecki on federal training and resources for police and municipalities
  • Michael Nila on the Blue Courage program for modern police officers

Gorecki is a former Kane County State’s Attorney who now works for the U.S. Department of Justice as the Midwest Regional Director, Community Relations Service. Nila is a former Aurora police officer who now is a Bureau of Judicial Assistance consultant.

McMahon then led a panel discussion among Elgin Chief Jeff Swoboda, Aurora Chief Greg Thomas, and Chief Cecil Smith of the Sanford, FL, Police Department. Smith is an Elgin native and former Elgin deputy chief who became the Sanford chief after unrest surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death.

All three said they have had great success by simply talking with — and more important, listening to — the citizens in their communities.

Swoboda said, “All policing is community policing.”

Thomas said, “The right time to build relations is not after the incident but prior to it.”

Attorney Marcia Thompson of the Chicago law firm Hillard Heintze, LLC, then talked about police best practices. Chicago Police Sgt. Larry Snelling followed by sharing information about preparing for, responding to and the differences between demonstrations and riots.

The event closed with a panel discussion among minority community leaders about building and maintaining relationships with the police. The citizen panel comprised city of Aurora Spokesman Clayton Muhammad, Aurora Alderwoman Scheketa Hart-Burns, Aurora resident Cynthia Miller, Art Velasquez of the Aurora chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Elgin City Councilwoman Tish Powell and Helen Lopez-Strom of the Elgin chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens. The panel was moderated by Aurora Police Cmdr. Kristen Ziman.

“Thank you to everyone who participated,” McMahon said. “Their contributions made this event a tremendous success. Thank you to everyone who was in attendance. I hope the event generates further discussion about how we can live in united communities.

“Thanks, especially, to Dr. David Sam of Elgin Community College for his incredible helpfulness and generosity for the use of Seigle Auditorium,” McMahon said.

SOURCE: Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office press release