Published on May 25, 2017, at10:23 a.m.
by Kayla Sullivan.
Tuscaloosa, a city with three colleges, has been no stranger to negative events involving police officers.
The in-custody death of Anthony Ware, the shooting of a man suffering from a mental illness and tazing of students during a noise complaint call were the three most newsworthy events in 2015.
Despite the clearing or disciplining of officers after investigation, the public perception of Tuscaloosa Police Department has been on the decline along with police departments with similar incidents across the United States.
The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, were just two of the numerous events inciting riots and protests nationwide against police brutality. Another was the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In Tuscaloosa, the police department uses its social media forums as information outlets. However, citizens looking for information complain that the police department doesn’t release information fast enough and the 2.3 star rating on Facebook is accompanied by many negative reviews.
“We want to make sure the information is thorough,” Lt. Richardson, the public information officer at the Tuscaloosa Police Department, said. “We have a policy of transparency.”
Citizens of Tuscaloosa are invited to join the Citizens Police Academy hosted by TPD. Implemented in 2009, TPD’s academy opens up the department to citizens and business owners in Tuscaloosa to experience ride alongs, fingerprinting, SWAT demonstrations and more. The academy is free and the participants must be 21 or older to join.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina also has a Citizens Academy. After the shooting and protests in September 2016, CMPD also created a Transparency Workshop.
“The mission of CMPD Transparency Workshop is to work towards strengthening community relationships, increasing the community understanding of police work, as well as equipping citizens to provide productive and meaningful input into how their police department functions,” according to CMPD’s website.
Radford Berky, a reporter for WCNC in Charlotte, attended an abbreviated version of the transparency workshop designed by CMPD for reporters and journalists.
“Most of the reporters have a pretty good working knowledge of police work, so I did not have any preconceptions,” Berky said.
According to Berky, the abbreviated workshop included all the topics of the full sessions, and the officers who conducted the sessions avoided “police speak”; they were open to questions.
Berky’s turn at the “shoot or don’t shoot” simulator can be seen in his full report.
“Anyone who goes in thinking they would know when to shoot or don’t shoot will get to see how difficult that decision is when they try the simulator. It is like a video game where you are handed a gun and have to decide if the person on the screen is a threat to your life or the the life of someone else,” Berky said.
Reports from Charlotte news stations have said that the first round of workshops are full. CMPD is opening up the department again in March for another set of workshops.
Radford Berky’s advice for citizens planning to attend: “Go in with an open mind.”
Most participants of Tuscaloosa’s Citizens Academy are retired. TPD is looking to connect with the younger generation who have more contact with police officers.
TPD has decided to work with a senior Public Relations Campaigns class at The University of Alabama during this spring semester.
Lt. Richardson said that they wanted to create an “awareness campaign” that can reach a younger target.
While each department is trying different avenues to rebuilding relations with their communities, the same theme pops up in every police department’s end goal – TRANSPARENCY.
Opening up new lines of communication and allowing each other to see new perspectives from both sides of “the blue line” is a good place to start.