— A cross section of community members, civic leaders and officials from San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties gathered at University of the Pacific on Saturday to discuss ways to improve community relations with law enforcement agencies.
The American Leadership Forum’s Greater Valley Chapter put on the event, titled “Getting Out in Front,” in the Grand Ballroom at the DeRosa University Center. Nearly 150 participants were divided into smaller groups and seated at one of 15 tables, where they discussed a range of issues affecting relationships with law enforcement agencies in their communities.
“I think it’s critical for our community to have these kinds of open conversations to bridge that gap between the community and law enforcement,” Stockton resident Becky Moffitt said. “I think with what’s currently going on in the media, people have this heightened misperception about law enforcement, and I think it’s good to have more candid, open community conversations.”
Among those in attendance were Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson; Modesto City Manager Jim Holgersson and police Chief Galen Carroll; Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden and police Chief Rob Jackson; and Merced police Lt. Andre Mathews.
The event’s morning session included a keynote speech by Constance Rice, co-founder and co-director of the Advancement Project, a multiracial civil rights organization. The afternoon session included roundtable discussions on what law enforcement agencies and communities are doing well and what they could do better.
“I want to thank the Great Valley Chapter of the American Leadership Forum for organizing this very important event as we continue to work collaboratively with the community to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the people we protect and serve,” Christianson said in an email to The Modesto Bee.
“The men and women of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office enjoy widespread community support and our relationships with the community are strong,” Christianson wrote. “We recognize that working together, in partnership with the community, promotes a healthier, safer community. Our highest priority is to protect the public’s trust and confidence in us. We are prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that trust is never broken.”
Many said law enforcement agencies should continue to meet with community advisory boards and continue their efforts in youth outreach and gang prevention.
“We feel that the school resource officer and gang intervention programs are very effective, and we want to somehow continue to fund those and keep those going,” said Alfonso Nava, vice principal at Cesar E. Chavez Middle School in Merced County.
John Ervin, founder of the Modesto-based Project Uplift youth mentoring program and a panelist at Saturday’s event, said one concrete step he hopes comes out of it is more police officers and sheriff’s deputies and others in law enforcement working as mentors with young people of color. He said he does not believe there is such a mentoring program focused on black youth in Stanislaus County.
Ervin said these mentoring programs can go a long way toward building better relationships and ultimately serve as a way to encourage young people of color to pursue law enforcement careers.
Some believed law enforcement agencies and residents should be more transparent. “We should stop the code of silence in the police departments and in the communities,” said Mathew Francis, a managing partner with the Pacific Rim Advisory Group in Modesto. “We have to stop protecting what’s not right and open up the door.”
Lodi police Chief Mark Helms said the event was a good opportunity to clear up misconceptions about law enforcement agencies, some of which came from panelists at the forum, who claimed police were acting as immigration officers.
“There is a great deal of misinformation and misperceptions about California law enforcement,” Helms said, “and we need to do a better job of telling the people we serve what we do and why we do it.”
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine contributed to this report.