During Monday's first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the candidates went head to head on everything from the economy to who is fit to be president.
But there was one thing Clinton and Trump agreed on — the need for closer relations and better communication between our communities and local police.
Addressing the racial divide throughout the country, Clinton said, "We have to restore trust. We have to work with the police. We have to make sure they respect the communities and the communities respect them."
Agreeing in this area, Trump said, "You need better relationships between the communities and the police, because in some cases, it's not good."
Locally, we thank our police for doing their part to build that relationship. Officers from the York Police Department, the Kittery Police Department and the York County Sheriff's Office gathered for a forum in York last week, sponsored by the York Diversity Forum, and attended by 40 to 50 community members.
The officers shared the challenges they face, their concerns with the community, and their fears. Police chiefs Douglas Bracy of York and James Soucy of Kittery said officers begin their shifts with recent police-involved shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or the most recent act of international terrorism prominently in their minds. They worry how dangerous their next traffic stop could be, even in quiet southern Maine. “Most of us have a heightened sense every day, even here,” Soucy said. “Every day, cops are thinking how do I get out of the worst of the worst? These things play out in our head time and time again.”
The officers addressed what they said is a “perception by many that there are biases” among police officers when it comes to people of color, explaining that all officers are trained in the use of lethal force. But as Soucy said, "We know that our training teaches us; when you pull the trigger, you're trying to kill them. That said, we don't see on the other end of the weapon what color that person is." Bracy sat on a governor’s task force on racial profiling in 2009 when he met Somalis and Ethiopians, who don’t trust their government or their police. It was an eye-opening experience, he said. York Police Capt. Charles Szeniawkski said the police academy is offering a bias class now and that the department submits a form to the Maine Chiefs of Police every time "we could have used deadly force but didn't use it."
Community members in attendance touched upon drug abuse, the top issue facing local police, and how to engage the community in a discussion about the drug epidemic and how to address it.
"It takes all of us standing up and saying something," Bracy said. "We have to be champions in our communities."
The same goes for building the relationship between our communities and our police. We have to be champions for making it happen. This forum was a perfect way to do that.