NOTE: This is part two of a two-part series on the “Bridge Builders” forum held on Thursday night at the Fort Piqua Plaza. Part one was in Saturday’s edition of the Sidney Daily News.
PIQUA — As the conversation continued during Thursday night’s “Bridge Builders” forum, differences of opinion cropped up around the question of whether respect for the police begins in the home or if there are outside forces of influence as well.
“Would you all agree that it starts in the home?” Bradley Boehringer of Piqua asked. “I see that lacking today in all aspects of society.”
“I do, I think that is a part of the problem,” said Sgt. Veroman D. Witcher of the Piqua Post of the Ohio Highway State Patrol. Witcher explained that people need to be taught in their upbringing that law enforcement is not the enemy along with the things people should and should not do in order to cooperate with law enforcement.
“The way you interact with that officer is paramount,” Witcher said. “It goes both ways.”
Clayton Brown, chairperson of the “Bridge Builders” event, explained that he saw the answer to that question as both “yes and no.”
Influences outside of the home, such as the education system, can also affect how people react to authority figures like law enforcement. Brown used the example of schools grouping kids together in such a way that points out “you’re bad, you’re troubled.” After receiving that message about themselves, Brown said that those people may not respond the way that others may want them to during an interaction with law enforcement.
“Parents can only do so much,” Brown said.
Municipal Court Judge Elizabeth Gutmann stated that people in their positions of authority should still continue to be respectful toward others even if they are not always treated with the respect that they deserve.
“Look, we’re the examples,” Gutmann said. “It shouldn’t change what we do.”
Gutmann used the example of people not dressing appropriately for court.
“People don’t even know how to dress properly when they go in front of a judge,” Gutmann said. Even if someone is not dressed professionally for court, Gutmann stated that judges still have a responsibility to treat them fairly and like anybody else who comes before the court.
“I think we’re at at time … where discussions like this are as important as they’ve ever been,” Karhlton Moore, executive director of the Office of Criminal Justice Services in Columbus, interjected in the meeting. “Very little good happens when people don’t talk to each other … They’re not easy conversations to have, either.”
The “Black Lives Matter” movement was brought up briefly during the meeting, and the question was asked about how the law enforcement officers feel or react to that movement.
Tipp City Chief of Police Eric Burris and Chief Deputy Dave Duchak with the Miami County Sheriff’s Office each stated that they are sometimes bothered by it if it comes across as an opposition to policing.
“Do we make mistakes? Absolutely,” Burris said. “I go to work and try to do the right thing … We treat everyone well (and) with respect.”
Burris and Duchak also blamed the media for focusing too much on the most dramatic coverage of the “Black Lives Matter” movement or other forms of protest.
“The media tends to sensationalize stuff,” Duchak said. “The media doesn’t show the groups doing peaceful protests.”
Duchak went on, saying, “We’re far from perfect, but we try to do this job the best we can.” Duchak explained that the perceived opposition can be difficult when “you dedicated your life and career to help your fellow man.”
Sidney Chief of Police William Balling added that he likes to say “all lives matter.”
“Let’s work together as a group and support everybody,” Balling said.
The question was then asked what the agencies are doing in their specific communities and neighborhoods to connect with the residents.
Witcher commended his commanding officer, Lt. Joseph A. Gebhart, stating that Gebhart does a “great job” of reaching out into the community.
“His biggest asset as a leader is community involvement,” Witcher said. “We reach out, we go into schools … we do a lot of outreach.”
“I like to have lunch with people,” Balling said, explaining Sidney Police Department’s event “Coffee with a Cop.”
“It’s nothing serious, just sit around and have a cup of coffee,” Balling said. “Getting out and talking and learning … That’s how it starts.”
Balling explained that a relaxed environment like that helps them get to know the people in their community and what problems police officers can help with. Balling also mentioned seeking other ways of having a positive presence in the community, such as through church events.