SIDNEY — It was a small start, but organizers of a Coffee with a Cop program hope to get people involved in tackling the heroin problem and other challenges facing the community.
About a dozen people attended the second in a series of Coffee with a Cop events, this one held Wednesday night at the Mount Zion Holy Union on Grove Street. Sidney Police Chief Will Balling talked to the group. The gathering was organized by Elder Conrad McGhee Sr. and Shamara Foy.
“We have to find a way to get the community involved. … We have to start small in order to build,” Balling said.
In speaking to people about the upcoming meeting, Foy said they asked her, “Why now are they wanting to talk to us?”
“Why now? Because we have to,” said Balling, who also spoke at the first Coffee with a Cop, held at the First Presbyterian Church in October. He said people are not seeing each other in churches and at other gatherings as much as they used to. “We need to work together,” he said.
The group decided Wednesday night that a key to moving forward is identifying residents’ concerns. To accomplish that, a survey will be developed. The group discussed ways to get the questionnaire out to the public, including by email and by making it available at businesses.
Among those attending the meeting was Clayton Brown, of Piqua, chairman of Bridge Builders, a program in Piqua meant to improve communication between the community and law enforcement. He said it is important that the parties involved in efforts such as Coffee with a Cop and Bridge Builders have “an open, honest conversation.”
The group discussed the topic of police profiling of people. “Everyone wants to blame the police,” said McGhee, who spoke about his drug-offense record and his successful efforts to turn his life around. He said he understood why police would watch ex-offenders.
Brown said the ex-offender should say, “I want to help. … Some people also play the victim role.”
Balling said the Police Department is not notified when offenders are released, with the exception of juveniles and sexual predators. He said it is “human nature” for police to be alert concerning past offenders. Balling added that a former offender who now is living a productive life could be effective in speaking to young people about following the right path.
What his department is using “a better tracking system” for compliments and complaints about police officers, Balling said. He encouraged citizens to let him know about officers’ performances. “If no one says anything, nothing will ever be done,” he said.
Another issue the group discussed was the lack of minorities on the local police force; currently, there is one African-American. Balling said when there are the openings on the department, he tries to reach as many potential applicants as possible. In a recent application process, there were only two minorities out of 136 applicants, and only two women.
That discussion blended into one about the difficulty in getting young people involved in the community and the importance of providing good role models for youth. Balling said, based on what he hears from local employers, you can make a good living if you “show up for work and stay off drugs.”
“I’d like to be the middle man,” McGhee said. “I want to know what I can do in the community to help.”
McGhee wondered if more public participation would occur if gatherings were held at locations other than churches, and Brown suggested local elected officials need to be involved in the effort.
Balling said he wants to do better job of reaching minorities in the city. He said police already take part in many community events. “How can we get more pro-active than reactive? he said. He said people often just see police “during bad times.”
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