By Elder Gerald DeForest Tyler
This is both the continuation and final piece to the column I started last week entitled: “Good and Bad.” You will recall that I said in my previous column that I was going to share with you some of the feedback I received from several local chiefs of police prior to the Hampton Roads Committee of 200+ Men’s “18th Annual Scholars Breakfast” which was held two weeks ago. At that great breakfast event, over 610 “blue chip” African-American male senior students from regional high schools were honored for their scholarly academic work. I engaged the majority of the Hampton Roads seven cities police chiefs and here’s what some of them shared with me pursuant to the purpose of the breakfast itself, the importance of their actual attendance or representation, and the significance of what it all meant to the student scholars and their respective Hampton Roads communities.
Virginia Beach Chief of Police James A. Cervera said, “We are honored to attend this event recognizing these young scholars. We also recognize that these young men will soon begin college and then venture into the workforce. We hope to plant the seed of future community service by entering the Police Profession.”
Newport News Chief of Police Richard W. Myers said, “Personally, I can speak to our priority to support youth, especially when it comes to furthering their education. Also, it is critically important that police departments work to bridge any gaps, perceived or otherwise, with communities of color. We can’t recruit and hire if people don’t trust us, we can’t succeed in preventing crimes in partnership with the community if people don’t trust us. To trust us, folks need to KNOW us, so this is an opportunity.”
Chief Myers continued by saying that, “It seems as if national media coverage of some high profile incidents has damaged the cause of building stronger community ties, and so finding opportunities to reinforce that message, such as the breakfast, is a positive step forward.” He said, “I was hired and charged with the mission of reinvigorating the partnership between the Newport News Police and our entire community as a collective, and with various communities within a Community individually. I have, since my appointment in January 2014, focused our organization on developing strong relationships including in the African-American community. We are EVERYONE’S police, not just any one segment of our community. The more we gain trust, the more we can bring that vision to reality.”
Chesapeake Chief of Police Kelvin Wright said, “The Chesapeake Police Department is committed to community outreach and engagement. To this end, we have and will continue to seek out various ways to connect with all the people in our diverse community. This event (i.e., scholars breakfast), presents yet another forum by which we have the opportunity to meet with the people of our community. We seek out these opportunities to engage youth in a different environment than what is the typical or most occurring. We like to meet youths in a different setting so we can talk to one another in a meaningful way. We are committed to all the people of this community. Anyone who is doing anything positive in our community, we are willing to partner with them as we all try to lift each other up, establish a dialogue, and improve our community.”
Chief Wright went on to say, “If the past is the key to our future, I can only say that one need only to look at the problems that have manifested themselves in different parts of our country. It is in our collective best interest that relationships between the community and the police are such that there is both access and communication between all parties, before conditions deteriorate or there is controversy. The establishment of meaningful, sustainable relationships is key to a healthy environment between the people and its agents of the government. For us to build and sustain trust, we must be connected to one another. And trust is personal before it becomes institutional.”
Norfolk Chief of Police Michael Goldsmith said, “The Norfolk Police Department is committed to protecting and serving ALL the citizens of Norfolk. To that end we continually seek the broadest possible opportunities to nurture trust in our communications and interactions with citizens. We are particularly interested in enhancing relationships with young people and have focused considerable time, energy and other resources on doing so. When we were made aware of this opportunity (i.e., scholars breakfast) we accepted the invitation eagerly and see it as an additional way to demonstrate our support for and interest in area youth.”
When I asked Chief Goldsmith if the approximately 1.7 million residents of the Greater Hampton Roads region could expect the area city police chiefs and their respective police officers to put forth a more diligent, meaningful, and lasting effort going forward to build and enhance good working relationships between the police and residents of our various and diverse communities — and perhaps most especially the African-American communities where it’s apparently most needed, he responded by saying — YES!
In my conclusion, and based upon the collective feedback I received from the local chiefs of police, I would say that the overriding theme that surfaced was that of establishing a good level of trust between the police and the residents of our Hampton Roads region. So with that said, may I encourage all of us to support and work along with our protective servants as they do their very difficult, and too often unappreciated jobs day-in and day-out. Finally, and regrettably, I must still forewarn that we have the “Good and Bad” among us. It would not be a very wise thing to try proving who is a “good cop” verses a “bad cop” by putting your life in jeopardy — you know what I’m saying? I think we’re now beginning to call this type of crazy deadly behavior — “suicide by cop.” Don’t try it. “Grace and mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied!”
Gerald D. Tyler, an ordained elder with senior pastoral experience, has been a God-called practicing minister since 1977 teaching and preaching the salvation gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.