Emphasize cooperation, trust and equal justice to strengthen the bonds between the police and the community of Erie

Mayor Joe Schember and his administration openly present a vision of Erie as a “community of choice” with a diversity of cultures, welcoming neighborhoods and a place where he will not tolerate racism in any form. We all applaud this paradigm! Many people in the Erie region enthusiastically support these ideals as we come together to reflect on how to bring these hopes closer to reality.

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In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the need to negotiate and deal with issues, suggesting that often we cannot make the necessary changes without intentional “direct action”. We can recognize that for generations, systemic racism has marred many of the policies and procedures that govern our society, and none weighs more heavily on our black and brown residents than those in the police realm. The mayor is ardently committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and works to effect the changes necessary to ensure the support and trust of our community with our peace officers. All of our good intentions and well-intentioned hopes fall short of the goal of fostering community cooperation, trust and equal justice for all.

Art Leopold

The path envisaged is to renew the policies that govern police relations with the community. We need to update police use of force policies to emphasize de-escalation and respectful interactions between police and community. Our police force should better reflect the diversity of our community. Fostering greater trust in the community requires the establishment of a Civilian Police Review Board. A non-police response option to crisis events is necessary to provide the appropriate professional response and help reallocate funds for public service.

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We can only improve by working together. In approaching police reform, we all strive to serve and improve our community. While we know that minority populations and most disadvantaged areas tend to attract undue police attention, all of our citizens deserve the best public service provided for our safety and security. We all have a role to play. Let us bring to our efforts the best angels that we can conjure to be productive in moving towards good policy for all of us.

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After meeting with the mayor and his staff in September, our reform group is planning a further discussion this month with the administration on developing policies and actions that will transform policing in Erie. We thank the Mayor for his continued work to create a welcoming tone and a willingness to provide more equitable service to all residents of Erie. With serious efforts to transform policing policies, we will move closer to this vision of Erie as the community of choice for all who live in and pass through our region.

Longtime justice activist Art Leopold resides in Millcreek Township.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Cooperation, trust and equal justice must guide police reform in Erie

Elna M. Lemons