SAN ANTONIO – Mayor Ivy Taylor's Council on Police Community Relations has started building a foundation. Members of the public were invited Monday evening to watch newly formed committees brainstorm ideas on how to improve the city's police force and its bond with the community.
It may seem like the street is where all the action happens for police officers. However, when it comes to healing community bonds, the work is being done in a meeting room, in circles of conversation.
"It is a dialogue process that is actually the root of providing strong police-community relations. What it does is humanize the police to the citizenry and humanize the citizenry to the police," said University of Texas at San Antonio professor Dr. Michael Gilbert, an expert on restorative and community justice.
He facilitates the police-community relations meetings, and said this was one the most important meetings yet. Committees have formed and Monday night, they began creating ideas to meet specific goals.
One committee is for recruitment, bringing in the best officers possible, and offering incentives. Another is on training. That means training officers, but also training the community to understand law enforcement.
"If the community went through this 'shoot don't shoot,' if they become informed about what their rights are, it would make a difference," a task force member said during a brainstorming period of the meeting.
Then there are the community collaboration and communication committees, both trying to find the best path towards trust and transparency.
"There's people out there that have issues but they don't want to come here," said one task force member. One offered an idea about making a mobile app to help start communication and even complaint processes.
The public was invited to this meeting and got to watch the brainstorming process.
"It's not us coming to the table and pointing fingers at each other but being able to listen to each other and get an understanding as to the law enforcement's perspective and the community's perspective and find out what's important," said new San Antonio resident Mosely Hobson.
Hobson moved to San Antonio a little more than six months ago from El Paso where he was on a task force called the Black Round Table. The group took up similar issues such as violence and police relations. He said it was a big help for the city and he's proud to see San Antonio doing something even bigger.
"I think the relationship and how to interact with law enforcement personnel is very important. I think that's really key because a lot of times we can become reactive instead of being proactive. The minute something happens, we're ready to pounce versus trying to get an understanding," Hobson said.
Gilbert said San Antonio has fairly good police-community relations in comparison to many cities, but still has work to do. He said in neighborhoods where there have been the biggest issues, there are things that have worked in the past for other communities.
"Oftentimes, what it boils down to is creating community circles ... you have residents of all types, you have business people who are in that in that community but you also have the justice system," he said.
Hobson said it seems like the council is setting up a good foundation to soon take action.
Now that committees have been set up, the organization as a whole will only meet quarterly. The committees talked Monday about when, where and how often they will meet and what their goals are.