Police get defensive as NAACP presents recommendations
July/August 1999

In an editorial published just after Don Shinamon's resignation as Gainesville's Police Chief, the Gainesville Sun called interim chief Daryl Johnston a "perfect caretaker who should be able to start the healing process at the department." Perhaps the healing has begun within GPD, but there is apparently a long way to go in the community relations arena.

After Shinamon's resignation, City Manager Wayne Bowers initiated the formation of the Police-Community Committee in an effort to begin a long awaited discussion between GPD and citizens concerned about treatment of minority residents. The committee is chaired by State Attorney Rod Smith and its members include Robert Woody, Marilyn Tubb, and E.T. York. The committee's primary task is to identify problem areas on the subject of police-community relations and to provide recommendations on how to resolve these issues. Thus far, the committee has met twice, with the second meeting being held on June 24. It was at this second meeting that Ruth Brown, president of the Alachua County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, made a presentation outlining several problem areas and suggesting actions to alleviate citizen concerns.

According to Emily Browne, president of Gainesville Area National Organization for Women, interim Chief Johnston was clearly upset by some comments from different people in attendance at this latest meeting. At one point, Ruth Brown reported on some grumbling that had gone on in the lobby before the meeting when the audience had thought that the meeting would not be open to the public. "Instead of thanking Ruth for describing a public relations mishap so the he could correct it," Browne said, "Daryl Johnston attacked the messenger. In a very loud voice, he lectured her about how much work the police had done to make this meeting accessible to the public. He then told her that he had requested twice to meet with her and she had yet to call his office for an appointment." Browne stated that an audience member quietly--in marked contrast to Johnston--pointed out that when he wanted to see someone, he went to them, not demand that they come to him. "Johnston's belligerence was quite offensive," Browne said.

There were also reports of police using bullhorns to denounce "drug dealers" in the "drug dealers" neighborhoods (the police have become prosecutors, judges and juries now), also raising Johnston's ire. He stated that a policing expert recommended such a method, but in the discussion it came to the surface that it was recommended that citizens use bullhorns, not the police. Browne said, "Earl Young pointed out that it was quite a different matter from the police using a bullhorn, but if that registered in Johnston's consciousness he did not acknowledge it."

Nkwanda Jah, widely known for her organization of the Cultural Arts Coalition, the 5th Avenue Arts Festival, Girl Power, etc., reported that when she was walking with three young men who were going to cut the grass along 5th Avenue (one young man pushing a mower, one carrying a rake and the third without utensils) the police drove by, turned around and came back to question the guys about their activities. It is this kind of harassment that minority residents are dealing with on a regular basis. Angela Richardson, a local business owner, recently told the Sun, "[the police] have this feeling in the back of their mind that they think that (black people) are automatically going to cause a crime or cause a disturbance, that's the way I feel."

Ruth Brown outlined five problem areas and recommendations, with many of these recommendations paralleling those of an internal GPD committee formed after Johnston took over. Brown identified the need for:

  1. change in police operations in the black neighborhoods to ensure proper individual conduct and to eliminate abrasive practices.
  2. more adequate police protection of black neighborhood residents to eliminate the present high sense of insecurity to persons and property.
  3. effective mechanisms through which the citizen can have his or her grievance handled.
  4. policy guidelines to assist in areas where police conduct can create tension.
  5. developing community support for law enforcement.

Among Brown's recommendations were:

  1. a clear and enforced policy that the standard of law enforcement in Black neighborhoods is the same as in other communities; complaints and appeals from the Black neighborhoods should be treated with the same urgency and importance as those from white neighborhoods. If such a policy is already in existence, it is not apparent from the viewpoint of many Black residents.
  2. the establishment of clear policy guidelines to cover actions such as the "issuance of orders to citizens regarding their movements or activities. For example, when, if ever, should [an officer] order a street gathering to break up or move on;" the decision whether to arrest in a specific situation involving a specific crime and the use of alternatives to arrest, such as a summons; the circumstances under which the various forms of physical force--including lethal force--can and should be applied.
  3. an intensification of efforts to recruit more Blacks to the department and a review of promotion policies to ensure that Blacks have full opportunity to be rapidly and fairly promoted.

Brown's report also proposed the adoption of a community service officer program, which would be staffed with officers performing a variety of duties "short of exercising full law enforcement powers," with primary emphasis on community service work. While serving in such a position, these officers would be continuing their training and studies in order to become a police officer.

An independent audit of the police department was also proposed, addressing the areas of officer interaction with Blacks and other minorities, recruitment and retention of minority officers, a minority career development program, and, especially, the use of profiling. According to many minority citizens, the now-infamous charge of DWB (Driving While Black) really also includes BWB (Biking While Black), SWB (Standing While Black), and WWB (Walking While Black).

The Police-Community Committee has six months to submit a report to the police chief and city manager, who will in turn, report the findings to the city commission.

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