Citizens Advisory Board discusses policing, community issues

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published April 13, 2016

 Nylah Morris, 8, of Southfield, reads her essay “Building a Family Tree,” which won the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force essay contest this year.

Nylah Morris, 8, of Southfield, reads her essay “Building a Family Tree,” which won the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force essay contest this year.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

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SOUTHFIELD — Community input is one of the things that makes the Southfield Police Department great, according to Police Chief Eric Hawkins.

Each month, graduates of the Citizens Police Academy meet for dinner and discussion at the Southfield Police Department as part of the Citizens Advisory Board, where members have an unfiltered discussion on policing and community issues.

“The Citizens Advisory Board members meet with me once a month, and I take suggestions,” Hawkins said at the March 30 meeting. “The board will tell you that a lot of suggestions that I’ve gotten from the board have turned into policy in the Police Department, so I really appreciate you all.”

The Citizens Police Academy is a free 10-week program offered each fall that allows residents to learn the ropes of the Southfield Police Department.

On the docket for discussion at the meeting was police/community relations.

“Particularly in minority communities, there’s a disconnect. Law enforcement officers are having a problem kind of connecting in the community,” Hawkins said. “Everybody is talking about, how can we improve relations in our communities? What can we do? How do we start to build these bridges?”

Hawkins invited Nylah Morris, a third-grader at MacArthur K-8 University Academy, to discuss an essay she wrote on police/community relations. Morris won the 2016 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force essay contest for her piece, called “Building a Family Tree.”
Morris read her essay, which proposes that communities build a family tree by strengthening the relationships between its members and the law enforcement community.

“They would build relationships by talking, telling stories to get to know each other. This is a great way for police and the community to meet in small places and talk face to face,” Morris said. “Another way to strengthen the community is for local police officers to walk the neighborhoods and patrol in a friendly way. This would be helpful to people who can’t leave their homes and make them feel safe.”

Hawkins said the essay ties in with his efforts as chief. 

“When I saw this, I got goosebumps. It resonated so much for me, because we’ve been talking about all these things, and then Nylah writes this essay that brings it all together,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins asked the board for suggestions on how to improve morale within the Police Department.

Board member Yolanda Haynes suggested promoting a positive dialogue through social media.

“Social media: That’s the biggest place,” Haynes said at the meeting. “I don’t allow people to post on my page things that aren’t true, because that’s the way it’s going around now is the social media. People keep posting pictures and people keep adding comments to it, and that burns me up. What I do is try to show things that show cops doing good things, things in the community or addressing things nobody talks about. We need to be doing more of that.”

Negative portrayals of officers may be contributing to the low morale in the department, Hawkins said.

“Right now, with the climate in the country, we’re not seeing them as people. They’re symbols of something else. They walk into certain environments, and all of a sudden they’re not seeing (a person). They’re seeing somebody else. They’re seeing something else. Our officers, it’s kind of wearing on them a little bit.”

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