Four years after Ferguson, Williamsburg police keep focus on community policing

Four years to the day after an unarmed black man was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., the Williamsburg Police Department held a training session for officers to learn how to patrol with compassion.

On Aug. 9, about 30 Williamsburg, James City County and Suffolk police officers were trained at the Stryker Center in Williamsburg on methods to prevent hyper-vigilance in policing and to produce better relationships between members of the public and law enforcement.

“I always tell officers, what we’re reviewing now is what works,” retired Raleigh, N.C., police chief Harry Dolan said. “Policing has to be evidence-based.”

Dolan led the training session for local officers.

That evidence-based approach means officers are encouraged to innovate and report back to their supervisors while supervisors research new policing techniques, Dolan said.

With 32 years of policing experience under his belt, including tenures as police chief in multiple cities from Michigan to North Carolina, Dolan said he aims to train officers to strike a balance between vigilance and discretion.

“What works? Fundamental policing, some call that community policing,” Dolan said. “What the bottom line is what the citizens consider legitimate — being treated with respect, they’re treated fair and the people in police positions are trustworthy, and what we find is that the police want the same thing.”

The training comes on the fourth anniversary of the death of Michael Brown after a police officer shot him to death in Ferguson, Mo., according to the New York Times.

While the date of the training fell on the anniversary of Brown’s death, it was coincidental, Williamsburg Police Department spokesman Maj. Greg Riley said.

“(The) training is the capstone in Chief (Sean) Dunn’s initiative to more align the department with his community engagement philosophy,” Riley said.

The Williamsburg Police Department held an earlier community policing training for half of its officers in June, according to Riley.

“The officers are doing an incredible job,” Dolan said. “With the increased focus on police, if we’re not careful we can demonize an entire group of people.”

Some of the best community policing that happens in the United States happens in schools, Dolan said.

“The officer goes in there, even though there are some challenging circumstances, they’ve seen great support from the school community,” Dolan said. “That officer doesn’t make a lot of arrests.”

At the end of the day, Dolan said, it’s not the number of arrests officers make or who officers arrest that will determine the skill of a police department.

“The absence of crime shall be the true measure of a police department,” Dolan said.

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329 or on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette