Local law enforcement officials addressed concerns from residents of the Murchison Road corridor Thursday at a forum hosted by the Broadell/Seabrook Community Watch.
Officials who participated in the forum were Fayetteville Police Chief Kemberle Braden, Cumberland County Sheriff Ennis Wright, and Fayetteville State University Chief of Police Roberto Bryan Jr. The forum was held at Smith Recreation Center.
Members of the community watch presented questions to Braden, Wright and Bryan. The forum was moderated by Angela Taylor, associate professor of criminal justice at Fayetteville State.
Among the topics discussed were ways for residents to help with policing, the racial makeup of law agencies, and concerns about officer interactions with people of color.
Braden, Wright and Bryan all emphasized the importance their responsibility to keep the communities they patrol safe.
“Everyone should live in a safe neighborhood,” Wright said. “You shouldn't be scared to come out in your neighborhood. You shouldn’t be a prisoner in your neighborhood.”
What residents can do
When asked about what residents can do to help Fayetteville police, Braden said they should work collaboratively with police officers.
“Realistically, the police can’t do it alone,” Braden said. “Without the community supporting the police, we’re going to go nowhere.”
Braden said residents should get to know their police officers and each other.
“There’s a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of division within our communities,” Braden said. “Sometimes, learning to turn adversaries into allies is a key decision-making process that we have to do.”
Bryan echoed Braden’s sentiments.
“Engagement, engagement, engagement,” Bryan said. “That’s what we have to do.
“When we get to know our community and the community gets to know us, then I think the relationship starts to build,” Bryan continued. “You get to know each other on a more personal level.”
Wright emphasized the importance of people knowing their neighbors.
“It’s your community,” Wright said. “You have to get involved. Get to know your neighbors. A lot of communities don’t even know their neighbors.”
Racial makeup of officers
One of the questions asked of the law enforcement officials was whether the racial makeup of an agency should closely match that of the community it is patrolling.
Braden said that staffing shortages have forced the Fayetteville police to be less picky in terms of who is hired based on race and gender.
“It doesn’t matter what your race is. It doesn’t matter what your sex is,” Braden said. “We’re taking anybody that has a willingness to go out and serve their community.”
Braden also cited his own experience patrolling the Murchison Road corridor as a young police officer.
“It’s obvious that I don’t look like the racial makeup of that predominant area,” Braden said. “It did this for me as a police officer: It made me learn things. It made me adapt to the situations, cultures and communities that I didn’t grow up in. It made me grow as a person.”
Braden said other officers may have had an apathetic stance in the same position. He said while officers should reflect their community, they also should care about the community they patrol.
“If we have officers who have caring hearts and go out and want to serve the community, that’s the best we can hope for,” Braden said.
Wright, who also acknowledged the challenges of a shortage of staffing, said he’s concerned about diminishing diversity among law enforcement agencies.
“I tell young Black folks, ‘If you want to make a difference, quit standing outside my window. Come inside, put an application in,’” Wright said. “You can make a difference when you’re inside.”
Officer interactions with people of color
Another question asked of the officials was if there are differences in how officers approach Black and brown people as opposed to white people.
Braden said that each case of use of force is unique and that he is trained to evaluate situations and not individuals.
“We focus our training on how do you handle the situation, not the individual,” Braden said. “The most effective way for us to train is to train for the situation.”
Bryan, who is Black, said, based on his experience growing up, some officers do appear to discriminate based on race.
“I have had interactions with law enforcement that were definitely a situation that made me think that I was treated differently because of my race,” Bryan said. “Those of us in leadership we’ve got to make sure to hold those officers accountable.”
Wright, who is Black, said officers are not trained to discriminate, but it does happen.
“When you go out there, you show respect for the individual. It doesn't matter if he’s Black or white. That’s what you’ve been taught. But I can’t say it doesn’t happen,” Wright said.
He said it’s not something he or Braden tolerates from officers.
“I don’t tolerate it, and I don’t tolerate it from them. Chief doesn’t tolerate it. We just don’t do that,” Wright said. “But yes, some officers do.”
Ben Sessoms covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.