Coalition sees progress in talks on police reform (August 6, 2005)

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– by Jeffrey Blackwell, Staff Writer –
Democrat and Chronicle.

Leaders of a coalition of religious and social organizations said Friday that city officials are beginning to respond to a demand for Police Department reforms in the wake of the police shooting of a 13-year-old-girl.

At a news conference Friday, community activist Joy Powell said a meeting among members of the coalition, Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. and acting Police Chief Cedric Alexander on Monday was encouraging.

“We feel this is a step toward positive cooperation,” she said.

Powell said that as a result of the meeting, she was able to ride along with a police officer on patrol and was asked by Alexander to take part in training with the Department’s Emotionally Disturbed Response Team. She said she is planning to take the class.

“Our ultimate goal is to establish positive relationships with the city, state and (federal government) with cooperation and collaboration,” Powell said.

Alexander was out of the area and could not be reached for comment Friday, according to police spokeswoman Sgt. Diani Perez.

The group organized a rally last Sunday in response to the shooting three weeks ago of LaShedica Mason. The 13-year-old was shot by police after she allegedly charged an officer with a knife she had apparently been threatening to kill herself with.

Group organizers said they collected 1,000 signatures on a petition to give to city officials. Among its demands:

  • Add members to the Emotionally Disturbed Response Team, which was unavailable when police were called to the LaShedica’s house, and require that a team member or someone with equivalent training answer all calls involving people experiencing emotional or mental distress.
  • Adopt a policy prohibiting comment from top officials about alleged improper behavior by police until an internal or criminal investigation is complete.
  • Reinstate a clergy ride-along program with police.
  • Work with community groups to deliver resources, from confiscated drug money, to the families of those directly affected by violence.
  • Establish a task force to investigate and issue “binding determinations” in cases of alleged police misconduct, abuse or brutality.

Powell said she is speaking with other government and private leaders about funding for the group’s proposals.

Johnson could not be reached for comment Friday.