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Law enforcement wants to build bridges to community

LOUISBURG -- Back in January, Cary police and neighborhood stakeholders told Franklin County leaders about how they "chopped it up" during informal barbershop chat sessions that have strengthened relationships between law enforcement and the community.

Last week, Franklin County law enforcement and members of the community got a chance to cut right to the heart of community policing when the organizer of Cary's diversity training program -- COHORT (Community Organizers Helping Officers Restore Trust) -- put dozens of officers and community members through it...

The goal, said COHORT founder Tru Pettigrew, is to get police and the community to understand each other's differences and expectations and how to manage those interactions for safer and more productive interactions.

"The more inclusive you are," Pettigrew said, "the more committed [officers] can be to the common cause.

"The outcome of that is that policing is not something that is done to or for a community," he said, "it's something that is done with the community."

So, on July 24, dozens of officers from the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, the Louisburg Police Department and other entities met at the Louisburg Training Center for a day-long session where the goal was to see where there might be trust and legitimacy issues between police and the community and figure out ways to bolster them.

"It's done in a way where we weren't dictating anything," Pettigrew said. "We allowed it to be a flow of shared information, rather than dictating to officers."

It's an approach Louisburg Police Chief Jason Abbott said he appreciates.

"This training touches the essence of good community policing -- building relationships with all our citizens," said Abbott, noting that a good part of the training was inviting a diverse segment of the community to share their unfiltered opinions about law enforcement efforts in the community.

"I believe we presently enjoy great relationships with all communities in Louisburg and I do not take this for granted," he said.

"Through this training, I hope our officers gained tools and insight necessary to continue to build upon those existing relationships," Abbott said. "This training demonstrates that we are truly committed to not just some, but all citizens we serve."

Sheriff Kent Winstead said it's "all based on learning your biases and being able to connect to the community to bring law enforcement and the community back together."

The sheriff's office requires deputies spend a certain amount of time in their zones, in the community, getting to know the people they protect on a daily basis.

It's not always easy or doable when it's busy, but it's a commitment his office makes, Winstead said.

As such, staying on top of efforts to sharpen their community policing skills through training is a top priority, he said.

"We try to pick the best [community policing] classes each year and we've found something better every year," Winstead said.

Having members of the community take part in a panel, Winstead said, was incredibly beneficial.

"We want to build back that trust and we want to have accountability and transparency in what we do and explain [to the public] what we have to do ... [the training] lets us get that out in the open."

And, the training, Winstead said, didn't just end with the day-long session.

"... We made some good contacts," Winstead said. "They can bring us into their circle so that, now, we have a bigger circle that we're working in.

"We had some people to invite us in and talk with their employees, their families so we can get them all involved," Winstead said. "That's one of our biggest purposes.

"One of the ladies on the panel was an Hispanic lady and she talked about the distrust and their fears," Winstead said. "We want to try to set something up in those communities, in African American communities ... we want to be working on every aspect of community policing that we can, every time, all the time ... so that if something does happen here [that could split the community] we have a relationship with the community to build on."

Louisburg Town Councilman Chris Neal, who attended the session, said he anticipates the strides made during the training will continue beyond the training center.

"My hope is that this type of thing will continue and more and more people get involved and take an interest," Neal said. "That's what I hope will happen."

Practically, Neal said, he also hopes there could be a change in approach to policing -- an old-school approach -- that could also benefit efforts to bolster trust amongst the community and law enforcement.

"One thing I'd like to see in the future is more police walking the beat," he said. "And, it helps to have officers who look like the people in their communities they're serving.

Pictured (Above): COMMUNICATION IS THE KEY. Tru Pettigrew, who started a police training program in Cary to foster better relationships between police and the community, brought a session to Franklin County last month.

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