FLINT, Michigan -- Transparency, accountability, and a healthier relationship between Flint’s Police Department and the community were among the themes of a forum called, ‘Engaging Joshua’ on February 16.
The forum was organized by Community Roots, a community development organization committed to “authentic engagement and measurable change.” The forum was inspired by a conversation that happened between Flint resident Joshua Bryant and Sylvester Jones Jr. of Community Roots at a “Vent” session at Whaley Park last summer.
During the forum, community members asked and discussed the questions: What is justice? What does the Flint City Police department value? What is a question one would ask the Chief of Police if given the opportunity? The purpose of the sessions was, according to group leaders, “Hold a deep rich dialogue between the residents of the city of Flint and the Flint Chief of Police.”
A week later, on February 23, Flint Chief of Police Terence Green answered the questions that were provided to him by the forum leaders, and he was able to address the public directly. Chief addressed questions on budgets, plans for reform, and current changes being implemented within the police department.
One area of concern expressed by some of the residents asking questions is how changes or suggestions from the community are actually implemented beyond just the discussion-phase. Namely, whether the input leads to actual structural change within the department.
In the summer of 2020, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley announced that a task force was being formed to create a bridge between residents and the police. The task force held its first meeting with the public in January of this year, with members, the mission, and vision statements being shared with the public.
“We are going through truth and racial healing training, the entire department,” Green said during the forum. “Every employee will be going through that training.”
The necessity of this training was heavily implicated in July 2020 when two Flint city officers were reprimanded for posting controversial comments on their private social media pages. Then-interim police chief Phil Hart commented at the time that the social media posts were under investigation.
Since last year, one of these officers was promoted to sergeant. Task Force members and a community member raised the question of whether there was any accountability for the officer’s comments and posts.
Green addressed the issue by saying, “Speaking specifically to this incident regarding a social media post in the past year. The problem was that the department did attempt to handle that situation through discipline but there is a fine line between these social media accounts that are private personal social media accounts. It would be a lot different, so to speak, if these racist posts and the officers committed these acts while wearing police department uniforms, that situation would be handled a lot differently than using their own personal social media account. It is a fine line, we are developing policy and procedures to address that. We have policies as far as things of this nature never happening again. That should've been communicated to the community. I think what happened was by not being transparent and not communicating, the community got the impression that this was swept under the rug, which is not the case. It has been corrected. We have safeguards in place to make sure that conduct like this doesn't embarrass the police department.”
Green also noted that there are different department-wide trainings happening this year to help provide officers with more information to address different needs in the community.
“Next month we have two officers who will be attending crisis intervention training, mental health training and they will bring that back and train other officers in this department,” he said. “Those are very overdue and needed training that we are taking very seriously. Every employee in our department will receive that training.”
Mario Booker, a local activist and member, was a member of the Police Advisory task force but recently resigned from his position due to concerns over whether the task force’s partnership with the city would lead to actual structural changes being listened to or implemented.
Linda Samarah, a member of the task force, sees the possibility of change as the foundation of the group’s efforts.
“What drives us is this optimistic belief that exists at our core … that a better, more equitable and compassionate world is possible,” she said. “The fact that we can just imagine that only reinforces how real and attainable that reality and world is.”