Public Relations

Forums attempt to repair trust between citizens and law enforcement.

| September 05, 2013
Playback Memphis acts out a scene  at a community forum.
Playback Memphis acts out a scene at a community forum.
- Bianca Phillips

The relationship between some Memphis residents and their neighborhood police officers could use a little CPR — literally.

That's where the Community Police Relations (CPR) campaign, a new effort by the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, comes in. Through the CPR campaign, community forums, attended by both citizens and police officers, are held in communities across the city.

Residents are asked to share their personal experiences and problems with dealing with law enforcement, and those concerns are taken back to the administration of the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. A number of officers voluntarily attend the forums.

A recent forum in South Memphis was co-led by Memphis police officer Colin Wilson, who facilitated breakout sessions with citizens.

"There's a severe disconnect where, often, law enforcement is seen as 'us against them,' but that couldn't be further from the truth," Wilson told those gathered at Union Valley Baptist Church in South Memphis for last week's forum. "We are all in this together."

So far, CPR forums have been held in Frayser, Orange Mound, and South Memphis. At the South Memphis meeting last week, citizens shared concerns about poor police response time, long hold waits for 911 calls, and racial profiling. One woman, who is white, said police often stop her when she is spotted walking down the street with her African-American friends. She said they assume she must be doing something wrong.

A disclaimer is given in each meeting that names should remain anonymous to make residents feel more comfortable about speaking up.

One man said he often calls police to report drug activity in his neighborhood, but he said police aren't doing anything to stop the problem.

Another woman, who lives in South Memphis, said her house had been broken into 15 times, and she even removed the steps to her house to make it harder for thieves to gain entry. Yet, she claimed police refused to test her home for fingerprints.

"They said those kits are really expensive, and we can't afford that," said the woman.

As each citizen shared their personal stories of dealing with police, the theater troupe Playback Memphis acted out the individual scenarios.

"Watching your stories played out is an icebreaker to help break down the emotion so people won't be so apprehensive in sharing," said Melissa Miller-Monie, CPR organizing coordinator.

Miller-Monie and her team record all concerns brought up at CPR forums to share with law enforcement. They also hand out surveys, on which people who may not feel comfortable speaking up can share their problems and suggestions for police.

"We have the Sheriff's Office and the MPD at the table, and they want to know how they can actively engage the community and make it better for all of us," Miller-Monie said.

The next CPR forum will be held in Hickory Hill on September 30th. Accommodations are being made to ensure there's not a language barrier for any of that community's large Hispanic population who may attend. On October 5th, there will be a CPR forum for the LGBTQ community at Holy Trinity Church on Highland.

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Breakout sessions and improvisational theater? That's, like, an 11 on wankerific dial.

The only public relations that matter are the ones done on the street.

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Posted by Jeff on 09/05/2013 at 7:22 AM
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