Police, Provo residents discuss ways to ease tensions

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PROVO — Amid tensions between police and communities nationwide, Provo police hope to answer questions from residents about their expectations from police officers and show more transparency during police investigations.

If there was ever a time to have crucial conversations on police use of force, it would be now.

“We want the police to be our friends,” said Provo resident Jamie Cummings. “But there’s definitely growing concerns with police attitudes across the nation.”

As nationwide protests continue, roughly 50 Provo residents packed a room in the Provo Library, hoping to learn how to keep the unrest in other cities out of theirs.

Keith and Tamu Smith are particularly concerned with the lack of diversity as they try to raise their African-American children in Provo.

“There are concerns for us as parents how our sons are perceived in the community,” said Smith. “It’s the person that initially makes the call to say 'hey this person looks suspicious’ that triggers the response from the police department.”

Now Smith is asking Provo police to ask more questions when someone is describing someone who "looks suspicious."

Other residents talked about Provo’s immigrant population. Teresa Tavares said some immigrants come from countries “where the police officers are not your friends,” she said. “They’re just criminals with a badge.”

As a Mexican immigrant living in Provo for more than 23 years, Tavares says it's helpful when police have a knowledge and understanding of different cultures.

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“We are really grateful for the police officers in Provo and Orem who are Spanish speakers,” said Tavares. “They do their best to serve the community.”

And in serving the community, Tavares said members of the community have to do their part to help police.

“We love to live in safe communities and that comes with a price,” she said. “We have to abide by the law, and we also have to respect the police officers.”

Jamie Cummings said she heard about Provo’s community-police dialogue meeting by accident. She said she hopes the department will continue these dialogue sessions with police.

Cummings said all residents need to reach the level of mutual respect where "we help them look at us and see real people and also to look at them and see real people.”

Brian Woodfield said he came to learn about police procedure in officer-involved shootings. Woodfield said he'd feel more comfortable with police procedures if more civilians were involved in the review process.

“So the community can say, ‘Yes I trust these results,’ ” said Woodfield. “Because these other people who have no stake in it were at least there, at least seeing it, at least involved.”

Getting the community involved in the police procedure is exactly what Provo Police Chief John King said he hopes to accomplish.

He said he’s already receiving valuable input from residents.

We want the police to be our friends, but there's definitely growing concerns with police attitudes across the nation.

–Jamie Cummings, Provo resident

“A valid criticism is when they talk to us and say the police aren't listening to me,” said King. “Our burden is to listen first and then try to explain where it doesn't sound like we're justifying it but that we acknowledge their concerns.”

And in acknowledging those concerns, King hopes to build trust with Provo families not only by community dialogue but police training. He said the process can be uncomfortable but those who attended the meeting agreed that talking about issues is better than waiting until tempers flare.

“What I try to teach them and we try to have a dialogue about is we're Americans,” said King. “It’s OK to question the government. You respect authority. You can trust, but verify.”

King also said both the community and police have a responsibility to build trust.

"What I like about the term community-policing is both (terms) are together, and it also has the community first," said King. "The burden is on us but we've got to have a joint dialogue back and forth."

In the coming year, King plans to form a Citizens Advisory Board. Provo residents would look at training protocol as well as the police officer hiring and promotions process. King said he is also committed to transparency with the media during police investigations. King feels these new steps are ways to build trust and increase transparency with the community.


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