Community interaction between police officers and the public they protect is crucial to creating positive relationships. That was the message from Asheville Police Department Deputy Chief Wade Wood at a February 13 talk on the UNC Asheville Campus. Wood and Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan spoke and took questions at the “Policing in Minority Communities” event, part of UNC Asheville’s Black History Month lecture series.
Questions ranged from the use of force to diversity in the department to specialized tactical equipment, but much of the session was devoted to recognizing the need to build better bridges between officers and the public they serve. Whether it is a greater understanding of Asheville’s cultural diversity or the need to address mistrust of police officers, one-on-one interaction in the community helps improve relationships.
“Everyone has bias, unconscious or not,” Wood said. “And candidly, we have to acknowledge that. We are making inroads in the community, and officers get to know residents in the areas they police. That’s the best way to get beyond those biases.”
Wood spotlighted the Asheville Police Department’s Housing Unit that works alongside public housing residents to make communities safer, as well as the department’s increased efforts at community policing throughout the city. Events like National Night Out and Coffee with a Cop bring residents and officers together not only to discuss safety issues but also to get to know one another on a personal level.
The Asheville Police Department also presents a Citizens’ Police Academy and Junior Citizens’ Police Academy. Recently officers took youth to a battle of the bands event with the Asheville City Schools. Officers have arranged for several youth to participate in the Downtown Dribble and attend some games at the upcoming SoCon basketball event. These are the kinds of interactions that strengthen relationships, Wood says.
“We are grateful to Sheriff Duncan and Deputy Chief Wood for being willing to speak with us about the work they are doing and the work they have left to do,” said Catherine Frank, Director of UNC Asheville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and organizer of the event. “We all have a role and a responsibility to work with law enforcement to create inclusive communities, communicate across cultural differences, and act as allies to create a safe environment that addresses issues of bias and disparity.”
Look for more info on opportunities to meet Asheville Police Officers here at the Asheville City Source.