Making community change comes down to the butterfly effect: if we flap our wings, we can create change.
That’s what Ronald Taylor, president of the Hampton Roads Black Caucus, told a room of Virginia Beach officials, police officers and fellow activists Saturday morning. The group met at the Virginia Beach Convention Center to discuss a five-point proposal to address race relations and policing in the city.
“What you do matters, not only to your family, to your house, but to your community,” Taylor said. “We have to flap our wings to start the transformation and change. What you don’t do matters.”
The plan, developed by leaders from the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference, the Virginia Beach NAACP and the Virginia Beach African American Leadership Forum, identifies five areas for improving community policing in the city:
- Increase hiring, retention and promotion of African American police officers to reflect Virginia Beach’s demographics
- Stop racial profiling in the city by improving data reporting and collection
- Use body cameras
- Use transparency in the police department
- Improve training and performance-review systems within the police department
Members of the groups met with Mayor Will Sessoms and Police Chief James Cervera in early August. Many also attended a city council meeting on Tuesday Oct. 4, to urge the city to act on several issues facing the community.
On Saturday, the city responded directly to several of the areas identified in the plan.
Recruitment to boost hiring of African American officers is underway, and the Virginia Beach Police Department will be hosting a recruiting expo later this year, according to Cervera and a handout from the city. During the meeting, Cevera also said he is in favor of a cadet program and a public-safety program that would combine the fire, police and EMS departments.
Policies for introducing body cameras and dashboard cameras are underway in Virginia Beach, and deployment could start early next year, according to the handout from the meeting.
Finally, the department will ensure all officers are trained in diversity and inclusion, mental illness and de-escalation tactics.
George Minns, president of the the Seatack Civic League, spoke about racial profiling in Virginia Beach.
“The point is, it’s like living in two worlds,” he said. “But the most insulting, humiliating is to be stopped by the police when you know you ain’t did nothing on. Do you realize that’s the most dangerous things to our children?”
City officials and officers talked about ways to increase accountability and transparency.
There are areas in which the department needs to improve, said Capt. Kenneth Miller. He echoed the sentiments of many who spoke Saturday morning: nothing is perfect.
“Personally, I’ve failed you,” he said. “I have failed everybody in this room. As a black man, I have not done the best that I could do.”
Miller thanked those in the room for challenging him.
“I say to this group: hold me accountable; I will commit myself to recruiting,” he said. “I will commit myself to being a better officer and to make you proud of me. And if I don’t, charge me. Or give me a chance.”
Several of the community leaders expressed satisfaction with the outcome of Saturday’s meeting. They also plan to conduct several more roundtable discussions, including discussions on economic development. No dates have been set yet.
“For folks to give up a Saturday morning takes a lot,” said Carl Wright, president of the Virginia Beach NAACP chapter.
A member of Virginia Beach City Council also struck a conciliatory note.
“My eyes have been opened to many things,” council member Shannon Kane told the room Saturday morning.
Kane also talked about her 7-year-old son, who aspires to be a police officer, and how it’s important to think about young people in these discussions.
In an interview with Southside Daily, Chief Cervera pointed to transparency and recruitment as areas in which the city police are already adopting or acting to adopt some of the proposed recommendations put forth by the community leaders.
Departmental policies and procedures will soon be made available online, he said.
In addition, it’s important for him to make the police department reflect the community and to recruit the best men and women for the job, he added.
“We’re hiring,” he said, turning to another reporter. “You don’t need to work for Channel 10, we’re hiring.”