Police and community come together at Asbury
Members of local police agencies and the public came out to ask questions or voice concerns at Asbury United Methodist Church last Thursday.
Members of the church, police and the general public took the opportunity to hear from law enforcement and ask questions that may not normally be addressed.
“We wanted to start a conversation, go over some things and bridge any divide,” said Tommy Murray, associate pastor at Asbury.
“We want people, especially young people, to feel comfortable walking into a station and have a conversation.”
Some members of the public rarely get a chance to speak candidly with officers.
“People need to know how to respond,” Murray said. “Some people might have questions on what to do when you interact with police.”
The two hour long question and answer session saw many questions fielded, including those related to traffic stops.
Some asked how to behave during a traffic stop or what can be done to make it go as smoothly as possible.
“Well, when you’re moving around a lot it kind of puts an officer on alert,” said John Brown, Chief of Police with Harpers Ferry and officer with Shepherd University. “Just stay cool and calm.”
“When you’re moving around, it puts me on edge,” said Sergeant Garrett, with the West Virginia State Police. “Also, attitude is absolutely everything. Often your attitude will determine how the traffic stop goes.”
The group also offered tips for concealed weapons holders.
“Often a carrier will present their permit with their license or tell us they have a weapon,” Brown said. “We appreciate that.”
Some questioned whether an officer can pull you over “just because.”
“Usually an officer needs probable cause,” said Sargeant M. Spesser, with the Charles Town Police Department. “If something goes wrong, you can take request their identity and write a report later because the road is not the time to argue about it. We record all our traffic stops and you can come in and review it later.”
Some questioned whether they have a right to pull over when they feel safe or as a woman, if they can request a female officer to be present.
“Absolutely, we want you to be safe and you can pull over at a well-lit space nearby,” said Detective A. Meeks.
“As for a female officer present, it might be hard for just a traffic stop, but for a search or something more indepth, you can request a female officer to be present.”
“Just be reasonable about it,” Garrett added. “Put a blinker on or hazard lights so we know you acknowledge us and plan to pull over.”
Some questioned what happens when you get a ticket for a faulty brake light or tail-light.
“Equipment violations are mostly citations,” Spesser said. “Most of the time if you fix it before the court date, you can have it dismissed.”
A few voiced concerns about the police targeting minorities.
“It’s very detrimental to have anyone who abuses the system,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty. “If you look at the stats, we are below the county average and we are not targeting minorities.”
Officers stressed the system was not rigged against people of color.
“This is a very regulated industry,” Garrett said. “We have to govern ourselves but we also answer to people above us. We are in a fishbowl, today everyone can see what we do and we’re heavily watched.”
Some asked for advice to the community about what can be done and if there was a code of silence among officers.
“If you feel you were wronged, we want you to report that,” Meeks said. “An officer receiving a lot of complaints is a red flag.”
“You have to have a system of accountability,” Dougherty added.
Members of the public also asked about procedure for minority applicants.
“State law says we can only pick the top candidates,” Dougherty said. “Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to hire white males. Now this is a noble profession, putting your life on the line to save others and we encourage all to apply.”
“We can do better in the future,” Meeks added. “We can’t cherry pick applicants because of the state law.”
Questions were asked about changing the perception of the police.
“We need to be approachable,” Brown said.
“We wouldn’t go into this profession if we didn’t care about the community. We’re not all out to make arrests or issue citations but we are all out to help make a difference.”
Some elected officials also stressed the importance of accountability.
“We need to look at elected officials because the police work for us,” said Mike Tolbert, City Councilman in Charles Town.
“They work for us and we can change things if they get out of hand.”
The event covered many topics and many stayed after the event to ask questions personally or reflect on the events.
“It was much needed, I would’ve liked more answers about Martinsburg questions,” said Pat Hosby, of Martinsburg.
“The problem comes from being frustrated with not being answered or acknowledged in the real world. I think there’s still a few blinders on that need to be removed.”
Members of Asbury United Methodist were happy the police gave the opportunity to answer questions and hear concerns.”I was in the gym and I just thinking, I wanted to do something,” said Jerome Grantham, member of Asbury UMC.
“With the state of things and everything going on, we want to be a part of the solution.”
The church will also hold another event on Sept. 17 from noon to four for another community event.