Business leaders and law enforcement officials met in Woodbridge this week to talk about how the community can better work with area law enforcement agencies.
The conversation took place at the Old Hickory Golf Club during the “Shield Strong” luncheon panel, hosted by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce.
The panel was made up of City of Manassas Police Chief Douglas Keen, Manassas Park Police Captain Mario Lugo, Prince William Police Chief Barry Barnard, and Prince William Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Terry Fearnley.
Members of the audience asked the panel about questions related to community policing and law enforcement.
During the panel, one audience member mentioned citizen ride-alongs, which are opportunities where residents can ride along with a member of law enforcement for a day, learning about what they do in the community.
“We all do citizen ride-alongs. For the most part you have to be 18 years old…it’s a great experience…it’s a great program to learn more about your folks that are helping you in the community,” said Barnard.
Another audience member mentioned body cameras, and asked why body camera footage couldn’t be released to highlight the positive things law enforcement is doing in the community.
Currently, Manassas Park is the only local jurisdiction that has a body camera program for their officers, but Prince William County’s police force is currently going through a body camera pilot program.
Keen spoke about the difficulty the police departments have in promoting themselves.
“It’s an easy answer – we’ve got to do a better job. That’s not what we’re about, promoting ourselves, so that is something we have struggled with…we need to do a better job of showing all the positive things that we do,” said Keen.
Keen also mentioned that all “use of force” incidents that occur within Virginia police departments are reported to the Commonwealth and catalogued in an accessible database.
One member of the audience talked about the changing demographics in Prince William County, and asked about how that is being reflected in the respective police departments’ hiring policies.
“The community has changed over the years…and today, Prince William County is a very diverse community…and I think that’s one of our strengths. I think we have diversity in commerce, we have [ethnic] diversity, we have socio-economic diversity…in terms of staffing, we need to do more, quite frankly, and I talk about this frequently when I meet people. We need to have a police department that reflects our community. We work hard at that – all of us do…but to be honest with you, we’re not where we need to be. It’s just a fact…we’re not where we need to be [in terms of] diversity…[Prince William County] is somewhere between 20, 22% African American, and we’re not there. We’re less than half that,” said Barnard.
Barnard asked that residents who know of interested folks with diverse backgrounds encourage them to apply to work in local enforcement.
When asked about the topic of racial bias in policing in the United States, Keen spoke of the local departments’ efforts to connect with the community and establish relationships.
“We’re doing lots of Town Hall meetings…we’re constantly going to those, we’re constantly building those relationships, and we’re building more of them every day…we still have a lot of work to do,” said Keen.
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