Field hosts police forum to promote understanding and open dialogue

In an effort to improve dialogue between University of Alabama students and local law enforcement, the School of Social Work hosted a police forum in Bryant Jordan Hall on Thursday afternoon. The forum was organized by the School’s Field Office.

A police panel, comprised of representatives from The University of Alabama Police Department, Tuscaloosa Police Department and Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s department spent over an hour answering questions on topics ranging from sexual assault prevention to ways students can stop unnecessary escalation when dealing with police.

During the first half of the police forum, the law enforcement panel answered questions that were previously submitted by students. The first question posed, asking the panel what is the most challenging aspect of policing the University of Alabama community, demonstrated that the School of Social Work succeeded in establishing an environment of understanding and openness. In response, the panel suggested that dealing with sexual assault and the prevalence of social media are both hurdles that they constantly face.

As the forum continued, a common theme appeared in the panel members’ answers: local law enforcement agencies do not want to be seen as authoritarian disciplinarians; instead, they desire to be viewed by the Tuscaloosa community in a positive regard as educators.

“We’re not trying to discipline everybody,” UAPD Chief of Police John Hooks said. “We’re trying to change behavior, and we accomplish that through education.”

Chief Loyd Baker of the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office echoed Hooks’ desire for law enforcement to be held in high esteem by the community.

“When we have contact with University students, or any member of our community, we can either leave a good impression, a bad impression or no impression,”  Baker said. “We try to instill in our officers that we want to leave a good impression or no impression. We want to avoid leaving a bad impression.”

In the second half of the police forum, the audience, which primarily consisted of students from the School of Social Work, was provided the opportunity to question the panel. Many of the questions dealt with the specifics of how law enforcement deals with members of the community.

With residual tensions still high as a result of recent police shootings, Tuscaloosa Police Department Chief of Police Steven Anderson knows that many people are fearful when they see the blue uniform of a policeman, and he wants people in the Tuscaloosa community to help change this negative view on law enforcement.

“What we’ve gotta do, is we have to get away from instilling fear in people because we see someone wearing a uniform and badge,” Anderson said. “We have to show people that, yes there are some police officers that have done some bad things, but the majority of police officers are here to serve and protect the community because they have a passion for serving people.”

The forum’s goal of augmenting understanding between law enforcement and the community was reached, according to Desiree Foy, a graduate student in the School of Social Work.

“My biggest takeaway was that the police want to build a community with us,” Foy said. “Their interested in our well-being and they care. In turn, we should care about them and help make it easier for them to do their jobs. I thought it was very helpful for the School of Social Work to come in and listen to representatives from local police. It was good to hear their perspective and their side of things and learn how the School of Social Work can build a better relationship with them.”

—  Bennett Stansell, The Crimson White

Photo: A panel of University of Alabama Police Department, Tuscaloosa Police Department and Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s department representatives spoke at a forum in Bryant Jordan Hall on Thursday afternoon. Tajma Henderson / Crimson White