NAACP: Black officers an area of concern
Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper along with seven of his officers participated in a question and answer session last night at Saint Rest Baptist Church.
Approximately 40 citizens were in attendance for the event, which gave the community a chance to voice concerns or issue praise to the department as well as seek guidance on various issues.
Topics discussed were varied including proper procedure during a traffic stop, the best way police should interact with the public (and vice versa), how the department's patrols are split throughout town and how the police department can get to better know the community.
Some citizens expressed concern about the proportionately low number of African Americans on the police force.
Kenneth Wallace, a former police officer and current president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told Chief Cropper the organization was troubled because out of the 36 Minden police officers on the city payroll only three of them are African American.
"We [African Americans] are the majority in this community," Wallace said, referring to racial demographics. "I've seen the booking reports. We get the majority of the tickets and we get the majority of the arrests. I've gotten calls of perceived profiling.
"We think it is unacceptable," he continued, referencing the number of African American police officers.
Cropper said his officers do not spend more time in one part of town than another.
"I know better than that," he said. "We do not work just in the black areas of Minden. We are everywhere."
Responding to the question about the low number of black police officers, Officer First Class Tokia Whiting said she has tried countless times to recruit other African Americans to the force.
"I have encouraged many African Americans to apply, to come in and talk to the chief," the four-year veteran of the department told the audience. "I actively recruit. I give them my business card. They never show up."
As to the possibility of racial profiling, Cropper said anyone who feels they have been treated unfairly should come to the station and speak with him personally.
"We have all of the traffic stops on tape," Cropper said. "If we get a complaint we will investigate. We will not tolerate it."
The chief also said that he hopes to add another African American officer to the department's ranks very soon. The candidate, currently a dispatcher, has taken the civil service exam and, contingent upon a passing score, will join the force in the coming weeks.
That's welcome news to Coach Stepfret Williams Sr., an iconic Minden resident who was in attendance at Thursday's discussion.
"People in a position to make a difference must make a concerted effort to have more minorities on the police departments, as local teachers and coaches," he said, also referencing education officials.
Williams said seeing minorities in these roles sends a positive message to the community's youth.
School Board member Frankie Mitchell agreed. Furthermore, she said that events such as these were crucial to the police department getting to know the community.
"There needs to be a bonding," she said, adding that events targeted to interacting with teenagers would be very productive.
In that vein, Cropper said he has already told his officers to take a more active role in getting to know the people on their patrols. He's encouraged them to get out of their cars and have brief visits with people when he sees them in their neighborhoods.
"Get to know them," he said.
Cropper was pleased with Thursday's event, and said there will be additional sessions across the community in the coming months.
"If you have any problems, pick up the phone and call me," he told those in attendance as he brought the hour and a half long session to a close. "Or come see me. I have an open door. You come see me and I will see what I can do."
Officers in attendance included Captain Julie Harmon, Officer First Class Joel Kendrick, Officer First Class Jennifer Anderson, Officer First Class Tokia Whiting, Detective Sergeant Heath Balkom, Officer Chris Hammontree and Chase Wimberly.
Chief: Officers want to do their job and go home safe
The majority of the discussion during Thursday's police forum at Saint Rest Baptist Church was in reference to proper procedures during a traffic stop.
Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper relayed a story about a gentleman who was furious about what he felt was recent mistreatment at the hands of a Minden police officer.
The man was pulled over near Gardens of Memory cemetery for running a stop sign on Broadway, some three miles from where he was finally halted.
The man said he did not know he was being followed by the officer because his rear view mirror was askew and the officer was only showing his patrol lights and not sounding his siren.
After some three miles of failure to yield, the officer blared his siren. Startled, the man pulled over. He got out of his vehicle and came toward the officer. The move sparked the policeman to order the man to halt and place his hands on his truck. The officer asked the man if he was carrying a firearm, to which Cropper said the officer was told in a harsh tone, "Yeah, I gotta gun in my pocket."
No ticket was issued, but the man felt the officer mistreated him nonetheless. Cropper said after further discussion with the disgruntled citizen, he was able to make the man realize why the officer was extra cautious.
"Being a police officer is a very scary job," the chief said. "I've been one 23 years and the scariest part remains a traffic stop."
While it may seem routine and simple to the public, Cropper said a traffic stop is always an area of high concern due to the uncertainty of the person or persons in the pulled over vehicle.
In the instance of the upset driver, Cropper said the only information his officer had to go on was the driver failed to pull over for three miles, once stopped the man got out of his car and started moving toward him and then loudly proclaimed he was armed.
Due to the uncertain and possible volatile nature of a traffic stop, Cropper said, "You want to make the officer feel comfortable."
He said the best way to handle being pulled over is to remain seated in your vehicle with your hands visible. Let the officer approach the vehicle and tell you what to do next.
As for carrying a weapon, he said it is best to tell the officer if you have a firearm on you or in your car even if the officer does not ask.
"That tells the officers that you are armed, but since you are telling him first off you probably have no intention of using it," Cropper said. "All the officers want to do is do their job well and go home safe at the end of the day. And they do a fantastic job."