COLUMBIA — Community members and county law enforcement officers continued an ongoing dialog on improving relationships between the groups at a meeting hosted by the Lancaster County NAACP on Tuesday.
“This is not the end of a process, this is the beginning of the process,” said Rita Smith-Wade-El of the NAACP. “We will be working on this for the long haul.”
The latest installment of the NAACP discussions with the community brought more than 75 to the meeting Tuesday evening at the Columbia School District building in the borough, with law enforcement comprising about half of the participants. The crowd discussed topics such as Youth Aid Panels, civilian review boards, police training, community engagement, police recruitment of minority officers, and many other topics in a more informal and relaxed setting.
Groups of about 10 were formed to encourage discussions between officers, chiefs, detectives, the Lancaster County district attorney and concerned community members in attendance. Each group talked about a specific issue for about 40 minutes before a representative from the group shared discussion points with the crowd.
Alysa Poindexter said she wanted to leave the keyboard and get out and do something, which is why she attended Tuesday’s meeting. She went to the previous community meeting the NAACP hosted in August and feels like progress is being made. Poindexter noted that her biggest concern heading into the meeting was having to be defensive when speaking with police about her gripes, but law enforcement was receptive and eager to listen, she added.
West Earl Township police Chief Brian Brandt stressed the need to understand history as a part of diversity training when presenting his group’s discussion. Brandt, a Columbia native, pointed to the borough’s history of being diverse, but noted how it has evolved from being segregated to more open. Pointing to progress and becoming less segregated, he said that is important for police and the community to understand when interacting with each other.
Officers agreed there was a need for stress, critical decision making training, school resource officers, police athletic leagues and the like, but time and money prevent good ideas from coming to fruition. Referencing Youth Aid Panels, Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said his office funds all efforts in the county to bridge that gap, but other initiatives need support.
Ismail Smith-Wade-El of the NAACP encouraged attendees to take the discussion topics back to their communities and their departments. He also encouraged people to come to the next meeting in early November, as well as encouraging attendees to get involved in the political processes to prompt institutional change.
“Decisions are made by people who show up,” Ismail Smith-Wade-El said.
Columbia resident Dennis Bachman emphasized the importance of teaching youth to respect their community, giving them positive things to do and restoring values once held in the town were necessary to mend the rift. He seized on the fact that helping youth would have the greatest impact in solving police and community relations issues.
Lancaster NAACP President Blanding Watson referenced the July 29 shooting where two teens are accused at firing at area police when reminding the audience of the importance of the initiatives. He said he hopes the continuing series of meetings his organization is planning will create change in the community as well as changed policies and systems.
“What we do now will set the tone for future progress,” Watson said.