The city of Delaware has made efforts to improve police and community relations over the past year.
Second Baptist, Terra Nova Community and Delaware Vineyard churches started collaborating in response to increased tensions between the police and communities that resulted in protests, riots and shootings across the nation; and the racial tensions stirred by the 2016 election. The churches have combined services about four times a year.
“It’s all about relationships,” said Michael Curtis. The Canal Winchester resident has served as a pastor for Second Baptist the last two years.
In July, the three churches plus nine more partnered with Delaware police to start the Delaware Community Coalition. The formation followed shortly after five Dallas police officers were killed in the same month.
The Coalition came up with an idea for basketball courts as a way to bring people together in the community. The Recreation Levy Sub-Committee approved funds for courts at Blue Limestone Park.
“From the 12, we developed a coalition. From the coalition, we came up with an initiative. From the initiative we now got basketball courts,” Curtis said to City Council at a Feb. 27 meeting.
“If we start working together as a group and stop thinking about race and start talking about we’re human beings then we can change Delaware.”
Curtis’ comments to Council came after Mark Butler, a Delaware resident of 13 years, addressed a council meeting. It was Butler’s third time speaking to Council since he spoke to them in July, when he voiced concerns about the Confederate Flag being in Delaware’s Fourth of July parade.
“I don’t want the community to miss the point. It was not about not having a basketball court, it was about racial profiling across the country,” he said.
Butler has not attended any of the Coalition meetings because of his work schedule. He told The Gazette he’s not against the basketball courts, the Coalition’s efforts and events such as Coffee with the Cops. But he would like to see the city include the bias-free policing standard, one of seven, adopted by the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board, which was established by Gov. John Kasich.
The particular standard would have Ohio agencies include written provisions to prohibit biased-base profiling, training personnel in such issues; have corrective measures if such profiling occurs; collect data on all self-initiated traffic contacts to include the driver’s race and gender when stopped by police; and have a publicly available, annual administrative review of agency practices, data collected and citizens’ concerns.
Delaware police Chief Bruce Pijanowski said he’s talked with Butler several times about racial profiling.
“He knows we’re attuned to those issues and we’re trying to do something about it,” Pijanowski said.
Delaware police have put a hold on implementing the standards as it plans to update its policies. The city budgeted $190,000 to implement a policy drafted by Lexipol, a major publisher of such documents for public safety organizations. The city is
“We’re at the beginning stages of transitioning our policy manual,” Pijanowski said. The process could take one to two years to complete, but would include the standards from the Collaborative.
On the other hand, the bias-free policing standard couldn’t be implemented right away, Pijanowski added. That’s because it would require technical changes as Delaware County handles the city’s dispatch service. It’s also important to understand how the data is collected and compared for stopped vehicles, because the traveling and census population are different, he said.
Another challenge is determining a driver’s race, Pijanowski said. Police may have to ask that question to every driver they stop or base it on their perception, which could skew the data.
“You could do yourself a disservice,” he said.
Pijanowski became the city’s police chief about four years ago. He and Butler visited churches at that time. But the Coalition is a “concerted effort” to build relationships, Pijanowski said.
“We want this to be lasting and to become the culture and become the way we are,” Pijanowski said in reference to Coalition efforts.
“It’s more than a visit. It’s a relationship.”
The Delaware Community Coalition normally meets at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month.
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.