Closed-door meetings were not meant to exclude the community, the mayor said.
By AMANDA C. DAVIS
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- At least one resident believes the city has taken a positive step toward resolving race issues but must be forthright with the community when addressing those issues.
Lea Dotson, a 22-year-old black woman, says it's not enough that the city has issued a three-page draft of topics discussed in closed-door sessions with the U.S. Justice Department.
"I'm pretty sure that the mayor is taking a step in the right direction," she said, "but this is not addressing the concerns of the majority."
At a press conference Wednesday at city hall, meeting minutes were handed out to highlight topics discussed by the city, the Justice Department and the Warren Minority Coalition in a series of meetings this month.
The coalition was chosen by Birdia Roberts, president of the local NAACP. Members include the Rev. Edgar Fisher, Tom Conley, director of the Warren-Trumbull Urban League, and other black community leaders.
The city was represented by Mayor Hank Angelo, Safety-Service Director Fred Harris, Police Chief John Mandopoulos, other police officials and Cathy Bercheni, the city's equal opportunity coordinator.
Issues: The coalition has taken issue with the city's hiring and recruitment practices, training for police officers, racial profiling, a lack of community policing and citizen complaint procedures.
Gustavo Gaynett, director of the U.S. Justice Department's Detroit office, said he got involved after receiving several calls from residents concerned about police and community relations.
He declined to name specific cases that might have prompted the calls.
The Justice Department contacted the city in June, however, a few days after a black man told authorities that two white officers used excessive force when they pulled over the car he was riding in because the driver failed to use a turn signal.
"Our office does not investigate the merits of an individual complaint" but rather provides assistance in times of conflict, he said.
Future closed-door meetings are planned, but dates have not been chosen.
Angelo said the meetings are not meant to exclude anyone.
The Justice Department asked that the meetings be closed because a large group would likely have been unmanageable, making it difficult to get anything accomplished.
Hiring blacks: Issues that have been addressed include the lack of black police officers and firefighters.
Angelo has said the city can't hire blacks if they don't apply.
Officials hope minorities take an upcoming civil service test to bolster safety services, he added.
Bercheni said the police department will take part in cultural diversity and sensitivity training, beginning Sept. 10 at an off-site location.
Department-wide training will be three days a week for five weeks, she said.
Harris said it's been at least three years since the department has had some training. The city has vowed to put a policy in place to address the need for training for new hires.
"This is a good opportunity to find out how the community perceives the city and our police force," Angelo said. "I think we're going to see a lot of positive results out of this."
Dotson, of Fifth Street, said officers used excessive force when they arrested her Aug. 11 at a bachelorette party they called a disturbance. She has said she bit an officer after he punched her in the face while she was handcuffed.
She has not filed a formal complaint with the department.
Angelo had two community breakfasts recently to address race relations.