Citizens committee offers plan to improve city relations

The committee recommended creation of a public relations spokesman.
WARREN -- A citizen committee's five-point plan to improve relations between the Warren Police Department and the community suggests better police communication with residents, training and education.
The Citizens Community/Police Relations committee consists of city residents who were asked to participate because of their leadership and involvement in the community.
Councilman Bob Dean, D-at large, said he is optimistic that improvements will continue, based on the information provided by the report.
"I expect there will be something happening on all five points," he said.
Dean said the committee's recommendations are not expected to cost any money and the police department already has a new training program set to begin Aug. 23.
The mayor could not be reached Monday afternoon.
A copy of the report, provided by committee member Dr. John Robertson, coordinator of community and public relations for Kent State Trumbull, says the committee found the police department leadership is isolated from the community. To heal this breach, the report recommended officers be encouraged and expected to be active, visible members of community organizations.
Report suggestions
The report also says:
UCommunication is another weakness. Inconsistent internal communication among units and department levels raises concerns that not everyone is receiving updated information, which causes confusion and creates a disorganized and indecisive image for the department. The committee recommended assigning a person who would be responsible for public relations and communication within the department. This person would conduct press conferences, provide informational materials to media and community groups and organizations, and improve internal communication.
UThere is no nonthreatening way for citizens to report a nonemergency situation or issue. The report suggested establishing a police/community hotline to answer nonemergency questions or concerns.
UThere is no systematic training plan for the department, and formalized training opportunities are often given as a reward instead of following a plan. Specifically, the committee recommended "regular legal updates on laws and their interpretation as they relate to law enforcement issues."
UThe atmosphere of distrust and lack of confidence is increased by problems with perception and lack of knowledge of police work. A systematic effort to educate the community about the situations officers face in their daily responsibilities would build trust and confidence in the police. The committee recommended creating a Civilian Police Academy.
Youth relationships
The committee also suggested building positive relationships between police and young people through schools, and encouraging officers to meet with people when there is no specific problem at hand.
In addition, the report suggested a Citizens' Review Committee for disputed and questionable actions by officers.
Dean said the committee met with Mayor Michael J. O'Brien Saturday morning. He said the mayor agreed with the committee about the need for a public relations person, and a nonemergency police hotline.
"There was uneasiness for exactly one minute on the part of both the mayor and the committee," he said. But after glancing through the report, O'Brien leaned back in his chair: "In one minute the mayor became a part of our group," Dean said.

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