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YPD officers deserve praise for service

We have been fortunate in Youngstown to have experienced no recent deaths at the hands of police and few, if any, reports of excessive police force or mistreatment of people of color.

Indeed, we have been very proud of our police department for maintaining proper restraint and decorum when executing traffic stops, making arrests or when dealing with the public in general.

That’s why we, like many police officers and members of the community, were surprised to hear the comments made by Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown during a May 25 memorial service in Youngstown for George Floyd, a black man who died one year earlier at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.

Speaking publicly in downtown, Brown said when he was young, he did not think about being killed by police.

“Now we’ve got to worry about whether we are going to be arrested, tried and executed at the curb by law enforcement,” he said.

Brown added that he spoke to his oldest child, who is 31, about “being an African-American male in the city of Youngstown.” But until the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, a black medical worker killed by Louisville, Ky., police during a botched 2020 raid, “I didn’t realize that our young ladies are dying as well.”

Since making the statements, the mayor has come under fire by members of the police union in his city and also by members of the community who have been critical of his approach.

Just like in all professions, sadly, bad police officers exist. We hope and believe, however, that a very high percentage of the men and women who enter the field of law enforcement do so with the best intentions, to serve and protect the public. We also believe that managers, supervisors or, in this case, elected officials who speak publicly of their hard-working employees showcasing a very good track record should speak with praise and pride.

Since the May 25 event, Brown has clarified that his remarks were not aimed at Youngstown police officers. “I was speaking of the national narrative, not the Youngstown narrative. I was speaking about the George Floyd incident. We don’t have that problem here with our police,” Brown said. “They lead from the front.”

We are very pleased to hear the mayor’s clarification. Still, we remind him — and all elected officials, really — how biting and dangerous such public statements can be, potentially adding to growing concerns about intentions of police officers who increasingly are viewed as adversaries rather than allies to the public.

Frankly, we have seen no evidence of abuse or mistreatment by Youngstown police officers. According to James Rowley, Youngstown Police Association Patrol Union president, it’s been more than a decade since a YPD officer has taken a life in the line of duty. Rowley said Youngstown police rarely use force — just 0.10 percent of the time — and he added officers here rarely are found to have used force excessively.

Indeed, the Youngstown Police Department should be proud of that record and deserves recognition for officers’ overall excellent service to our community. We also recognize that the department is headed by a very qualified and aggressive new police chief, personally selected by Brown. The chief, also African American, is working to develop more community policing programs and is stepping up efforts to add a body camera program, which we fully endorse for the sake of transparency.

We remind all elected officials to choose their words carefully.

It can be irresponsible to raise concerns about excessive police force at a time when so much divisiveness already exists between police and minorities, especially when speaking in a community where this problem has been extremely limited.

At the end of the day, our elected officials, including Mayor Brown, must make it a priority to work to improve relations between the community and its police officers.

editorial@vindy.com

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