community and policing

Members of the public met with Mansfield Police Department leaders and community leaders Oct. 8 during a "Community Conversation: Breaking Community and Law Enforcement Barriers" session at the North Lake Park pavilion. (Richland Source file photo)

MANSFIELD -- Alomar Davenport has seen protests against police brutality in big cities in the past, including during his time in New York City when a Black man named Eric Garner was choked to death during an arrest.

Protests after the Memorial Day killing of another Black man, George Floyd, by Minneapolis police are different, according to the 4th Ward City Council representative.

"To see what is happening now is something I have never seen before," Davenport said. "You didn't have people in Mansfield or Bucyrus or Ontario marching for something happened in Brooklyn.

Davenport

Mansfield 4th Ward City Councilman Alomar Davenport.

"Everyone understands this is a real issue now. Watching that video (of the police officer with his knee on Floyd's neck) ... there is a new sense of urgency. The public is asking for what we are trying to do," Davenport said.

What Davenport, joined by leaders of other local organizations, is doing is continuing a conversation that began with his own car stop by police last summer, an event that led to officers drawing their guns.

That encounter led to a pair of community meetings, including one in North Lake Park on Oct. 8 that included police Chief Keith Porch and Safety-Service Director Lori Cope.

Davenport said he continued meetings with leaders of organizations like We ACT, VOCAL (Voices of Change, Activism and Leadership), the North End Community Improvement Collaborative and Black ministers.

The group, whose face-to-face work was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, is now ready to move forward, including a meeting with the city administration on June 18.

The goal, according to Davenport, is a formalized code of conduct that will help guide interactions between police and community members.

"It's a guideline as to how the community should be interacting with police officers and how police officers should be interacting with the community," Davenport said, adding the group's plan is modeled after a 2017 agreement between the City of Toledo and a coalition of groups representing people of color in that northwest Ohio city.

"We want to create an awareness in the community of how these interactions should be handled ... how it should go when they are stopped by an officer, improved communication," Davenport said.

The first-year local legislator admitted the Floyd killing and the national protests that followed has quickened the pace of local efforts.

"The current climate of the country has created additional urgency to the discussions that began last year," Davenport said. "There is a new emphasis on police and community interactions.

"This is a perfect time for Mansfield to lead the charge on police and community relations," he said.

Black Lives Matter

Several hundred local residents participated in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Mansfield's Central Park on May 30. (Richland Source file photo)

During the North Lake Park meeting, Porch promised his officers would be held accountable.

"When I took over as chief (in 2019), I told the division everybody is grown, everybody is an adult in this room, everybody knows right and wrong, everybody knows the policies and procedures of this department. If you decide to step left when you should have stepped right on that policy, know that I am coming for you," Porch said.

Davenport said he believes Porch understands the need for continued discussions and potential changes.

"In his willingness to stand for what is right, he has made known he has certain standards he expects his officers to abide by. I believe he is on the right side of this movement. I know he is very open to what we are trying to do," Davenport said.

Cope said the Mansfield Police Division  already has a Code of Conduct for its officers, but said the city is open to change.

"We want to hear from people (about suggested changes)," she said. "We don't believe we have a big race problem here and in Mansfield and we are not looking to start one. Can we improve on communication? Yes, and that includes the public in general."

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"