Bridging the Gap – a forum on July 15 aimed at bringing the local faith community together with the community at large, elected officials and law enforcement – got heated at moments, but has already resulted in the production of videos demonstrating proper traffic stop procedures.
The forum followed two tragic events in other parts of the country – the fatal shooting of 37-year-old Alton Sterling by police in Baton Rouge, La., and the killing of five police officers in Dallas and injury to others. Baton Rouge was the site of the murder of three more police officers in an apparent ambush Sunday morning. Three other officers were also injured in Sunday’s incident, at least one critically.
The shootings highlight some of what has been happening across the United States in recent years, including the dangers of police work, and the concerns and fears people of color have about encounters with the police.
With the intention of building more positive partnerships, Bishop Shawn Stephens of Fresh of Fire Ministries and Fellowship International and the Ignite Church International of Leesburg, organized the forum at the Word of Life Ministries in Ashburn.
“We want to get out the frustrations,” one speaker said. “We intend in this community to allow voices to be heard.”
Members of law enforcement who attended, including Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman and several members of his senior staff, and Leesburg Police Capt. Carl Maupin, listened and answered a barrage of questions. Chapman emphasized the dangers officers face, but also the importance of building relationships with all of Loudoun’s communities.
“If we didn’t think this was important, there wouldn’t be so many of us here,” Chapman said, referring to about seven or eight law enforcement officers. “We live in very dangerous times.”
He said about 200 LCSO officers have been trained in crisis intervention over the past few years, with the rest in line.
Some speakers during Friday’s gathering said they’ve experienced discrimination and what they perceived as racial profiling during interactions with police. One young boy named Zeke explained that his father taught him what to do during an arrest: hands up, don’t move fast, obey. “What else should I do?” he asked.
A man who later spoke put it another way: “What does compliance look like to you all?”
A woman asked the proper procedure for someone legally carrying a concealed weapon.
A truck driver said when he pulled over along Route 28 after dropping his mobile phone, the police immediately asked for his ID. “They didn’t ask if I was OK,” he noted.
Another woman she been involved in a traffic stop “at gunpoint in Loudoun County.”
Chapman said that since he took office in 2012, there have been more than 700,000 calls made to the LCSO and more than 150,000 traffic stops, but that his office had not received a single complaint about racism or racial profiling.
“If you all have unsatisfactory interactions, let us know,” he said, adding that the LCSO does not use racial profiling. “We will not stand for that in the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.”
But Pastor Stephens said he wasn’t so sure whether that’s true in Loudoun at all levels of law enforcement, referring to a past stop by a Virginia State Police trooper.
“We need to stop acting like profiling don’t exist,” Stephens said. “It exists; it just depends what lens you are looking through.”
He also was clear to say that “all police are not bad,” but that there are bad apples in every bunch. And because of recent stories about people – particularly African Americans, but people of color in general – losing their lives during interactions with police, there’s a sense of fear.
“There is a real fear that is in our community and it’s not just black men and black women,” he said. “I hope you hear my pain. I hope you hear my passion.”
Phillip Thompson, president of the Loudoun County branch of the NAACP, called upon those who feel they’ve been treated unfairly to take the necessary steps to bring their complaints forward, rather than just turning to social media.
“Being a Facebook warrior does nothing toward solving the problems we have,” he said. “You have got to be proactive. You have to file complaints. We have to start taking care of our community.”
Pastor Michelle Taylor, of Holy and Whole Life Changing Ministries in Leesburg, closed the forum by asking about ways to interact with law enforcement. The county does not have a citizen advisory board, for example.
“We want to be a resource to you,” she said, noting that progress takes time. “Nothing is built in a day.”
On Tuesday, the LCSO released the two videos, the first of which explains “the actions of a deputy, what law enforcement expects from a driver, and what requirements a driver must lawfully follow.” Viewed the video online at https://sheriff.loudoun.gov/trafficstop.
The second video focuses on a traffic stop involving a driver legally possessing a loaded, concealed handgun. View that video at https://sheriff.loudoun.gov/CHPtrafficstop.
Residents wishing to engage with the LCSO can also attend quarterly meetings held in each of the department’s service areas. Here’s the latest schedule of meetings:
- Eastern Loudoun Station: July 26, 2016 at 7 p.m. at the Eastern Loudoun Sheriff’s Station located at 46620 E. Frederick Drive in Sterling.
- Western Loudoun Station: July 27, 2016 at 7 p.m. at the Round Hill Town Office, located at 23 Main Street in Round Hill, Va.
- Dulles South Station: August 1, 2016 at 7 p.m. at the Dulles South Public Safety Center, located at 25216 Loudoun County Parkway in Chantilly
- University Station: August 4, 2016 at 7 p.m. at the University Station located at 45299 Research Place, Suite 100, Ashburn, Va.
Not sure which station serves your home or business? Visit http://sheriff.loudoun.gov/findmystation. To keep up with future meetings, visit the LCSO calendar at https://sheriff.loudoun.gov/Calendar.aspx?NID=1&FID=256.