STATESVILLE, N.C. (WBTV) – City and county leaders in communities surrounding Charlotte have been paying close attention to the events that unfolded last week regarding the Keith Lamont Scott case.
“It could happen here,” said J.D. Williams of the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office. “We want to make sure that we are talking before hand. To have a mechanism in place before hand, before the city is burning, we don’t want the city to burn so we want to make sure that we can be proactive.”
Scott was shot and killed by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 20. Police said Scott refused repeated commands to drop a gun and posed a threat to the officers, but Scott’s family says he didn’t have a gun.
The reaction to the shooting included several nights of peaceful protest, but also one night of violent demonstrations that resulted in significant property damage and one man being shot to death.
On Thursday Williams hosted a gathering of law enforcement leaders, clergy and other community groups to talk about how Iredell County might handle such a situation, and what can be done now to improve understanding.
“What does law enforcement expect in interactions from the civilians, and by the same token, what are civilians expecting from law enforcement?” said Iredell County Register of Deeds Ron Wyatt. “We’ve had one meeting that I thought was beneficial, basically, there’s a lot of misunderstanding.”
The group is called PACT, it means police and community together. It existed before the Keith Scott case, but the aftermath of that case has changed the conversation.
“My objective is to, even with my congregation, try to develop that type of relationship with some of the local police officers that are in the neighborhood so that they can have a more hands-on, day to day discourse with the people that live in the community,” added Aljamel Stephens, a Statesville pastor.
“The churches are able to reach out more and get to the younger community, the police are not able to because they’re scared and they get the notion that all police are bad,” said retired CMPD officer Troy Johnson.
Wyatt says that the number of complaints against police officers has risen dramatically in the last few years and believes that is hurting recruitment for law enforcement across the country.
“But once they do an investigation more than ever they are frivolous complaints,” Wyatt said. “And then these officers are now going through a couple day to a couple week process of being investigated for doing their job the right way and it’s making them second guess and ask ‘am I doing my job right and is it worth it?’
“It’s easy to go on one side of the story and react to it,” Stephens added. “But it’s a more intelligent way to come and understand both sides of the story. I hear people even at the church now, we’ve been discussing the situation that happened in Charlotte and how we can prevent it or be able to do something to prevent it from happening here, and most of my parishioners say that when a police officer gets behind them they are frightened. My response to them was ‘have you ever took into consideration that they’re frightened as well?'”
The group is planning to take the message and the conversation to the community now while there is peace, in the hope that better understanding will keep it that way.
“We’re hoping we can be a force right now that we can bring about the change that we’ll need with transparency with police departments and the education of police officers, because like I was telling them earlier, we have a great police force here,” Williams said. “We don’t really have any bad officers. We have what we call officers making bad decisions out of fear, and also the community making bad decisions out of fear.”
Copyright 2016 WBTV. All rights reserved.