Communications Model Between Police, Minority Community Called ‘Success’ By U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, singled out a communications system between the township’s police and African-American community as one that should be replicated in the country.

A Franklin Township success story received a nod earlier this month  from an unlikely source: the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In an interview by NPR’s Steve Instep, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that the communications model used by township police and Franklin’s African-American community is successful and should be replicated in other parts of the country.

The comment came in an answer to a question by Inskeep about what Ryan thought was the biggest obstacle to unity among the races in this country.

Referencing the Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries – senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Garden – who Ryan called his friend, the Speaker talked about the communication system that had developed between the African-American community and the FTPD since Soaries came to the church in 1990.

“Buster and the other black leaders in Somerset, a low-income community, worked with local law enforcement to set up a group that has instantaneous communications whenever something wrong occurs,” Ryan said. “And they’ve got — they’ve really basically fused and merged the minority community with the police department in a very effective way and they have a community policing system that works really, really well.”

“OK, that’s not happening in all parts of America,” Ryan said. “So what I get out of that is: Let’s go learn from those, let’s go look at those solutions and let’s make sure other people know about it and try and replicate these success stories.”

Soaries said Ryan was referring to a system that developed over time in response to problems experienced in the 1990s by residents of the Parkside development.

What made the system more remarkable, Soaries said, is that it came into being at a time when relations between the FTPD and African-American community were strained.

buster soaries

The Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries.

“When I first came to Franklin, the police had just settled a case of police brutality against an African-American male,” he said. “There was sufficient tension between the African-American community and the police to warrant attention from someone in my position. As that tension grew, the police in Franklin, not unlike police around the country, were in this no-win situation.”

Soaries said a group of men from outside the community would cause disruptions, usually on weekends.

“Friday nights, Saturday nights, they would have what’s tantamount to a street-level party,” he said. “Loud music, drinking alcohol. Many of the people in the neighborhood were distressed. Many of them would call the police to disrupt this disruptive behavior. When the police would come, there were elements there who would accuse the police of being too aggressive. If they didn’t respond fast enough, other elements would accuse the police of being racist because they didn’t respond.”

“Tensions had risen to the point where this was a problem,” he said.

The answer, Soaries said, was in the community itself.

“What we did was get a group of volunteer men, men who were familiar in the neighborhood,” Soaries said. Some of the volunteers had served time in prison, he said, but “all of them committed to working with us to better the neighborhood.”

“If a call came in from Parkside, we had men on standby on Friday and Saturday nights,” Soaries said. “Whenever the police got a call, they would call us. By the time the police got to Parkside, our men would be out there.”

The volunteers would be able to disperse any crowds, or identify the “troublemakers,” Soaries said.

“Or our men would at the very least be a witness to what the police did to protect the police from the mythological or credible accusations of aggressiveness,” he said.

Police Chief Lawrence Roberts

FTPD Chief Lawrence Roberts.

Soaries said the community “made it through the summer” with that plan with no incidents. He said current Police Chief Lawrence Roberts – who was not yet chief – helped develop it.

Efforts to strengthen communications between the police and African-American community have grown since then, Soaries said.

“Since that time, both the police and the church, as a leading institution of the community, have seen to it that we were proactive, that we were communicative,” he said. The church offered feedback, he said, to strategies suggested by the police.

For example, when the Ferguson, Mo. unrest occurred in 2014, they organized a town hall in FBCLG that was attended by community members and the FTPD’s top brass.

Chief among the questions asked was whether Franklin Township had the type of military grade equipment exhibited in Ferguson, Soaries said. The answer was “no.”

The FTPD has some specific community policing initiatives that have grown out of that relationship, Soaries said. The principles and practices of those initiatives that could be replicated in other police departments are being documented now, he said.

Ryan launched a “poverty tour” after the 2012 re-election President Barack Obama; Soaries said one of his stops was to FBCLG.

“We’ve taken him around the country to show him poverty programs that are the most effective,” he said.

“The key is, while we are the largest institution in town, and while I’m knd of an activist in my own style, the relationship cannot be limited to First Baptist,” Soaries said. “We’ve tried to bring other local leaders and other churches into the mix.”

“The rank and file on the police department have to have strong ties and relationships in the community beyond me and First Baptist,” he said. “That’s our ongoing effort and goal. I am not under the illusion that I represent the black community.”

Chief Roberts agreed with Soaries, who he called “a friend and trusted colleague,” on the importance of open lines of communications.

“Open dialogue between the police and community is very important,” Roberts said. “The first time you meet with a community leader should not be after an incident. Relationships with the community cannot be rushed; mutual trust and understanding can only be fostered over time.”


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