- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

CLEVELAND (AP) - Police must demonstrate a commitment to directly engage the people they serve if relations between officers and minorities are going to improve, a criminal justice expert said at an Ohio public forum Tuesday.

Mistrust of police only serves to make violent neighborhoods worse, said David Kennedy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. He spoke in Cleveland at the first of four forums statewide examining relations between police and minority communities.

Gov. John Kasich and others are hoping public discussion will help build trust after a series of well-publicized deaths of black men at the hands of police in Ohio and elsewhere. Others forums are planned for Toledo, Cincinnati and Wilberforce near Dayton.

Grand jury decisions that cleared police of wrongdoing in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City have served to deepen mistrust, Kennedy said.

“Communities desperately want a different type of policing,” he said.

Members of the task force allowed people to comment. One woman spoke about how her four sons, who are black, fear police officers and said there needs to be more accountability. There was criticism that police officers aren’t part of the community along with complaints about rough treatment by Cleveland police.

The task force will collect information and identify concerns to develop recommendations on how to help train police officers to interact with residents in minority communities.

“This has been an excruciatingly difficult time for members of the minority community, especially the African-American community,” the Republican governor said at the December news conference.

He said that while white people may not understand why a task force is needed, they must realize “you’re not in their shoes. You’re not in their community.”

Ohio has been roiled by controversial police killings as well. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot in November while holding a pellet gun outside a Cleveland recreation center. The shooting remains under investigation. John Crawford III, 22, was shot and killed by a police officer while holding an air rifle in a Wal-Mart store in the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek. A special grand jury cleared the officer who shot Crawford of wrongdoing.

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