- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Fayetteville is ahead of the game.

That’s what Mayor Nat Robertson told me about our community policing, which recently attracted White House notice.

On Thursday, Robertson; Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock; the Rev. Brian R. Thompson, pastor of Simon Temple A.M.E. Zion Church; and business owner Kevin Brooks took part in a forum for the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The sponsor was the Office of Community Policing Services, part of the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We were actually one of the smallest cities that were invited,” he says. “I believe it was because of the chief’s hard work, and our crime rate being reduced.”

The officials broke out into smaller groups, and Robertson joined in with other mayors, county commission chairmen and others. He says the Fayetteville Police Department and the city were already doing many of the ideas.

“Chief Medlock has really set us up,” he says.

He is not just cheerleading.

In the spring, police reported violent crimes were down 8 percent and property crimes down 11 percent. Crime rates dropped between 2014 and 2013, too.

There has been a change in tone, too. Subtle maybe, but I’ve noticed.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were at toddler story time with our two young children at the Headquarters Library, and the texts got going between mommies how the Police Department was investigating a trail of blood blocks away at the Franklin Street parking deck. It turned out to be nothing. One of the mommies said she was surprised something so serious was afoot, because her child and others had just gotten sticker police badges from officers near the library.

It’s a small thing, but that’s the two faces of the police: Taking care of business on the one hand, reaching out to the folks on the other.

Last year, Fayetteville police invited officials with Community Policing Services to spend months in Fayetteville to look at police practices, including traffic stops and officer-involved shootings. The move struck me as extraordinary: Often when the feds come poking around, it’s after a department has had an awful blowup and has no choice. Such as Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, for example. The Police Department’s proactive approach was mentioned at the forum, Robertson says.

Also mentioned: the department’s use of social media. The department pushes updates onto Nextdoor.com, a service that lets neighbors post announcements, safety information and more.

By the way, if your neighborhood is not on Nextdoor, get on it.

No police department can be perfect, since they are staffed by human beings. You may have had an interaction with a Fayetteville officer that was not top-notch; I’ve written about a few of those.

But you’d have to be cynical to suggest the Fayetteville Police Department is not moving in the right direction. I give the City Council credit for nudging the department along.

Robertson says one department at the forum ran an ice cream truck to appeal to kids.

While acknowledging the ever-going need for improvement, the Fayetteville department is “doing everything except the ice cream truck.”

Columnist Myron B. Pitts can be reached at [email protected] or 486-3559.


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