New law enforcement task force aims to bridge gap with civilians

The Tri-Cities

PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia State University is partnering with Central Virginia law enforcement officials to form a regional policing leadership taskforce.

In response to recent protests nationwide, the goal of the task force is to bridge the divide between police departments and the surrounding community. With this new collaboration, officials are hoping to heal the wounds of the current climate.

Administration members from Virginia State University, as well as police chiefs, lawmakers, and activists from across Central Virginia came together Friday afternoon to build a better future.

The first meeting was organized by Virginia State University professor Dr. Zoe Spencer. Spencer is also a Human Rights activist. During the meeting, she highlighted the need for improvement when it comes to the divide between the police department and various communities across the country. Spencer believes some individuals have negative perceptions about both race and police officers.

“As a mom to a Black son and as a professor and an auntie to my students here at Virginia State University, I feel blessed that they answered the call,” Spencer said.

Spencer believes there is a great need to have uncomfortable conversations and doesn’t want a situation like the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to happen in Virginia. Floyd was a 46-year-old African-American man, who was killed by police during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.

While expressing his excitement, Colonial Heights Police Chief Jeff Faries said that these meetings would hold him accountable.

“There’s a lot of learning to do. Alot of time for me to be quiet and learn. I’m here to learn about the past and the history,” Faries said. “It means so much to us. We recognize that there is a void there and we plan on filling that void and doing that through these meetings and gaining additional relationships here. We hope to be better.”

Administration members from Virginia State University, as well as police chiefs, lawmakers, and activists from across Central Virginia came together Friday afternoon to build a better future. (Photo: 8News’ Rachel Keller)

The meeting left Petersburg Police Chief Kenneth Miller inspired to address the hiring process at the department.

“It was truly a call to action and normally we’re the ones requesting a community call to action but I think today was reversed,” Miller said.

Virginia State Senator Joe Morrissey called the platform, “a major step.”

“One of the problems in Richmond is that from the very beginning there was antagonism between protesters and police that never got resolved, and it could’ve been but it wasn’t so this is good stuff.”

Senator Morrissey brought up criminal justice reform bills in the general assembly– like no knock warrant warrants, a ban on chokeholds, and de-escalation training. He felt it was important to be at the meeting so the police chiefs could hear the changes. Morrissey hopes the changes will be embraced as the process moves forward.

Virginia State University President Dr. Makola M. Abdullah believes historically black universities (HBCU’s) play a critical role in these conversations.

“I think it’s important for VSU to leverage its history, leverage the passion of Dr. Spencer and the commitment of the police and surrounding area, to see what we can do to produce change,” Abdullah said. “We want to make our community safer for the young people who come to school at VSU and for young people who are thinking about coming to VSU. We have to have a more collaborative relationship with law enforcement to keep everyone safe.”

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