About 40 community leaders gathered at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia for the second discussion in the “Building Community Trust” round-table, sponsored by the Department of Justice.
The events are part of an initiative launched by the DOJ to break down community distrust of law enforcement following several high-profile killings of black men by police officers.
The last time one of these discussions was held in Philadelphia, in January, it was led by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. And when it began, organizers ushered out the press.
Holder didn’t take part in Monday’s discussion, but participants spoke behind closed doors. Organizers say it was so everyone could speak candidly without repercussions.
Police Capt. Mike Cram of the 25th District said the conversation focused on bridging cultural gaps.
“We always joke around that we’re the city where, ‘Hey, I got a guy,'” Cram said. “Well, that’s no different in building those relationships. ‘Hey, I got a guy. I got a girl. I know somebody that knows somebody in that neighborhood,’ and let’s get something done. And that’s why we need all the stakeholders.”
Engaging younger residents has been a struggle for the department, Cram said, noting that it’s an area he wants to work on with his officers.
“A lot of the youth have a misconception about police, about what we do, but they’ve never been stopped by us,” he said. “So we have to repair those relationships, or at least change those perceptions.”
Another participant, Nina Ahmad with the city’s Commission for Asian-American Affairs, said she told the round-table that many newer immigrants might not be used to having an open relationship with the police.
“You have to have different timescales for people to feel comfortable to do that,” she said. “And if the police know that, they know that right away, you’re not going to have a rapport, you have to work at it.”
The DOJ is now working with the Philadelphia Police Department to help implement departmentwide changes laid out in a March report.