WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Waterbury Police and community members met Thursday evening to strengthen the relationship between the community and law enforcement and build trust.
“A lot of dealing with the police comes through certain times, traffic stops, and things like that,” said 20-year-old Amari Brantley. “And me being Black, that’s something I worry about.”
Thursday night, he and other young people got the chance to question Waterbury police officers and the police chief himself about department policies and procedures. It’s part of a meeting between the public and police called “Community Conversation”.
“That’s what we’re trying to change,” said Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo said ahead of the meeting. “We don’t want anyone to see a police officer and feel that they’re on the defensive, afraid, or scared.”
Brantley tells News 8 one of the questions he plans to ask deals with police body cameras.
“It provides safety,” said Brantley. “If something was to happen to me, it would be shown. It would be recognizable, and it wouldn’t come down to he said/she said.”
Chief Spagnolo recently told News 8 his department is close to purchasing body cameras and dash cams for every officer and to equip every police car. He says transparency is a top priority of his department.
One of Brantley’s friends tells News 8 what he hopes to ask questions of police, too.
“My biggest concern is that there’s going to be certain prejudices and preconceived notions when approaching people or youth of different backgrounds,” said Winston Hendricks.
To that end, Chief Spagnolo has told News 8 he’s requiring his officers to participate in cultural awareness and diversity training classes.
“It’s a really big positive step in the right direction,” Hendricks said.
The Community Conversation gathering was organized by people in several community groups who came together to join forces. They call themselves The Community Collective.
“We hope to accomplish a better understanding between members of the community and the police department,” said Warren Leach of The Community Collective ahead of the meeting.
Chief Spagnolo told News 8 he agreed to participate in this meeting to improve relations and trust in the city.
“It’s something we take very seriously here,” said Chief Spagnolo. “We do it with a passion. It comes from my heart.”
“My hopes are we grow closer as a community to our police,” said Brantley. “We put at least some of the bad narrative to rest where we can.”
At the meeting, a panel of officers including the chief fielded questions from community members including young kids.
The questions varied from “What do I do when I get pulled over?” to “How do I dispute a claim against an officer?” And even “How do I become an officer?”
Chief Spagnolo offered some stats, adding 11 officers in the last decade have been fired for serious complaints. Most complaints they receive are about the officers’ attitudes. He says they’re working to make that better.
Waterbury police assured these kids they’re not out to get them. They’re there to bring order and to help.
Nachor Vincent, a local student, told News 8 after the meeting, “You look at the news and social media and you don’t know the depth of what an officer does and all the jobs they have to do. So I came away with more information I can use with my family, my friends, and the community here at Waterbury, and I think it’s great.”