Local leaders gather in Burke County for police reform forum

CSRA News

WAYNESBORO, Ga. (WJBF) – Right now, police reform is a hot topic all over America. In Burke County, things are no different as several public figures from around the CSRA met Tuesday to address concerns from citizens.

“It is more dangerous for a black man than it is for a white man and no matter what the law says that’s the reality,” said panelist Dr. Michael “Cowboy Mike” Searles.

Dr. Todd Powell-Williams, an Augusta University professor explained, “Whites make up a total of 60% of the total US population. We make up less than half of those shot and killed by police. Blacks, African-Americans make up just over 13% of the American population but they’re nearly a quarter of all people shot and killed by police.”

Sheriff Alfonzo Williams was the moderator at the forum. Recently, the lawman has been vocal to local and national media about police reform and current events.

He said, “We want people to feel safe, to feel empowered, to feel like the police and the community are one. And it’s not us against them.”

The shooting deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks were discussed. Two local officers showed everyone what it’s like to be in their shoes. Making decisions at a split second under stress.

“They’re (police officers) wrong sometimes. They’re wrong but I do not believe that they go out there and pick on somebody this day and time because where they come from. They’re better trained than we ever were,” said Freddie Sanders, a former Chief Deputy with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

As the audience listened and asked questions to the panel, Sheriff Williams discussed how he would like to see police departments more professionalized.

He explained, “I wrote a letter to the governor outlining a seven-step plan professionalize the profession and it starts with a 4-year degree. I think it allows one to undertake study and to have diversity. And cultural awareness. Get away from home and get into a different environment. And understand people in general.”

“Community policing is very, very important to stabilizing the community, to getting to know each other,” said Representative Gloria Frazier.

Sheriff Williams, added, “We’re making those connections and so we’re less likely to have a situation like what you saw in Brunswick or Minneapolis. We have an early warning system. We can identify officers that may be outside the scope of policy. We’re training before it becomes a problem.”

Sheriff Williams is also advocating for all officers to wear body cameras. He said transparency is the key to trust.

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