Harrison County

Second Town Hall meeting aims to improve encounters between police, citizens

Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania talks with Mount Bethel Baptist Church Pastor J. C. Wilkes during a forum with the community in 2014. The police will be at Mount Bethel again Tuesday for a Town Hall to help improve encounters between the police and the citizens.
Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania talks with Mount Bethel Baptist Church Pastor J. C. Wilkes during a forum with the community in 2014. The police will be at Mount Bethel again Tuesday for a Town Hall to help improve encounters between the police and the citizens. amccoy@sunherald.com

Many questions have been directed to the City of Gulfport and the law enforcement with contemporary issues happening all over the United States. Topics like the breakdown of a traffic stop from the point of view of an officer, escalation and de-escalation strategies, type of contacts with law enforcement, compliance and the exercise of rights will be covered at the program titled “The Interaction.”

The “Rules of Survival When Stopped by Law Enforcement” will be presented at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Gulfport. Speakers are Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania and Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson. The second part of a town hall series will offer insight and feedback as a follow-up of the first town hall on Aug. 2 titled “The Public and the Police.”

‘Conduct is crucial’

“Conduct is crucial and can affect the outcome. When officers make a traffic stop, it’s all business on their part,” said Harrison County Supervisor Kent Jones. “We want people to be respectful. If the police pull up behind you, show your hands. That’s just one thing you can do. It’s not required, but it’s not a bad idea."

The event is co-hosted by 1st Missionary Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis. Organizers are excited about the collaboration with the police department and hope to gain a better understanding on both ends.

“Police have certain things they have to keep in mind while making a traffic stop that could potentially be a dangerous situation. I can also understand that the current anxiety level of a minority youth may be an eight on a scale of 1 to 10, and we don’t want them to feel if the police pulls me over, I’m going to get hurt,” Jones said.

“We hope that the series will work “toward breaking the mold and discomfort between the youth and law enforcement.”

Role-playing with officers

There will be discussions covering consensual contacts with law enforcement, where a willing conversation takes place between an officer and an individual. Other instances include detention, where a officer has not quite enough to arrest the individual but does have enough information to detain one.

“One of my officers will talk about the tools we wear on our tool belt,” Papania said. “We will also go into traffic stops — how and when do they occur, when you’re under arrest and when you are free to leave.”

Our series will even involve role-playing between the youth and the officers. “Then we will bring in kids and let them be the cop in a non-compliant situation,” Papania said.

By trying to re-engineer cultural behavior during a traffic stop, this could help in the efforts to preventing a negative experience from taking place in South Mississippi, the chief said.

“We don’t need to look at kids as necessarily bad, but we need to look more responsibly at the messages we send them, ” he said. “They are going to follow the messages they hear in mainstream media, social media and music.”

Officers want to promote cooperation — comply then complain. Information will be given to attendees on how to interact with authority positively and the steps to take when and if a complaint needs to be made. Papania said he and his team believe in policing and want to continue providing a good quality of life for the Coast.

“We want to create an environment where we can honestly talk about issues. We need to be in a position where there is trust in what our law enforcement is doing and you only get there through dialogue,” Papania said.

If you go

What: Town Hall meeting with police, public

Where: Mount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, 2100 30th Ave., Gulfport.

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6

Details: 313-4125 or 380-0180.

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