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Law enforcement, chaplains react to NY cop killings

It’s a tough time to be in law enforcement.

Tensions continue to mount in a nation on edge following the deaths earlier this year of two unarmed black men killed by police officers and the deaths earlier this week of two New York officers ambushed by a gunman.

Authorities said the two officers — Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos — were sitting in their patrol cars in a Brooklyn neighborhood when they were shot. The shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, posted on social media his plans to kill police.

Top law enforcement officials here say any situation that involves law enforcement has an impact on how all law enforcement officers are viewed.

Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins said it would be unfair and inappropriate for him to talk about how the Missouri and New York incidents were handled, since he was not directly involved.

“I fully support individual rights to protest their opinions,” he said. “There is a right and legal way to do this, however, and that would never include violence.”

Collins said people often draw conclusions about all officers because of the actions of a few.

“Over the course of my career, it has not been uncommon to see those who have a negative perception about a situation, to develop the opinion that all officers are exactly alike and handle situations in exactly the same manner.

“Knowing this, officers usually strive to remain aware of such events taking place and strive to maintain a high level of professionalism in order to avoid complaints/criticisms,” Collins said.

Sheriff Kevin Auten said he doesn’t believe there’s a sense of added pressure on local law enforcement in light of the incidents that have occurred in other parts of the country.

“I don’t think added pressure other than we need to interact with folks in a positive manner,” Auten said.

He added it’s about working on personal skills and interaction with the public.

“How do we resolve things with violence?” Auten asked.

“There’s been peaceful demonstrations in New York, and it’s good people can express their opinions and beliefs and not damage property or burn property,” Auten said.

Build relationships

Collins said since becoming chief in 2010, he’s made it clear that one of his department’s ongoing objectives is to “always strive to build additional relationships with the community we serve and to consistently work to strengthen those relationships that we have successfully established.”

He said when changes were made in the department’s structure, including the Street Crimes Unit, adding a Community Relations officer and Youth Crime Prevention officer, the intent was to “help complement our department in the effort of building relationships and dealing with quality of life issues.”

Collins said shortly after some of the recent events began to take place, he reminded the entire department of the “great importance of building and maintaining relationships with our community.”

He added that they should  always strive to do the “right thing for the right reason” in every call they respond to and every encounter they have with a citizen.

Like you’d treat Mom

Auten said he encourages his officers to “treat everyone like they want their mother to be treated until you are given you a reason not to.”

Things are not perfect, he said, “but I hope in Rowan we can sit at the table and come up with answers to make things better.”

“It’s a time to be smart and look at solutions. It can happen anytime, any day,” Auten said of violence against law enforcement.

Collins said law enforcement is a quality of life issue.

“The citizens of our city deserve nothing less than a high quality of life and the ability to live without fear each time they go outside of their homes,” Collins said.  “The officers who serve them are committed to doing their very best, each and every day, to provide the highest level of policing services possible.”

The police chief said it means not only coming when called for a problem, but also patrolling neighborhoods to prevent and deter issues, proactively dealing with issues at their root, and also taking steps to help improve relationships and quality of life matters.

The unknowns

The sheriff said there needs to be some recognition of issues that have happened in other parts of the country.

“Sometimes in this job you have to put up with things that everyday citizens don’t have to,” Auten said.

He said sometimes a situation can be resolved without the need for an arrest.

Collins said long before the Ferguson incident and the killings in New York his department already discussed with patrol officers and command staff about potential “unknowns” that officers may face.

The leadership teams have “routine discussions with their staff about situations taking place locally and nationally for which they should be aware and which could impact their safety,” Collins said.

Body cameras

Both Collins and Auten say Rowan County will likely head in the direction of other law enforcement departments including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, who have body cameras, and the Winston-Salem Police, who will have body cameras next month.

Collins said this plan isn’t the result of recent events; he began working on a plan over a year ago.

“In fact, I am committed to outfitting our uniformed officers with high-quality body cameras in the near future,” Collins said.

He said the Salisbury Police Department is awaiting the release of a body camera product, which the department believes “will serve our needs the best and which will be compatible with our current in car digital systems.”

Auten said his office is looking to see how body cameras can be used.

“I think it’s coming. You can’t put a price on life and justice,” Auten said.

Appreciation

Not everyone views law enforcement negatively in this community. Actually, Collins said routinely officers are approached by citizens who simply want to say thank you.

“In fact, we’ve also had numerous individuals deliver cookies, cakes, etc. to the department to show their support of all we do each day,” Collins said.

Auten said his office probably receives as many appreciative or support letters as any other time.

“I don’t think it’s a time we are viewed as villians by everybody. We still have strides to make in relations,” he said.

Auten added some times people just don’t like law enforcement.

Praying for officers

Rowan County Sheriff’s Chaplain the Rev. Michael Taylor said he’s not witnessed any backlash against law enforcement.

Taylor presides over the Shield-A-Badge program through which people anonymously volunteer to pray for officers.

“They’re still praying for officers. I’ve been amazed among all the things going on with all of these incidents. I haven’t seen any signs of them doing otherwise,” Taylor said.

As to morale, Taylor said, from his perspective the officers are still out on the streets, “just doing their job.”

He said the officers he encounters enjoy doing what they love to do.

“We all make mistakes from time to time. You ask God for wisdom and direction,” Taylor said.

A funeral service for Ramos will be held Saturday while funeral arrangements are incomplete for Liu’s family who are awaiting relatives from China.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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