Public safety panelists who were part of last week's Jefferson City town hall have spoken more about the need behind ideas they brought forth — such as a mental health crisis center for children — while the event's organizer has given more of a map of what the next few months may look like for realizing those ideas.
Lincoln University, the News Tribune and KRCG TV partnered to sponsor a Jefferson City Community Engagement Series that kicked off Thursday night with a broadcast town hall event focused on improving public safety in the community.
The panelists were Rod Chapel, attorney and president of the Missouri chapter of the NAACP; Gina Clement, executive director of Capital City CASA; Michael Couty, juvenile court administrator for Cole County; Cole County Associate Circuit Judge Cotton Walker; and former Cole County Sheriff Greg White.
LU political science professor Darius Watson organized the event.
All the panelists told the News Tribune the town hall went well and was a good place for the community to start discussing varied ideas on how to improve public safety issues.
Chapel, finishing a thought from the town hall, said it's time the community revisits the issue of equipping Jefferson City Police Department officers with body cameras — something he said will help build trust between police and the public.
He said the sticking point is not money, but a lack of will, adding no one tells firefighters there's not any money available for hoses.
Chapel said police also should be better paid, and another goal must be "holding those in charge accountable for decisions that are being made and not being made," particularly when it comes to disproportionate stops of Black drivers.
"That is a very simple action item that can be done in two parts," he said — making the decision that the community won't tolerate disproportionate stops and putting a plan in place to address it.
Couty brought forward the idea to have dedicated beds in Jefferson City for youth in mental crisis — at least a unit between the two local hospitals, which serve adults.
Couty estimated Friday, from the juvenile court's perspective, that three or four children a month are in need of such services, and for now, they have to go outside the community to seek them.
He said families also seek such services on their own.
He added being able to get a crisis assessment in town would also help make it more seamless to connect with local follow-up mental health services.
Walker brought forth the idea of having a domestic violence court or docket, akin to other alternative court options for specialized treatment.
He said that's something fellow Judges Jon Beetem, Pat Joyce and he began discussing this year, and it's something they'll bring up again next month during semi-annual in-service training on treatment courts — including where such a court has been successful in other communities and how much a local need there is for it.
Walker did not immediately know how many domestic violence cases the county court handles in a month or year, but he said he had three or four on his docket Friday.
He also did not have a specific court elsewhere in mind to model after, but he said, generally, domestic violence is the type of case where early intervention can make a difference to prevent repeat offenses or escalation to something even more violent and tragic.
White said during the forum that bad parenting is the source of many problems with youth violence.
It's difficult to quantify how exactly a community can address that — White described Friday how it's a common but tough issue for which individuals must choose to take responsibility.
He also said of another community mentality that "we need to have a much deeper discussion of the realities of community policing."
White said there has to be trust between police and the community. That's about officers getting to know the people they serve.
He also agreed with Chapel on the importance of equipping officers with body cameras — to be able to verify what really happened in a disputed incident — but added: "We need to stop measuring on the very minute percentage of people who are truly not good," and measure on success, that by and large, police officers are good people.
Chapel said it would be good to have the faith community involved, as well as perhaps the medical community — such as a doctor, hospital administrator or an epidemiologist who looks at crime as a public health issue.
Clement looks forward to the roundtable meeting among stakeholders planned to follow the town hall this spring and expects that to be a more inclusive group.
Watson said there's no date set for the roundtable discussion — where leaders in law enforcement, criminal justice and other aspects of public safety will take what was said at the town hall and turn it into actionable policy proposals — but he expects it will be in March.
His intention would be for the roundtable to be an in-person event so participants can speak frankly and directly with one another, but the COVID-19 pandemic that closed Thursday's town hall to in-person public participation may still be an issue.
With 20 or so stakeholders — including law enforcement officials, health professionals, public school leaders, LU's president, the director of the Department of Public Safety — it should be achievable to set up a socially-distanced event at LU that's still in-person, Watson said.
Whether the public will be invited is also yet to be determined, he said.
In the meantime, he said of the town hall: "This wasn't the end; this was the beginning."