For many months now -- long before the murder of George Floyd, long before these meetings seemed mandatory in communities across the country -- Bud Whitehorn and Andre Crockett have been having conversations with Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin and Community Services Captain Jeff Stilwell.
They meet in coffee shops and conference rooms. They speak at community events together. They call each other directly.
Whitehorn (the Barbershop and Social Services-hired liaison between the RPD and Rochester's Black community) and Crockett (a local pastor and the owner of Barbershop and Social Services in Rochester) wanted to create a direct line of open dialogue between the Black community and RPD.
Franklin and Stilwell wanted the same thing.
Months' worth of meetings later, the mutual respect -- and common goals -- among the four is easy to see.
We sat in on one of these meetings, a casual roundtable in a conference room in the Rochester Police Department's newly remodeled North Station.
Here's Part I of that discussion: Stereotypes.
What's something you've learned about each other that you want people to know?
Andre Crockett: What I have found that seems so powerful is that your average individual can actually contact the chief or the captain or another cop. They are accessible. That's so powerful because now I've got another person I can call because we built that relationship. We can start to give that person that we call at the church "grace." You start to understand that person. You may know if that person is going through a rough patch and needs some help. You might know that cop is having a rough day. You can start to see each other as individuals.
Capt. Stilwell: We want people to talk to us. We want to know them. We realize that many times the Black community only sees us when there's a problem. We want to change that for all of us. When your refrigerator's empty and a cop's out doing community engagement, we hope you can feel comfortable saying, "Hey, man. I'm really struggling this month." And we'll go to Channel One or we'll find someone who can help. When you're having a problem with someone, you can tell us so we can all talk about it before it escalates. If there's a trusting relationship, crime will go down. I 100% believe that. There's enough research to show that.
Bud Whitehorn: I have a son in law enforcement. I definitely know the other side. And I have definitely formed a new level of respect for law enforcement locally since I've been working side by side with Rochester Police because of their ability to listen. I've learned that the respect, if we can get it, goes both ways. If we can each earn the other's respect, we can create a different culture. We've earned each other's respect here.
Chief Franklin: These gentlemen here have had an impact on my life, and a significant impact on my life. You don't have stereotypes when you have relationships. And that's what we're here for -- relationships. That's our learning journey as far as growing personally and professionally. But for this job, my relationship with these guys has made me, I think, a better person, a better leader for it. And I know we are translating that to a better, stronger police department.
Can you translate these conversations into real change?
Capt. Stilwell: Definitely. We are already doing that with these relationships. We need those relationships in every neighborhood in Rochester. We don't want people to say "Oh, no, that's just a police officer." We want people to say "That's Officer Jeff that works in my neighborhood. And when I have a problem, whether it's someone broke into my house or my car or my kids don't have a ride for school, that's somebody I can call. And he'll point me in the right direction. That is where this is all going.
Chief Franklin: Yes, we can make change. We are. We're removing some of those barriers, some of those friction points. We're working to remove the fear between the police and the community that we serve so that we can build those bridges to have better outcomes. It all starts right here, and it moves into the community. We're seeing that happen right now with the help from Andre and Bud and many other people in the community.
Bud Whitehorn: We just both need to listen to each other's point of view. And we're doing that right now. We've been doing that. We're going to keep doing it. We know each other better. It's working. I can go into my community and if someone has a problem I can call someone at the police department to help them out before it becomes a bad situation. And people in my community are starting to get that.
Andre Crockett: It's all about building meaningful relationships between people. If we do that, we can change everything.