Students and community take part in Police Community Engagement Board

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The Police Community Engagement Board plans on holding a presentation in April via Zoom to discuss positive changes made by the Webster Groves Police Department.

On a spring evening in 2019, Cheyenne Parker sat in a circle of chairs in Webster’s Sunnen Lounge. Police, residents and other students filled the seats next to her. They met to share first-hand accounts of life in Webster Groves.

The students agreed: they did not feel completely welcome in the community.

“I always go into these conversations with an open mind,” Parker said, “but I’m not afraid to point out areas where there’s room for improvement.”

Parker said as students told their experiences with race, the conversation became slightly uncomfortable; she thrives in those moments.

“[Students] aren’t looking for pity or apologies,” Parker said. “We’re looking for solutions and changed behavior.”

The Police Community Engagement Board (PCEB) recently reached out to Webster’s director of Community Engagement, Jennifer Starkey, to organize a meeting on Webster’s campus. The goal is to strengthen ties between students, staff, and police officers.

Starkey believes student feedback is essential to maintaining a positive community dynamic.

“It shouldn’t just be the opinions of the people who live in gorgeous homes on Lockwood,” Starkey said. “The encounters of students who live in our resident’s halls matter too.”

The board plans to hold this presentation in April via Zoom.

“We will highlight some of the positive changes made by the Webster Groves Police Department (WGPD) as a result of the PCEB’s work and discussions,” Kevin Sombart, the board’s chairperson, said.

One of those changes has been the removal of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) on police vehicles. These readers scan every encountered plate and alert police officers if there is a warrant on that plate.

While in use, ALPRs disproportionately affected citizens of color in the city. Since their removal, the disparity gap has decreased by 34%.

“[The police department] made the decision that having the community’s trust and confidence outweighed the positive aspects of [ALPRs] and discontinued use,” Police Chief Dale Curtis said in an email.

Curtis has been with the WGPD since 1997.

“Communication is the biggest key to making sure we have good relations and are policing the way those within the community would like for us to do so,” Curtis said.

Parker also felt it is important for students to join the discussion and push for the changes they want to see. As Parker finishes her senior year at Webster, she talks animatedly about how current students should continue to fight for progress.

“I tell [my friends] they have to pick up where I leave off,” Parker said. “[This cycle] will keep repeating until someone says enough is enough.”

Everyone is welcome to join the PCEB’s public Zoom meetings. These take place on the fourth Tuesday of each month. The next one is scheduled for April 20 at 6:30 p.m.

Anyone interested can share their thoughts with PCEB members through an online survey. That questionnaire can be found here.

Links to the Zoom meetings and other information on the PCEB and WGPD policies are located here.

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Emily Craig
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