Local News

Fayetteville chief: Every officer-involved shooting 'tears at fabric of who we are'

Posted July 12, 2016 7:03 p.m. EDT

— Every law enforcement agency nationwide feels the impact of the fatal officer-involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota last week and the subsequent attack on Dallas police that killed five officers, Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock says.

Each shooting – of officers and of civilians – undermines efforts to improve relationships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, Medlock said Tuesday.

"Every one of those officer-involved deadly uses of force where a citizen, their life is taken, it tears at the fabric of who we are with our relationship with the community," he said.

Medlock inherited an agency plagued by accusations of racial profiling when he took charge of the Fayetteville Police Department a little more than three years ago. He and his staff have worked hard since then to improve community relations, including asking the U.S. Department of Justice for input on how the police department could operate better. The federal agency made dozens of suggestions in December but noted that the racial disparity in police traffic stops is declining and commended efforts to build a stronger relationship with Fayetteville residents.

The chief also has been a vocal advocate for publicly releasing footage from police body cameras and dashboard cameras, although a new state law restricts access to such video to people depicting in it – and then only if a police chief or sheriff agrees.

Medlock said one of the keys to bridge the gap between police and the community is to change the way young people look at police. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch met with the department's Youth Advisory Council during a May visit to Fayetteville to study its community policing program.

Addison Larson, a Fayetteville police cadet, said last week's shootings haven't changed desire to become a police officer.

"I've always had an interest, and hopefully through my involvement with the cadet program and my future in law enforcement, I can help the community to where they don't look at officers as the enemy," Larson said Tuesday.

There are five college-age students in the cadet program, and Medlock said he hopes to expand that effort. He added that police officer training is essential for community building, but officers have to get out in the streets and get to know the people they protect and serve.

For example, Medlock said he met community activist Kevin Brooks by going into his Fayetteville barber shop. Brooks said he wants to work with the chief to build relationships with police across the city.

"The thing that happened last week didn't change that. It didn't change that at all," Brooks said of the shootings. "I wanted the chief to know that I'm still here and I'm still willing – and there are others out here that are willing – to do other things to try to help each community get better – the police community as well as our community."