Use-of-force ad hoc committee member Rhonda Love sparked a conversation on white privilege when she said she was fascinated that members suggested Denton police officers engage with residents sans uniform.
After weeks of listening to presentations about the Denton Police Department’s training and policies regarding use of force, committee members started to go through a long list of talking points Thursday evening in order to shorten it to a list of recommendations for the department.
During discussions about engagement and communication, a few members suggested the Denton Police Department go to where the people are rather than wait for community members to come to them with events like Coffee With a Cop. Some also suggested doing community engagement while out of uniform.
Dawna-Diamond Tyson of Texas Woman’s University suggested the department have more presence at the local universities out of uniform.
“Being there and not always in uniform, that was another thing I found pretty imperative for students like me,” she said. “We don’t want to always approach an officer in all of their gear. I understand that’s a part of uniformity, but we want to be able to talk casually. Just like our upper admin, they aren’t always running around in their professional attire.”
Love, who is white, said she was fascinated by members suggesting officers do community engagement sans uniform because she’s never had a negative experience with a police officer.
“To me, we really have some different perceptions, because I like to see officers in their uniforms,” she said. “I want to know who they are, first. ... It’s got to be about our different experiences in our past.”
Lilyan Prado-Carrillo, the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Denton and a representative for the Latino community, recalled being taught from a young age to be invisible when she came across a cop.
“When you were saying that, all I could think of [was] that’s privilege,” she said. “From the moment that I arrived in this country when I was 4 years old, I was taught to almost hold my breath when I came across a cop.”
Kamyon Conner, a Black woman and a representative for the LGBTQ community, said she was also socialized from a young age to be afraid of what could happen if she came too close to police.
“It is definitely about privilege,” she said. “I have friends who have said that they have waved a police officer down to give them a ride home, and I could never even imagine doing that. ... If something happens, I likely will call the police as a last resort.”
Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon acknowledged at a City Council meeting in July that officers’ uniforms tend to put people on edge.
Although there was some tension between members for allegedly going off topic, Dixon said he and his team were taking everyone’s comments into consideration.
“Don’t think that we’re not taking to heart the entire discussion in its entirety — we are,” Dixon said. “I want to make sure you guys know that this is not a lost conversation. ... I appreciate all the comments from everybody because that’s the only way we’re going to get better, is if we’re critical. We just have to remember not to make it personal.”
The committee is set to discuss a civilian oversight board for use of force at its next meeting on Sept. 10.