NOPD 5th District Commander Christopher Goodly meets with students last month.
While a national conversation about police brutality and racial profiling continues, the Alvar Branch
of the New Orleans Public Library
(913 Alvar St.) is doing its part to educate young patrons about their rights when interacting with the police.
On Saturday, Jan. 17 the Alvar Branch Teen Program invites young people to ask Roderick Franklin, the New Orleans Police Department’s (NOPD) 5th District Community Coordinator, questions about their rights.
Charlotte Horne-Hoonsan, a coordinator for the library, drew up a flier to advertise the event that asks the following questions: Do I have to show my ID? Can I film the Police? What should I do if I feel like I have been mistreated or discriminated against by an officer? What does reasonable suspicion mean? When does an officer need a warrant to perform a search?
Hoonsan says she saw a need for dialogue and a gap in youth programming and reached out to the NOPD to fill it.
For the NOPD, the meeting is part of a new strategy, designed by Superintendent Michael Herrison, to engage the community in the wake of what protestors around the country have called serious missteps and broken policies in policing.
“Last year, when there was a discussion around the country about the kinds of relationships departments have with their community, Chief Harrison made it clear he wanted to get involved in that discussion on the ground,” NOPD spokesperson Tyler Gamble told Gambit
Franklin was not available for an interview, but Sgt. Jonette Williams, the head of the 5th District’s Crime Prevention Unit, says the Saturday meeting will be a conversation intended to get the community and the police on the same page.
“It’s telling them, while we have a job to do, we’re going to do our best to explain why we’re interacting with a particular individual, why we’re stopping them,” says Williams. “Just giving a good explanation of … why we’re doing what we’re doing, why we have to do certain things.”
She adds that updating youth on the kinds of technology and tools the NOPD has in place to insure accountability will be part of Franklin’s presentation. “As part of that, we have a lot of new technology that we’re utilizing just to safeguard everyone involved,” she says. “We have over 500 body cameras that are in use. That’s going to eliminate the 'he-said, she-said.' It changes the officer’s behavior as well as the citizen’s behavior.”
Gamble and Williams acknowledge that recent headlines have had the power to tarnish the reputation of the force, both locally and nationally, and Williams says that integrating the community and the police will continue to help the NOPD regain trust.
“It’s an opportunity to meet them and…do nothing but help to bridge that gap and form new relationships,” Williams says. “It’s just interacting so they see we’re people just like they are, we’re humans ... We’re trying to do a better job of being more transparent.”
The NOPD has programming for young kids up to middle and high schoolers, including the familiar “Officer Friendly.”
“It’s so they know that that the person in that uniform is a friendly face,” says Williams. “If they get lost, they know, ‘Hey, I’m lost, I see a police officer, I’m going to ask that police officer to help me find my mom or my dad.’ So we have a lot of programs for young kids on up to having officers that work in the high schools or middle schools. Just to be that mentor, that humanistic side of it.”
Hoonsan says the library is always full of kids, and the one of the best things about it is that if they aren’t having fun, they can walk out and leave, though she tries to pick events that will interest and engage them. “We always look for what we can do with a little,” she says.