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Rep. Fred Keller’s listening tour seeks input on possible police reform

WELLSBORO — Standardized testing and community policing are needed to change police culture and end unnecessary violence, said law enforcement specialists at a roundtable discussion in the Tioga County courthouse.

As part of a listening tour by U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, who said his goal was to inform legislation, state Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Wellsboro, as well as Mansfield University administrators, community leaders and Commissioner Erick Coolidge were present.

“Everyone coming together means a lot to our community, to our commonwealth and to our nation. Hats off to the people who protect us and keep us safe,” said Keller. “They do an outstanding job.”

The “tragedies” in Minneapolis were outliers and unrepresentative of law enforcement nation-wide, he said.

“As with any organization, there’s a couple people who need to be held accountable for their actions and don’t always behave the way they should. I know that most of the people in law enforcement are fine outstanding people,” said Keller.

Those officers and law enforcement advocates with integrity are working to make sure that others are held accountable for their terrible actions, he said.

The bill working its way through committees needs to have strong and informed input, so that the tragedies stop.

“We want to see what everyone else wants to see,” said Keller. “Making sure we have good training, making sure that we have transparency and accountability, so that if someone isn’t behaving properly they can be removed from law enforcement.”

Eric Porterfield, founder of the Emergency Response Training and Certification Association, said his organization is creating programs through cable television to distribute to state law enforcement.

“We need more standardization in this field and we need free education that can be given, not just purveyors of law enforcement techniques but the community as well,” he said.

Partnered with various organizations, along with 25 offices of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement, he said the goal is to hold all police to the same level.

“That way we can get the best people to do this education and it’s one voice — there’s no arguing when you get to that point,” he said. “That makes accountability a lot easier to measure.”

“We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel but we want the wheels of justice in a little bit more efficient fashion,” Porterfield added.

More funding is needed, however, as the group moves through a 2.5 year grant with the state for $5 million, he said.

“We’ve got it moving, and obviously we have to keep it moving,” said Porterfield.

Dan Selekman, retired 21-year lieutenant with the Wilmington Police Department in Delaware, became known in his city for his community policing method, which included walking patrols and interacting with the public.

“What the county is fighting isn’t the individual officers,” he said. “I know they’re angry, I’ve been in that riot gear, I’ve had people yell and spit at me. They’re not angry at the person in it, they’re angry and what it represents, they’re angry at the culture.”

But the “beauty” of police departments is its malleability, only needing the mayor and police chief to bring about effective results.

“The idea of standardized training is exactly what needs to happen, you can’t have 7,000 departments each doing something different, you’re going to have to keep happening what’s happening — police officers getting involved in shootings,” he said.

Officers don’t need more training, but different, more tactile ways of training, said Selekman.

They need to be shown how positive interactions with the public make their jobs easier, he said, as he lauded Porterfield’s organization.

“The direction you’re going is absolutely where this country needs to go and by doing it you change the culture, which changes the knees on the neck, which changes the guns out and the shoots,” he said. “The culture drives that type of violence.”

Owlett pointed to Mansfield University as a place where strong criminal justice is taught to potential police recruits.

“There is more that we can do, of course,” he said. “We’re going to continue to get better and learn where we’re weak, learn where we’re strong and focus on becoming better at anything we do.”

Having gone through scenarios at the university, Owlett said he had an appreciation for what police go through in their daily lives.

“The split second decisions that they have to make — it’s tough,” he said. “Hats off to what you guys are doing to continue to do your best to make sure everyone is safe and continuing to be there for the community.”

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