By TEREASA NIMS
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR — As tensions in Charlotte, N.C, calm, residents of Taylor enjoyed an afternoon in the park with the local police force. The city’s first Police in the Park Sept. 25 encouraged residents and local law enforcement to get to know one another. Amid the lush greenery of the Taylor Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, performers and speakers took to the podium, while police vehicles were on display along the green and the K9 unit did demonstrations.
Yet, the recent rioting in the South wasn’t far from everyone’s minds.
“It’s really great to have the department reaching out to the community, especially during this time,” said Officer Andre Sylvester said as local residents lined up nearby for face painting.
“Being able to have the officers and community come together in this type of environment, especially, where it isn’t stressed, is awesome,” Sylvester said. “Often, when we speak to citizens, tensions are high, there’s usually a tense situation involved. So, it’s nice to do this, have these conversations, without that tension and seeing officers are just people, too.”
Representing Michigan State Police were Troopers Stephen Borello and Joshua Reeber, both impossibly tall and broad shouldered, cut imposing forms outside the chili cookoff pavilion. Reeber made the unlikely transition from school teacher to police officer.
“I feel that I’m making a difference, every day, with this job,” Reeber said.
Reeber was moved by the public sentiment present in the park.
“All the gratitude that’s been given is remarkable,” he said. “So welcomed, especially in this time. It’s good to hear.”
“It’s a rough time for law enforcement out there. Even though we haven’t encountered that tension, we see all the news coverage. It’s in the back of your head when you go out. While no one wants to encounter the tensions and all those things going on in other places, you don’t want to be seen that way, either.”
There was a prevailing thought that perhaps Detroit and its suburbs are ahead of the game. As Reeber elaborated, “There were a lot of reformations after the ’67 riots. It’s built a trust, I believe. There’s trust to wait and see the outcome, where other areas are only now taking those steps to reform. When we looked at the suggestions coming out now for departments, I see that we’re already doing those things here.”
“After Ferguson (Mo.), I-94 was blocked with a protest,” Borello said. “We assisted Detroit PD and it was peaceful. Nothing happened. We explained that standing in the middle of the freeway wasn’t safe for anyone, asked them to move the protest to a road with less traffic.
“Regardless of what is going on, or the crime allegedly committed, everyone needs to be treated with respect.”
Crystal Kidd, representing a local Facebook group for stay-at-home mothers, joined in the festivities at the park, curious to see if local law enforcement really was cognizant of the nation’s growing weariness of them.
Not too long ago, Kidd asserted, a case of mistaken identity led to her son’s rough detainment by police, which resulted in a broken cell phone. But she believes the tide to be turning.
“I think they’re headed in the right direction,” she said. “Talking to the kids and having these activities where they can interact with the community makes a huge impact.”
Tensions weren’t anywhere in sight near the vehicle display, where children mobbed both the furry K9 officers and SWAT Bearcat unit.
As children passed them by in droves to beg to pet the vested and badged German shepherd, a nearby officer could be heard lamenting, “I knew I was a long shot in the popularity contest as soon as the K9s showed up.”
Soaking up the attention, K9 Jordie seemed to entertain the masses with regal poses while his handler, Officer Bryan Birch, fielded questions of Jordie’s life.
“He lives at my house and goes everywhere with me,” Birch said. “Even on vacation.”
An explosive detection specialist, Jordie practices passive responses, as barking and scratching at a bomb could be a very bad idea. He trains two to three times per week, so is always at the ready to assist Taylor, other departments and even Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport if an explosive is suspected.
Also ready are the volunteers of Taylor on Watch, an entity of the Police Department. Lisa Garret, coordinator of Area 2, invites residents to join in on not just Taylor on Watch, but community in general.
“Back in the day, neighbors knew each other, their kids, etc.,” Garret said. “You could trust if someone saw your kid doing something, they’d call them out on it. We need more of that. Be more involved, more vigilant. Let the criminal element know we’re tired of the violence, and we’re not going to take it.”
Fostering a deeper sense of community and relegating a sense of service to more than just uniformed individuals was a focal point of a speech given by the Rev. Tom Downs of Gilead Baptist Church. So often, preoccupation with one’s own life leads to a lack of communication, and everyone’s sense of value diminishes because of it, he said.
“We need to take our earbuds out and start acknowledging each other, that there is value,” Downs said.
Lowest seniority officer, Christian Schnell, acknowledged every ball that whizzed by the bullseye of the dunk tank he sat in. If the amount of direct hits was any indication, the Police in the Park event may well have inspired some future officers and Major League pitchers.
(Tereasa Nims can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)