While a national conversation about police brutality and racial profiling continues, the Alvar Branch of the New Orleans Public Library is doing its part to educate young patrons about their rights when interacting with the police.
On Jan. 17, the Alvar Branch Teen Program invited 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, made a flier to advertise the event, which 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?
Horne-Hoonsan says she saw a need for dialogue between police and teens, as well as 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 Harrison, to engage with New Orleanians in the wake of serious missteps and broken policies in policing nationally, as well as locally — especially in cases like the high-profile deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. New Orleans has had its own share of controversial police-civilian shootings that haven't gotten that level of national attention, including the deaths of Wendell Allen, Justin Sipp and Adolph Grimes III.
"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 made available for an interview, but Sgt. Jonette Williams, the head of the 5th District's Crime Prevention Unit, says the conversation is intended to get New Orleans and the police on the same page by better understanding young people's rights, as well as the way NOPD officers perform their jobs.
"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," Williams said. "Just giving a good explanation of ... why we're doing what we're doing, why we have to do certain things."
The presentation also was set to include new tools and technology the NOPD is putting in place to ensure accountability. "As part of that, we have a lot of new technology that we're utilizing just to safeguard everyone involved," Williams said. "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 tarnished the reputation of law enforcement, both locally and nationally, and Williams says that a sit-down conversation with 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 said. "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 already has programming for young kids up to middle and high schoolers, including "Officer Friendly," the community relations campaign first launched in the 1960s by various police departments. That program, however, is aimed at younger children, while the library's session is aimed at older children and teenagers who may not be certain of their rights when dealing with police.
Horne-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 said.