In light of the national dialogue about how to improve relations between police officers and the communities they serve, the city of Bexley and the Bexley Minority Parents Alliance held "A Community Conversation on Race and Equity in Bexley, " town-hall meeting June 11.
The forum was held in the Bexley Public Library, with panelists participating in person and audience members tuning in via Facebook Live.
Panelists included Mayor Ben Kessler, Bexley police Chief Larry Rinehart, police Sgt. Dawn Overly Sheterom, police officer Jonathan Byrd, City Council President Lori Ann Feibel and BMPA representatives Jonathan and Courtney Baker.
Jonathan Baker said he was hopeful the town hall would begin to identify solutions to help African Americans and other people of color throughout the nation to feel protected rather than targeted by law enforcement.
"If we're being targeted, we feel like we're getting a little more scrutiny," Baker said. "We don't want less scrutiny, per se; we want what's appropriate, what's equitable. We want the same. That's all we're asking for."
Kessler said city officials are compiling a report that will be available to the public, detailing 2018 and 2019 statistics about Bexley police use-of-force incidents and traffic stops, including demographic information about those involved.
"The Bexley Police Department has a pretty low incidence of use-of-force events," Kessler said. "But nonetheless, we want to be able to provide that information clearly and transparently."
Byrd, who is African American, said Bexley officers don't racially profile motorists when making traffic stops.
"As a patrol officer, we do not know the race of that driver until we actually make contact" after pulling the driver over, Byrd said.
Kessler said a step he believes would help enhance police/community relations is the formation of the Bexley Citizen Review Advisory Board, which he established earlier this month with an executive order.
Board members Bryan Drewry, Becky Guzman and Lee Nathans are Bexley residents who have been appointed by Kessler and charged with reviewing citizen complaints pertaining to unlawful discrimination or bias by city employees, including police officers.
"In order for us to move forward, we need to provide the utmost accountability and transparency," Kessler said. "If we truly believe in ourselves -- and we do -- and we are committed to always improving -- which we are -- then there's nothing to hide."
Drewry, who is African American and a BMPA officer, encouraged people of color in Bexley to report issues they believe need to be addressed.
"Come to City Council, talk to them, the mayor ... the police chief. Talk to them about your concerns," Drewry said. "Be part of something; do something."
Rinehart said he welcomes input from the community, including the BMPA and other local organizations, to make officers aware of citizens' concerns.
"Empathy starts at the top," Rinehart said. "We're willing to listen, and we're willing to change."
Feibel said council adopted a nondiscrimination ordinance in 2015 and is considering an amendment to the city's strategic plan to include diversity and inclusion initiatives. She said council members have undergone implicit bias training. She said she also encourages residents of color to run for council and apply for seats on boards and commissions.
"We want the conversation to keep going," Feibel said. "We want good suggestions, and we're willing to try to seek out as many as we possibly can to be change-makers, but we need the dialogue to continue."
Kessler said another town-hall meeting about race and equity in Bexley is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 17.
Details will be posted on the city's website, Bexley.org.