Bexley police, community to gather for listening sessions
Starting this month, the city of Bexley and the Bexley Minority Parents Alliance are launching a series of small-group police and community listening sessions, facilitated by a licensed counselor.
The concept is to allow members of the community to share their stories of interactions with police and for police officers to listen and learn from those experiences and provide insight into their perspectives, Mayor Ben Kessler said.
The sessions will take the form of "a series of conversations around a small group between anyone who has had interactions with the police department and feelings that they have about our police department and policing in general. People who sign up for this are signing up for multiple sessions," he said. "The idea here is that over a series of weeks, the same small group will come together and hopefully emerge with a better understanding."
Bryan Drewry, president of the Bexley Minority Parents Alliance, said the idea for the sessions grew from a June 11 town hall meeting the city and the alliance co-presented, "A Community Conversation on Race and Equity in Bexley." During the meeting, representatives of the alliance, Kessler, City Council President Lori Ann Feibel, Bexley police Chief Larry Rinehart, Sgt. Dawn Overly Sheterom and officer Jonathan Byrd discussed how to improve relations between police and the community.
Drewry said the listening sessions are designed to continue the conversation from the town hall but will include a counselor and facilitator to moderate the discussions.
"We wanted to have a counselor there because sometimes trauma is hard to deal with," Drewry said. "It's an opportunity for the police to hear what the citizens are saying and listen to their experiences so they can help have empathy for people."
Drewry also is a member of the city's Bexley Citizen Review Advisory Board, which Kessler formed by executive order in June. The board reviews citizen complaints pertaining to unlawful discrimination or bias from city employees, including police officers, that are under appeal to the mayor.
The listening sessions will be scheduled based on the participants' availability, Kessler said. Each program will involve two to three officers, six members of the community, a counselor and a facilitator. To participate, individuals should fill out a form posted on the city's website, bexley.org. A member of the planning team will respond with more information.
"I would love to see more residents jump at this opportunity. The counselor is going to do a good job with adding some depth," said Jonathan Baker, treasurer of the Bexley Minority Parents Alliance. "It's not a virtual or live suggestion box where everyone makes their concerns heard and then they're out. We want to provide some healing and some therapeutic ways for police to hear people's legitimate concerns and fears."