By Paul Nielsen Staff Writer The Daily Advance Apr 6, 2022
Pasquotank County residents want leadership in both the Sheriff’s Office and local government that is “more decisive, compassionate and responsive,” states a report based on community “listening sessions” held in the wake of Andrew Brown Jr.’s shooting death last April.
Arizona-based law enforcement consultant Police2Peace also presented county commissioners Monday night with several recommendations to improve relations and understanding between law enforcement and county citizens.
Among the recommendations are that Sheriff’s Office policies and training procedures be reviewed and updated with community input; that the Sheriff’s Office engage more with community members; and that listening opportunities like those held after Brown’s shooting death continue.
The report also recommends “creation of constructive and collaborative spaces” to specifically talk about race and other potentially divisive issues.
Pasquotank hired Police2Peace to conduct listening sessions that involved county groups, organizations and community members. County commissioners voted last September to pay up to $50,000 for the listening sessions and for the rebranding of Sheriff’s Office employees as “peace officers.”
The move came following the fatal shooting of Brown by three Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office deputies on April 21, 2021.
The deputies shot and killed Brown, who was unarmed, while attempting to serve him with drug-related arrest and search warrants at his Perry Street residence. All three were later cleared of criminal wrongdoing by District Attorney Andrew Womble.
Police2Peace conducted 15 community listening sessions — some that were held in-person last November and virtual sessions that stretched from December to February. A total of 175 people took part in the process.
Listening session participants were recruited by local grassroots leaders and were asked how they see the state of public safety in the county.
The participants represented eight different service organizations, around 10 identity groups, eight faith-based organizations and two educational institutions.
Police2Peace founder and Executive Director Lisa Broderick told commissioners “we are here because a tragedy occurred” and a life was lost. She said a lot of things that happened the aftermath of Brown’s shooting were covered by national media.
“In the last six months good people came together to try and fix broken bonds, rebuild trust,” Broderick said. “We sought out every voice.”
Broderick’s report states that listening session participants expressed frustration at what they described as a lack of compassion, primarily on the part of the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office.
“Some community members expressed opinions that the press conference following the shooting may not have been as solemn as they would have liked,” the report states.
The report further states that as listening session conversations continued, breakdowns in communication between community members and government offices, including the Sheriff’s Office, exacerbated the perception of a lack of compassion.
The report also states that at least some participants perceived that Sheriff Tommy Wooten was absent from the “public light” after the shooting.
“The conversations revealed community members’ desires for more decisive, compassionate and responsive leadership from officials in the aftermath of the shooting and in general,” the report states. “These perceptions applied both to the Sheriff’s Office and the government in general. The perceptions were often not specifically attributable to Elizabeth City or Pasquotank County.”
One comment from a listening session stated that county commissioners and City Council “need to work together.” Another stated that a curfew instituted by Elizabeth City after the shooting divided the community during a time of crisis.
“Some community members expressed frustration with what they perceived as a lack of effective leadership in the aftermath of the shooting,” the report states.
Two of the recommendations in the report have already been completed by the Sheriff’s Office — deputies have received de-escalation training and the department’s body cameras have been upgraded. The report also recommends “implicit bias training” to facilitate a movement toward diminishing bias within the Sheriff’s Office.
It further recommends that the Sheriff’s Office hold regular community meetings to explain the role of sheriff and the policies of the office. It also suggests a monthly newsletter and regular social media posts.
“The Sheriff’s Office has already started to implementing a lot of these recommendations,” said County Manager Sparty Hammett. “The de-escalation training was excellent training and the Sheriff’s Office can speak to that. Others, we are in the process of implementing as well.”
Broderick also states that the newly formed Citizen’s Advisory Council introduced Monday should play a major role in improving community relations.
In addition to reviewing citizen complaints against sheriff’s deputies and other sheriff’s employees, the 13-member CAC will hear appeals and grievances from those employees regarding disciplinary actions, participate in the hiring process, review internal policies and procedures of the office and provide input on new sheriff’s office programs and initiatives, among others.
“The CAC should provide regular public updates on its work so that regular communication occurs between it and community members,” the report says. “(CAC should) actively engage community members to ensure crime-reducing approaches mitigate unintended consequences and harm to the community.”