The Orange County Register, July 28, 2016


IRVINE – Police officers, African Americans, Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Sikhs and Jews. On Wednesday morning, they all sat down at Christ Our Redeemer African American Episcopal Church to talk to about the issues that concern them the most today – race, religion, fair policing and implicit bias.

This was the fourth meeting of the Orange County Sheriff Department’s Interfaith Advisory Council, which was formed in January to mobilize diverse faith communities and engage with the Sheriff to have an impact on policy, improve mutual understanding and develop relationships in the community.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said the Council – a key project of the OC Human Relations Commission represented by 51 members and 16 religions and denominations – has accomplished much during its brief existence.

“We’ve forged relationships, we understand each other’s faith better and we know that there is much more that unites us than divides us,” she said. “We’re powerful enough to deal with whatever happens.”

On Aug. 13, the members of the Council led by Christ Our Redeemer and its pastor, the Rev. Mark Whitlock, will hold a Solidarity March at the Irvine Spectrum featuring Black Lives Matter, police, faith leaders and community organizations. The march will be followed by a summit at the church.

Whitlock said the event is Orange County’s response to the recent police shootings of African Americans around the country and the killing of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

“Until we begin to hear black people, things are not going to change,” Whitlock said. “The question is: Do you hear us? Do you hear how we interpret situations based on our experiences?”

The police officers in the room responded with their observation that all humans have implicit bias. Hutchens said she was at the receiving end of such bias as a female police officer in the 1970s.

She talked about being mistaken for a secretary once and obsessing about driving extremely cautiously for fear of hearing the words: “Women can’t drive.”

“And just as officers hold biases, so does the public,” she said.

Gary Meza, a 31-year veteran of the Huntington Beach Police Department who now trains young police officers, emphasized the need to incorporate cultural and racial sensitivity into police training.

“What I tell officers is that it’s so important for them to make contact with the public on a regular basis and get to know them,” he said. “When you do that then you can have a relationship and you can have a dialogue.”

Hutchens said she recognizes the importance of proactive policing, but added that it should be done “fairly and smartly.” She said the negative contact a police officer makes with one member of the community could change that person’s view of law enforcement for life.

“We all want to get to the truth,” she said. “But we need to recognize that there’s a lot of anger particularly in disenfranchised communities. And as the face of the government, police officers get some of that anger.”

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