Activists and law enforcement officials seemed to agree on at least one thing during a discussion on race and policing Tuesday, June 16: There isn’t enough communication going on between law enforcement and the public.
Members of the public digitally present for Tuesday’s discussion said that the intimidation and fear that people have in confronting police about potential issues make it hard to make the problems known.
Grand County Sheriff Steve White said that he couldn’t fix issues with his officers if he didn’t know about the issues and wanted to repair any issue that prevented people from approaching his office with complaints.
The conversation touched on a range of topics, including requests for demographic data on arrests and citations, but the final note the tense conversation hit was to the point about communication and feedback, and it was the one that officials said needed to be the next collective area of focus in an ongoing conversation about Moab’s community policing and public safety systems.
“If people are scared to come to the police, we need to address that problem,” White said as the conversation drew to a close.
“But the problem isn’t with the people that are having a hard time coming [to police],” responded Jessie Wilson, a Moab resident. “The problem is the way that they have been treated by police officers. It’s not their job to say, ‘okay, I’m going to get over this issue I have,’ because they’re the ones who are a victim of a problem.”
“I agree, and that’s where we have to work out the problem, Jessie,” White said. “We’ve got to figure out how that [fear] comes in the middle and does it.”
Grand County Council Chair Mary McGann, who typically moderates council discussions, broke in to wind down the two-hour conversation as the start of the council’s regularly scheduled meeting approached.
“I think we’re now really starting to talk about what we’re here to talk about: the breakdown of communication,” McGann said.
McGann went on to say she thought there was “right on both sides” of the matter and that she expected Rhiana Medina, the executive director of the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, saw the issues with people being afraid to approach law enforcement.
As the head of an organization that interacts directly with and provides support to members of the community who are in need, Medina said she did.
“I think there is fear,” Medina said. “I think that’s true. I think we can all agree it’s very scary to interact with law enforcement.”
With the final word in the conversation was Jayne May, a Castle Valley resident and co-owner of The Synergy Company, who asked McGann if she could interject as the conversation continued to wind down.
“I would like to speak to the idea of being a victim in this community and not feeling safe, and it is founded in both the police and the law enforcement of the sheriff’s office,” May said.
She went on to say that she had “begged for investigations,” from local law enforcement but was turned down, and that she had been a victim of the sheriff’s office refusal to handle her complaints about alleged crime.
“I appreciate everything the law enforcement does; I never thought I would be speaking like this,” May said. “But I never thought I would be terrified in my own community, and I think you should hear that, as well.”