EGG HARBOR CITY — City officials will meet with community members to discuss improving relations between minorities and police, after about 40 people associated with Pastors United for Community Service came to Thursday’s council meeting to ask for help.
“There is a growing concern there appears to be unwarranted aggressive police tactics used,” said Bishop John Gandy, of Abundant Life Worship Center Church. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of complaints expressed to our members.”
Pastors United is a coalition of about 15 mostly minority congregations in Egg Harbor City and surrounding towns.
Gandy said the group wants to defuse tension and decrease mistrust and resentment, about “real or perceived aggression” by city police officers.
“We are asking you to partner with us to take proactive action,” he said, “to ensure that all citizens enjoy a peaceful, safe community.”
Council President Ed Dennis immediately set a public meeting for 7 p.m. March 20 to discuss how to improve relations, and said he will ask council members and representatives of the police department and school district to attend.
Gandy asked the city to:
Establish a state certified police chaplaincy program to assist police as chaplains when called;
Hold community information forums to educate the members of the public about their rights when dealing with police, and about proper conduct to ensure the safety of police and citizens;
Hold monthly meetings between Pastors United and city representatives;
Explore the possibility of hiring more minority officers.
“We are not anti-police or anti-crime-fighting,” Gandy said. “Sometimes bad policing occurs if police are not familiar with or respectful of a culture of a minority community, or when an unhealthy mistrust exists on both sides.”
Mayor Lisa Jiampetti said the city welcomes Gandy’s concerns and has already taken steps to increase community policing by having officers spend more time in the city’s schools.
“We want them to come and interact with students as much as they can,” she said, “and get more involved in the community.” Jiampetti said two of the city’s 12 police officers are African American.
She said the police department has a four-year strategic plan set up to increase community policing and make a priority of treating people with fairness.
“Thank you to everyone who came out tonight,” Jiampetti said. “This is how government is supposed to work.”
Egg Harbor City’s population of 4,243 people is about 18 percent black and 26 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
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