MANSFIELD – Spread The Light week, dedicated to promoting local law enforcement and uniting the Mansfield and Richland County community, ended on an uplifting note as six panelists spoke candidly about efforts to create harmony.
Just listen to the national news, it has long been no secret that many people don’t like law enforcement and now many are killing police officers for just doing their jobs.
The Community Conversation panel of six spoke openly with the small audience for roughly 90 minutes Saturday afternoon at Mansfield Senior High School auditorium.
Columbus police Officer Peter Casuccia, Mansfield police Capt. Shari Robertson, Madison Comprehensive High School student Jaylon Scott, reformed felon and now mentor to inmates Carlos Christian, mother Nicole Lynn Blakely and community volunteer and activist Kay Smith all brought their own perspectives to the table.
Robertson, who joined the Mansfield Police Department in 1994, said early on in her career she asked a sergeant if she handled an earlier call right.
“Should I have arrested the guy or not?” she said. “He said did you do the right thing and I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said it’s not always about doing things right but doing the right thing and that stuck with me throughout my entire career. I have never forgotten that. You might think that’s something simple but when you’re out there on the street and people are yelling … and that’s what I try to tell our young officers. Do the right thing.”
Christian, who once was on the wrong side of the law, now mentors inmates in prisons, helping them transition to the outside.
He said he has learned to “see people.”
“We’ve got to go into a place where we are starting to see people and not police or a subject or the criminal. We gotta see people and be more analytical. Now I can be more analytical. Hey this person here is listening and trying to establish a positive relationship and we can get things done and now I’m coming from a place where I can get things done,” he said.
“Now I’m coming from a place of unity… so we can protect the community in a real way. I believe it goes back what you said in the household. The same people who are becoming police officers they come from certain households, they can come from negative households. And you come from a negative household, you’re going to have a negative attitude and if you come to work with a negative attitude, when you interact with somebody you are automatically saying, I’m not trying to get an understanding of who you are. I come here to arrest, to control and that’s how you get the negative interactions between the community and the law enforcement agencies,” Christian said.
Casuccia, who comes from a family of law enforcement officers, said he lives in “the worst neighborhood in Columbus.” He recalled the first time he realized that people don’t like him because of his uniform when he went to a grocery store in his own neighborhood and a mother pulled her young child close when he walked by.
“All she saw was a police officer,” he said.
He said he is seeing that students in high schools are putting all law enforcement in a box.
“Based on what they’ve read, what they’ve seen, what they see on Facebook, they’re taking me and seeing a guy with a badge and putting me in a box and comparing me to some officer who did something in some place in Texas. My challenge to them is always think local. What’s happened in your community? … If the answer is nothing, then trust me until I give you a reason not to,” he said.
The youngest panel member, Scott, said as a teenager he knows most kids don’t like law enforcement.
He said he sees a need for better communication and for officers not to assume that a kid is bad.
Smith, who works daily to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement, said she believes the community needs officers whom they can trust.
She said she is working to show there can be relationships and a softer side to law enforcement and not just arresting kids and giving tickets.
Smith said she remembered when Robertson worked in her neighborhood sector and more people waved and smiled and said hi to her because she made them feel safe and did not see her as a threat.
“I know that you’re here to protect this community as a whole and not to target and not to get people in trouble or make things bad,” Smith said. “The net that has to happen is relationships. Police are the police and they have to do their jobs but you do your job when there is a need to do a job. So when there’s not a need to do your job there’s moments for those relationships to be made,” she added.
Blakely, a former police officer with 20 years of military service too, said she came to the panel to share her overriding perspective as a mom.
“We need to go home and take care of our babies and we need to go home and raise our babies,” she said. “We need to go home and love our babies and we need to raise them to have a respect for life and to have a respect for love and to have a respect for authority.”
“It starts at home,” she said.
Mansfield City Schools Superintendent Brian Garverick also attended the event and said he couldn’t operate a district without so many community partners including law enforcement who are always willing to come to the table to find solutions to any problem.
The annual event was moderated by Jay Allred of the Richland Source.