Jodelle Greiner/Register: Back from left, Nieema Thasing, Susan Assmus, Matthew Rhodes, Lawrence Novotny (not pictured), Assistant Police Chief Joe Fishbaugher, Officer Keith Theroux, Betty Beer and Police Chief Dave Erickson listen Thursday afternoon as Fedora Sutton announces the new local group – Community Law Enforcement Action Response, or CLEAR Partners – that has partnered with the Brookings Police Department to address concerns over racial and cultural issues.

CLEAR Partners, which stands for Community Law Enforcement Action Response, and members of the Brookings Police Department conducted a press conference Thursday to announce the entities will be working together to improve communications and facilitate understanding.

The announcement took place in front of the Brookings City & County Government Center.

Fedora Sutton, chair of CLEAR, said we are all facing difficult times. 

“To call out injustice places one in the position of ‘us against them,’” she said. “To work towards a better community for all, the Brookings Justice Equity Transparency, Inc., was established.”

The organization will work on improving several areas.

“The first is the relationship between law enforcement officers and the community because law enforcers are members of the community and they are tasked by the community to serve and protect,” Sutton said.

To help law enforcement, BJET has established CLEAR Partners, which is still in the development stage.

“We are committed to working with the Brookings Police Department,” Sutton said.

“We at the police department look forward to the opportunities this committee provides for building partnerships, understanding and education,” Police Chief Dave Erickson said. “Through this committee, we at the police department hope to better understand the concerns of the members of our community and to also help members of our community to understand the different aspects of policing.”

Patrol Officer Keith Theroux is part of the Community Outreach Team at the BPD, liaison to the Human Rights Commission, and volunteered to be part of CLEAR, Erickson said.

“I firmly believe in community policing, and I know the Brookings Police Department does as well. So, this is an exciting opportunity through this CLEAR group that we’re gonna be able to work as a community to communicate, to understand each other better, as well as having opportunities to solve problems in our community,” Theroux said. 

“This is … another way for Brookings to continue in the great work that this community does and keeping our community safe and making sure we represent everybody in the community,” Theroux said.

Sutton said she hopes the organization can be an example to the state and how the police and community “can work for a better city.”

When asked how involved the members of CLEAR will be with the police department, whether they will be taking Citizen Police Academy classes or going on ride-alongs, Sutton said they were still in development, but right now, they were not planning on ride-alongs. The group met Monday and discussed training possibilities. 

“CLEAR Partners actually will facilitate training programs, as well. We need to be able to discuss implicit bias and those kinds of things, and a true understanding of how that influences responses,” Sutton said.

“This will be an entity, which we hope will live in perpetuity in Brookings, always facilitating different points that come up,” Sutton sad.

The group meets every Monday evening now. Members are talking, working with Theroux, and “watching what’s being done nationally,” Sutton said, mentioning the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. “We did not want to be considered COLD … because we didn’t want to set up a negative interaction with law enforcement. We want to be true partners.”

“They invited us to be a participant with them. We saw it as a great opportunity to have good, clear … conversations, as well as provide education and information about how law enforcement works, and what our trainings are and how many trainings we have … that type of thing,” Theroux said.

Right now, the meetings are just for the CLEAR members, as they are developing what CLEAR will do, Sutton said, but “the committee well represents the community” with not only police, but members of the Human Rights Commission and members of the community as part of it. They liaison with the South Dakota Coalition for Justice and Equity, too. 

The community can help now by sending questions and concerns to the Justice for Black Lives Facebook page, “things you think we should be considering,” Sutton said. “We do want your input (to) include in our discussions.”

“Certainly, once we’ve worked out the nuts and bolts, at that point, we will open it up to the community,” Sutton said. 

They have finished the CLEAR mission statement:

• Promotes community-focused policing through increasing communication between civilians and law enforcement;

• Supports safe and ethical law enforcement practices; and 

• Serves as ombudsman between community and its law enforcement agencies.

When CLEAR finalizes more information, Sutton plans to bring it to the community for input. 

“One thing I said earlier and I’d like to see become part of the narrative is that the law enforcement guys are members of the community, so we need to keep that upmost and also be assured that if they are us, then I think that we will have a better relationship than thinking of us versus them,” Sutton said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at jgreiner@brookingsregister.com.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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