Meet and Greet Eric Fagan

Fort Bend County Sheriff Eric Fagan addresses community members during a police meet-and-greet at the Stafford Civic Center last Saturday. Representatives from at least 10 Fort Bend law enforcement agencies were in attendance to discuss community policing initiatives and practices. (Photo by Landan Kuhlmann)

When Missouri City resident Monica Rawlins' teenage son leaves home at night, she just hopes he makes it back safely.

Key to ensuring that happens is knowing how to communicate with police officers, she said. And that's part of the reason she attended a meet-and-greet with Fort Bend County law enforcement agencies over the weekend.

Highly publicized incidents of police brutality, such as the 2020 murder of Houston native George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota, have driven home a growing sense of mistrust between police departments and some of the communities they serve. 

And it's that mentality that local leaders were hoping to penetrate with Saturday's event.

“One of my biggest fears as a Black woman and single mother is him being pulled over and him having that proper communication he needs to stay alive when he leaves that traffic stop, or when he’s outside playing basketball,” Rawlins said. “My thing for him is to make it home – that was one of the motivating things in coming. I want to make sure my teenage son comes home.”

Rawlins was one of at least a dozen or so county residents who attended the inaugural police meet-and-greet event at the Stafford Civic Center last Saturday, hosted by the NAACP Missouri City and Vicinity Branch. Personnel from law enforcement agencies in Richmond, Sugar Land, Missouri City, Fulshear and other municipalities were in attendance.

NAACP Chapter president Linda Coleman said the goal of Saturday’s gathering was to break down walls between communities and law enforcement as well as to celebrate the positive contributions of police in the county.

Law enforcement officials gave a short presentation followed by a question-and-answer session that was open to the audience.

“For the last year or so, there’s been a lot of turmoil and questions about policing – we here in Fort Bend feel as though we’re really blessed, because we have not had unfortunate incidents such as what’s been seen and heard around the United States,” she said. “We believe that is so because our police departments and the sheriff’s office believe in community policing – it’s what they put in policy and in practice.”

Missouri City Police Department Lt. Jazton Heard echoed the sentiment, adding that police work needs to involve residents as much as possible and that events such as Saturday’s are a step in that direction.

“It’s very easy to focus on the negative things and things that police can do better,” Heard said. “But it’s also important for us to realize what law enforcement organizations are doing correctly, so we can know exactly what direction we need to be headed and what really good policing looks like.”

Vital importance

Fulshear police chief Kenny Seymour referenced an incident from 2013, when he said community policing helped them solve a case involving assault of an elderly Black man that was called a “knockout” assault - part of a social media trend at the time in which people attempted to render unconscious an unsuspecting person with a single punch while another person filmed it and acted as a lookout.

As a result of tips from the community, Seymour said he and two other officers were able to track down the assailant, who was eventually convicted.

But such solutions can only occur, he said, with the community’s help – thus making law enforcement’s relationships with their patrol areas that much more vital.

“When I got into law enforcement more than 30 years ago, it was an ‘us vs. them’ mentality," Seymour said. "If you didn’t wear a uniform, you were a ‘them.’ That’s not the way anymore. That’s not what is working now. What works is the relationship we have with our community – what works is the things we’re doing and the programs we’re putting in place.”

Heard made specific note of the police department's own homeowners association program, in which he said officers go around to all of their city’s homeowners associations to engage with citizens as to what problems are persisting or what issues need to be solved.

“We try to do the best we can, but we have to start with what our communities need and want – because every one of them wants or needs something different and sees law enforcement a little differently,” he said. “These engagements allow us to go all around our city to talk about what’s important to you.”

A good start

Residents brought up multiple questions during Saturday’s meeting, regarding topics such as bias, gun laws and how law enforcement can better de-escalate mental health situations when they arise.

And it is those types of tough questions, Rawlins said, which can go a long way in helping officers to become more self-aware of their own perceived biases, thus becoming better versed in dealing with a variety of people and situations.

“(The officers) did a good job of addressing the bias question," Rawlins said. "I think what (another meeting attendee) was getting at is she believes there was some (racial) bias, and you can’t really teach someone not to be biased – because we all have biases at some point. But I think making them aware of the biases was important. This was an excellent program, and I hope they do it again.”

Seymour said law enforcement agencies in Fort Bend County are working to address issues as they come up – including how to interact with residents suffering from mental health issues as well as potential biases.

He said police wanted residents to walk away from the meeting knowing they are committed to community policing and rectifying problems that may arise when they respond to calls.

“We’re not without fault, and it’s our job to make sure that you are taken care of,” Seymour said. “It doesn’t matter how I feel – because if you don’t think you’re safe, then that’s what matters. And we have to listen to that.”

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