Three Central Texas police chiefs discussed the importance of partnerships and open communication with community members as part of a government’s transparency in recognition of Sunshine Week.
Belton police Chief Gene Ellis, Temple police Chief Floyd Mitchell and Killeen police Chief Charles Kimble each talked about what they believe helps create a relationship of trust with the public.
Openness, accountability and honesty are essential in government transparency, and how well a government does can be measured by how well people hold public officials accountable, according to The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. Government exists to serve the people.
Kimble told an FME News Service reporter in an email that, “While law enforcement must also be concerned with the integrity of active cases and protecting victims, transparency helps build trust and is an important part of community policing.”
However, the city of Killeen and the Killeen Police Department haven’t been transparent recently regarding an FME News Service open records request.
An FME News Service reporter filed a Feb. 12 request for the dates and reasons Kevin Anton Davis — Bell County Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown’s son — was arrested since Jan. 1, 2017.
Brown publicly claimed Killeen police were harassing her son and even stopped/arrested him 17 times in one month.
The city of Killeen treated the request for information as an open records request under the Public Information Act.
The city, required to respond to the information request or ask the Texas Attorney General’s office for a ruling within 10 business days, was delinquent in its response time.
The city believed it had a compelling reason for not disclosing the documents, it said in its response to the AG’s office. It took the stance that, because the FME News Service didn’t request specific dates or files, the reporter was asking for the “equivalent of a background check” on Davis — and that would invade Davis’ right to privacy, a city of Killeen paralegal, Linda Pemberton, said.
“We will do everything we can to continue to improve and find new, creative ways to have that open dialogue with our community,” Kimble said.
Kimble said he believes in open dialogue with the community, he said, so he communicates directly with members of the community and meets with various groups in Killeen and Fort Hood.
New to the position, Kimble wants to “take it to the next level,” and one of those ways was by ordering body-worn cameras, despite the city’s fiscal challenges, he said. The city is increasing its use of social media to inform residents of what’s going on in the city.
Ellis stressed the need for the Belton Police Department to have a strong partnership with the community because the department can’t do it alone.
“Public trust is the foundation of police legitimacy,” Ellis said. “Transparency is one of the pillars of procedural justice (fairness, impartiality, transparency and voice),” Ellis said. “This is something the Belton Police Department embraces and teaches all offices.”
A Temple Police Department priority is establishing a culture of transparency and accountability, within the department and outside of it, and it’s essential to building public trust, Mitchell said Friday.
The department’s bases its policies on the six pillars of the President’s Task Force of 21st Century Policing, issued in October 2015, Mitchell pointed out.
The report states, “Building trust and nurturing legitimacy is the foundational principal underlying the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Mitchell believed the U.S. Department of Justice report was so important to 21st century policing that he required all officers going through the current promotional process to read it, he told an FME News Service reporter.
The department works hard and constantly does evaluations to make sure it’s complying with the law and making information easily accessible to the public, too, Mitchell said.
One step to make information easier and faster to obtain was the addition of a nonsworn media relations representative — Ellen Morton — to the public information office.
“I believe police officers and the community we are sworn to protect and serve all want the same thing: an informed and engaged police department, an informed and connected community and the protection of individual rights and privacies,” Mitchell said.