By Caleb Bedillion
TUPELO – Concerned and curious citizens will have an opportunity to pose questions about the city’s police department during a public forum Monday evening.
Complaints directed toward the Tupelo Police Department erupted into view last summer during protests over the shooting death of a local man by a police officer following a traffic stop.
Mayor Jason Shelton’s administration hopes the forum offers an opportunity to begin mending relationships, particularly between minority residents and law enforcement.
Shelton, Police Chief Bart Aguirre and other police department administrative staff will take questions during an open forum from 6 p.m. until about 7:30 p.m.
The forum will take place at a community meeting room in the recently opened police department headquarters on Front Street.
Member of the public will be invited to submit written questions. Officer Katarsha White will select from among submitted questions and pose them to the officials on hand.
Shelton pledged that that there will be no effort to select only favorable or easy questions.
“It’s a disservice and would diminish the entire effort not to take the hard questions,” said the mayor. “If you have those questions come ask them. We want a meaningful conversation.”
Submitted questions should, however, pertain to the police department in some fashion. Questions about other topics will not be selected Monday evening.
Monday’s forum is among a series of initiatives intended to spotlight the police department’s commitment to community policing.
During unrest last summer, a coalition of some civic and religious leaders called for a renewed commitment to community policing.
Shelton’s administration held that community policing was already in practice by city police. However, the mayor eventually adopted the position that better communication was needed to ensure the success of such efforts.
Monday’s forum also offers the mayor a chance to begin fulfilling a longtime campaign promise to hold quarterly meetings with the public.
“We never really did those true town hall meetings in the different wards that we had originally intended to do,” Shelton said. “This is kind of a step in that direction.”
The mayor intends that additional forums will be scheduled on different topics, probably on a quarterly basis.
City leaders will be utilizing a framework for community dialogue created by the National Civic League and dubbed an “All-America Conversations Toolkit.”
This toolkit encourages the use of small-group conversations designed to foster dialogue across divisions.
The small-group format won’t be used Monday night, however.