By Kim Hilsenbeck
Keeping an open dialogue flowing between citizens and a police department is an ongoing challenge in cities and towns across the country. That is particularly true in the wake of officer–involved shootings, as well as officers being killed, along with riots and looting in areas such as Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, and Staten Island in New York City.
Yet Kyle residents Dallas Lee and Maria Requejo Lee are working to do just that with what they call COP HD. It stands for Citizens On Policing – Honest Dialogue.
The couple coordinated the first COP HD in February. About a dozen people attended along with four officers from Kyle Police Department (KPD).
The second meeting took place Monday at Kyle City Hall. Approximately 12 participants took part. Capt. Pedro Hernandez represented KPD. Audience members included three city council members; Diane Hervol, David Wilson and Shane Arabie.
With Hays County one of the fastest growing areas in the nation, Lee and his wife said it’s important to get out ahead of any potential issues.
“We want to continue the dialogue and see what we can do to make it better place,” Dallas Lee told those who attended.
Much of the discussion centered around interactions between the police and Kyle residents, with an emphasis on race relations. While a few attendees mentioned hearing negative perceptions of the police, others said they hear praise and kudos.
Justice of the Peace Beth Smith asked Hernandez if he has seen any reactions since the various officer-related shootings and recent riots.
“After Ferguson, we had one incident where a man challenged the officers and referenced Ferguson, but I don’t think we’ve had anything beyond that incident,” Hernandez said.
He added that the individual had some mental issues and was later transported to a state mental hospital.
Maria Requejo Lee showed the group a video about officer Jeremy Henwood of the San Diego who was assassinated by someone who was targeting the uniform, not the person. Earlier in the day, Henwood bought a young black child some cookies at McDonald’s. In the video the boy talks about how nice the officer was to him.
She said officers are supposed to protect us but it’s getting to the point where we need to protect them.
How can COP HD educate residents about these issues?
In addition to the monthly meetings, Requejo Lee reminded attendees about the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) offered by KPD. It’s a 12-week course three hours a week that teaches everyday residents about the inner workings of the police department.
She was in the first graduating class three years ago and is an advocate for getting other residents involved.
Hernandez told the group that KPD encourages its officers to stop by the local schools, introduce themselves and walk the halls.
“We also give a lot of presentations at schools,” he said.
One of his pet peeves is when parents see an officer and say to their child, “You better behave or this police man is going to take you to jail.”
Hernandez said, “That contradicts everything we’re trying to do to build that relationship with the youth because now parents are building up negative perceptions.”
He said he respectfully tries to combat that attitude and educate the parents because if someday down the road the child is lost, hurt or needs help, he or she may be reluctant to seek out a police officer because they may be scared based on what their parent said.
Dallas Lee said he recently invited police departments from Buda and San Marcos to be part of the dialogue.
“I’m not trying to fix things after an incident happens,” he said.