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Community roundtable explores viewpoints

special to the News Bulletin
Crestview News Bulletin

CRESTVIEW — A gathering of community and city leaders in Warriors Hall on Monday afternoon found common ground that transcended demographics, while exploring questions that called for frank discussion and candid answers.

Called by City Manager Tim Bolduc in light of unrest in communities across the country, the discussion was carried live on Crestview Community Television and the city’s Facebook page.

It may be viewed at bit.ly/36VCGM5.

Joining Bolduc in the “open conversation” were Mayor JB Whitten and Crestview Police Department Chief Stephen McCosker; the Rev. Sanford Hayes of New Life Missionary Baptist Church and the Rev. Edward Parker of the First Church of God in Christ; David Wheeler of the Carver-Hill Memorial and Historical Society; and concerned citizens Darius Jackson and Marcia Thompson.

“It’s an opportunity to sit and listen and share our experiences,” said Wheeler, who moderated the discussion. “I hope when we walk out of this room, we’ll come out as changed people.”

“It’s easy to sit back and say, ‘Oh, this is Crestview. We’re not Minneapolis or Washington, D.C.,’” Whitten said. “The key is to be proactive. What can we do right now to take care of all our people equally?”

During the discussion, the participants responded to each other’s comments and took questions submitted on Facebook. Many of the questions and comments were directed toward Chief McCosker. Some of the questions were blunt.

“Is putting a foot on someone’s neck acceptable behavior?” one viewer asked.

“It’s never acceptable behavior,” McCosker immediately replied, explaining that sensitivity training is an integral part of his officers’ regular instruction programs.

Other questions sought to explore ways to strengthen the relationship between residents and the police department.

“You have to be out in the community and we try to do that in many ways,” McCosker said.

Wheeler questioned whether CPD officers were being “over-resourced,” to which Bolduc said, “It’s important for our officers to be properly equipped to do their jobs.”

Responding to a question by Jackson, Chief McCosker said his agency is increasing officer training “and we have a lot more transparency,” particularly through new body cameras worn by all officers.

“Statistics show that having body cameras reduces the possibility of violence,” the chief said, with the cameras being an impartial witness to both officer and citizen behavior.

Hayes asked, “What’s the best way to hold a march or a rally or a demonstration?”

Bolduc emphasized the city’s support for “the constitution and the freedom of speech and the freedom to peacefully assemble.”

The city would be glad to work with any citizens’ group seeking to hold a gathering to facilitate a safe, successful event, he said.

“The city is committed to supporting your rights to assemble,” he said.

As he wrapped up the discussion nearly an hour and a half after it began, Wheeler expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to share thoughts, address concerns and understand one another’s points of view.

“I think it was important to do this,” he said. “I appreciate our police officers and understand the job they have to do. We can see the difference — with the city manager, the mayor and the chief. We can see a positive difference.”