What can we do in the coming New Year to help build inclusive communities amid a time of polarization?
BY MICHELE MEISTER
On the eve of the New Year, we should take time to reflect on the previous year’s events and try to identify both the positive outcomes and what can be improved upon within our community.
I have a unique perspective on Hampton Roads because not only do I live in Virginia Beach, but I am also a police officer sworn to protect the citizens of my community. It is imperative that in this time of vast and immediate access to events occurring from all corners of the earth, there is a realization that a small change at a local level could have a ripple effect felt across the nation – and maybe even the world.
Law enforcement is no exception.
My profession does not exist in a vacuum, and its leaders have been forced to rethink the interaction of law enforcement within their respective communities. In an effort to bring a variety of stakeholders to the table, the philosophy of police departments in this country has concentrated its efforts to one of community caretaker.
This requires collaborating with a variety of outside agencies, faith-based organizations, community activists and our youth to create a more holistic law enforcement profession. The primary function of a police department will always be the enforcement of local, state and federal laws, but we are also in a position to be role models in our community. We can de-escalate mental health crises, provide access to resources for people in need of government assistance and mediate between opposing groups.
I believe that a police department that can find that balance between community caretaker and enforcement of law will be a department that can lead tremendous change in our society. This is what I will strive for throughout my career and why I agreed to take on the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, liaison for the Virginia Beach Police Department.
Although this position is in addition to my assignment as the supervisor for the Virginia Beach Police Special Victims Unit, I have found that it is an important component adding to our department’s legitimacy as a community-oriented police department. I create a bridge between my department and the LGBT community, which has a history of being targeted by overly aggressive law enforcement.
I am able to erase misperceptions about police procedures and provide accurate information to our citizens, which has been instrumental in building a more transparent relationship between the Virginia Beach Police Department and the LGBT community.
This has helped to alleviate some of the fear of reaching out to law enforcement for that community, and it assures people that the Virginia Beach Police Department is committed to providing a safe community for all citizens to thrive.
This is the ripple effect that I hope is felt as far as possible and has a positive impact on the view citizens have of law enforcement professionals.
I believe that you need to get involved if you want to see positive change in your community. Find a cause that you are passionate about. Instead of complaining about the need for things to get better, be the change you want to see in the world.
The Independent News posed a question to community leaders, writers and artists: What can we do in the coming New Year to help build inclusive communities amid a time of polarization? If you would like to share your own thoughts, respond to this project or even complain, please email email@example.com.
Meister, who supervises the police special victims unit in Virginia Beach, also serves as the department’s LGBT liaison.
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