At odds with North Carolina leaders over the state’s so-called bathroom bill and an elections law overhaul, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch returned to her home state Tuesday to celebrate local police work she would like to see modeled across the country.
Though Lynch in remarks to reporters reiterated the U.S. Justice Department’s stance against House Bill 2, a sweeping measure that includes a provision requiring transgender people to use the bathroom consistent with the sex on their birth certificates, Lynch’s time in Fayetteville focused on community policing and bridging gaps between officers and the cities they serve.
Lynch chose Fayetteville as a stop in the second phase of her Community Policing Tour because it’s a city with a police force that has been working for several years on becoming more transparent.
In 2012, after complaints about racial profiling and traffic stops that led to vehicle searches, the City Council prohibited police from searching vehicles unless they had written consent from the driver.
In 2013, the city hired a new police chief, Harold Medlock, a law enforcement officer with a background in community policing.
Not only did Medlock immediately order his officers to stop motorists only for the most serious driving offenses, but he also instituted other changes designed to build trust within communities that had been at odds with the Police Department.
“What I will tell you very candidly is no one said things are perfect,” Lynch said afterward.
But she lauded the city – and its police chief – for holding tough conversations and working together to try to solve problems that caused ministers and others in the black community to talk about being pulled over by patrol officers for what they called “DWB,” or driving while black.
Lynch heard from officers and community leaders who had gone through diversity training and other programs designed to offer a different perspective on their work.
Charles Cochran, a Fayetteville police sergeant, told Lynch and John Bruce, the acting U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina, that he recently attended a “Rank and File” forum in Washington. He said he appreciated the idea that police officers should drop “the warrior mentality” and instead realize that “we’re not over the community; we’re part of the community.”
Community leaders also talked about the need for those having difficulty trusting that police are there to help them to talk with officers and administrators to let them know why they feel that way. Lynch also noted that police, too, can be reluctant to change.
“You can get something,” said Dollie Manigo, a pastor in Fayetteville, “but you’ve got to give.”
The need for frankness and sharing ideas and concerns was the theme of the day.
Lynch started out her day meeting with a student advisory council, high school students from across the city who meet regularly with the chief and law enforcement officers to talk about anything.
Sixteen students from four Fayetteville high schools got out of their regular school schedules Tuesday to meet with Lynch, ask questions, and give her ideas and advice for President Barack Obama.
Lynch’s tour grew out of the president’s “21st Century Policing” initiative that was created in the wake of the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., at the hands of white officers.
One of the things that turned Lynch’s focus to Fayetteville was Medford’s voluntary request for the U.S. Justice Department to review his department.
That review turned up 49 problem areas and led to recommendations for improvements.
The high school students gathered at Terry Sanford High School offered a few suggestions Tuesday while discussing their experiences with Lynch, a North Carolina native who posed for selfies with the teens before touring the Police Department’s body-camera facilities.
Valerie Key, the student body president at the school, told the chief that young people might find police more approachable and have more confidence in them if they knew better what they were doing.
Key was the only student in the group who followed the department’s Twitter account.
“The reason they don’t have a lot of followers is they don’t post enough,” she told Lynch, while gently chiding a chief who was in high school, he said, “when tablets were stone.”
The department’s public information officer posts more often on its Facebook site, the chief acknowledged, but he suggested to a show of enthusiastic hands that students come with him to the City Council to request a job – “at $15 an hour” – for a new staffer more adept at social media.
“I keep telling people: Facebook – Facebook, that’s for old people,” Medlock said.
Kendrick Swinson, a senior at Pine Forest High School who joined the student advisory council to many quizzical looks from his friends, told Lynch that his intentions were to buck the troubling trend of teens who were more interested in the street than school.
Swinson gave Medlock pushback after the chief talked about a department initiative in which police invite students to let them know about “house parties” so officers can do a “drive-by” check to cut down on going in to the big gatherings and “shutting them down.”
In the past year, Medlock said 58 of the 60 parties “went off without a hitch.”
But Swinson said police had shut down parties he had attended, and the partygoers had to pack everything up and find another place before being shut down there.
Lynch lauded Swinson for airing his complaint. She used it as an opportunity to discuss the need for many departments to listen more to concerns and to ask for advice on what to tell officials in Baltimore, a city where there is much distrust of police, on her next visit.
One student suggested just listening to people – “Face to face is the set way to go.”
The students, who were quickly at ease with Lynch, suggested more mentoring by police outside the schools and told her they thought officers “should be more like themselves,” as if they were home with their families, not wearing the badge.
The students were curious about the president and how often Lynch met with him. They suggested that she invite him to their next meeting.
“What young people think means a lot to him,” Lynch told the group, as her father, a retired pastor from Durham, watched from the side.
The students summed up the thoughts of many who encountered Lynch on Tuesday, encouraging her to take a message to the White House.
“Tell President Obama he has a great team,” said Dre’Shawn Spearman, a junior at E.E. Smith High School. “If you are representative of the team he has working with him, he’s doing a great job.”