‘We can start to change things’: Police, residents meet to open dialogue in Fairfield Twp.

Fairfield Twp. hosted a community conversation inspired by township residents Shelia Simmons and Denise Hayes. Dozens of residents attended the first Shafer s Run Park in what’s expected to be multiple conversations and events to strengthen police-community ties within the township. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

Residents hope conversations such as the one organized Tuesday night in Fairfield Twp. between the community and police can continue, as it was filled with questions and feedback from officials during a challenging time nationally in police relations.

Dozens of people attended the Strategies For Youth community conversations hosted by the Fairfield Twp. Police Department and organized by the department and township residents Shelia Simmons and Denise Hayes, two mothers of teenagers. They approached the chief about having a community dialogue.

“I think those personal conversations need to continue to happen, authentic conversations — not skirting around the issue — but also coming up with solutions,” said Tracy Ashford, a Fairfield parent and guidance counselor at Fairfield High School.

PHOTOS: Dozens of Fairfield Twp. police, residents meet to talk about relations

Simmons and Hayes, along with Fairfield Twp. police Chief Robert Chabali, spoke with the teens and parents at Shafer’s Run Park next to the police department about how to interact with police, both when it’s just in passing around the community, or if there is a traffic violation or something more serious.

Conversations like the one in Fairfield Twp. have been happening around the country in the wake of protests following the death of George Floyd of Minneapolis, who died on May 25 in police custody after an officer placed a knee on his neck.

Hayes, the principal at Fairfield North Elementary, said there are some “big issues going on in the world,” but for Fairfield Twp., they “have to start right here in our own backyard” and focus on being positive and proactive.

“We think that with one relationship, we can start to change things and make things better,” she said. “We cannot underestimate the power of one person, of one exchange, of one relationship built.”

And Simmons said Tuesday’s conversation “is not a one and done thing.”

“We want to continue to be an example for other communities that has some real concerns,” she said.

Chabali told the dozens of people at Shafer’s Run Park that his department strives to be as transparent as possible, and as cooperative as possible. However, the public should not address any probable or alleged police infractions in the heat of the moment, whether it’s a traffic violation or something more serious.

“The time to address is really not on the street. We beg for compliance,” said Chabali. “If you have a feeling your rights were violated, the officer was rude, whatever, certainly you can call the on-duty supervisor or the officer in charge.”

Chabali and Assistant Chief Capt. Doug Lanier reviews every complaint made against officers.

Kennedy Baker, 16, asked Chabali about the township’s training.

“If we want any change, we have to start at the local level, and for that what are your suggestions (for local training),” she said.

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The chief said the department has a lot of training for its officers, but “unfortunately, not all departments are not like that.”

“When you see some of these departments that perhaps are in the limelight, you look at what their training (is), they’re lacking a lot of training,” Chabali said.

Fairfield Twp., as well as others around Butler County, have various types of continuing education, including diversity, tactical and de-escalation training.

“Remember that when we respond to calls, we’re dealing with nothing but people who are mad at each other, spouses, (or) at us, so we have to learn how to deflect and redirect,” Chabali said.

Ashford appreciated the dialogue but, in addition to training, wanted to know what kinds of conversations officers are having internally.

”(The Fairfield City School District) strive(s) to be exceptional in this area when it comes to serving all our students, but especially our under-represented students — black and brown students, and those that are underprivileged,” she said.

Lanier said the department strives for “excellence,” and they “have a lot of conversations with our officers.”

“We’re constantly learning throughout our entire careers,” he said.

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