Butler County protests: Police and city officials have been active in speaking, interacting

During several protests held throughout Butler and Warren counties recently, there has been a strong police presence to protect the protesters and residents, according to police officials.

But the chiefs and officers also have interacted with those upset with police treatment of minoritiesafter George Floyd, 46, was killed May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis.

There have been peaceful protests in Hamilton, Middletown, Fairfield, West Chester Twp. and Oxford in Butler County and Carlisle and Springboro in Warren County. The local police departments sent representatives to each protest and they have been more than silent observers there to keep the peace.

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Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller addressed protesters Sunday in Hamilton; Middletown police Chief David Birk explained why his officers don’t have body cameras to protesters Saturday at Governor’s Square, then bowed his head while others knelled; two West Chester police officers, urged by protesters, kneeled during a protest last week at the West Chester Clock Tower, and police Chief Joel Herzog stood in the middle of the protesters.

Moeller attended the peaceful prayer vigil at Bailey Square and told the crowd of more than 100 that “the life of a 46-year-old black man named George Floyd did matter. Black lives do matter.”

People should be able to speak freely, pray freely and not live in fear, and faith-based organizations and young people will be part of the solution to society’s racial issues, Moeller said.

People wanting to bring about change should register to vote and then vote, run for office, learn about use-of-force standards and police accreditation, be part of ongoing criminal justice reform and consider a career in law enforcement, Moeller said.

He also suggested people talk to their elected officials and share their experiences with them because “we can all sure learn from each other. Learn, then do.”

“Focus the outrage on doing something positive,” Moeller said.

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Protests and demonstration are the listening stage of change, but the stage that follows is doing something, said Moeller, who pledged himself “to listen, to talk, to do.”

“That is vital,” he said. “That is crucial.”

Birk, Majors Leanne Hood and Scott Reeve and several Middletown officers were seen at the rally that drew about 75 protesters in downtown. The protesters yelled across Central Avenue at the officers and encouraged them to join.

Once there, Birk explained what happened in Minneapolis isn’t taught in any police department.

“What those officers did was wrong,” Birk said Tuesday. “That’s why we support 100 percent peaceful protests. We understand why people are upset. This is more than about the police department. This is a community that needs to come together and unit as one.”

Birk said many of the protesters were not from Middletown so his presence was important.

“They need to hear our views,” he said. “Hear from me.”

Herzog agreed after attending the rally in his township. By talking to the protesters, it showed a different side of police officers, he said. Hopefully, he said, they look past the uniforms and see the person under the bullet-proof vest.

“We are humans,” Herzog said.

He said what happened in Minneapolis was “upsetting to us too.”

Now, he said, it’s time for police departments to listen to the protesters and, if necessary, make the appropriate changes.

“It was good to hear,” he said of the protesters’ complaints. “We can’t learn, more forward if we don’t listen.”

Jessie Grabert, 34, of West Chester, who organized the demonstration there, said the actions of the police officers “set the tone for the night” and showed they were there for protection and support.

After what happened in Minneapolis, Grabert said it may take years to heal the damage done by four officers.

“We trust police to be there in an emergency,” said the mother of five. “Exactly the opposite is happening.”

Hamilton police Chief Craig Bucheit, hired five years ago, said he “fully supports” peaceful protests that make the “community a better place.”

Unlike other protests around the world, those in Hamilton have been mostly peaceful, he said. Bucheit said the protesters have been “more focused on change and their message” than violent destruction.

He said police officers shouldn’t be judged by the actions of a few. Since he was named chief in 2015, Bucheit said he has made a concerted effort to improve the diversity of the department. He has hired 55 officers to fill vacancies and of those, 11 percent are black, 2 percent Hispanic and 20 percent female. Additionally, 18 percent of them are veterans.

“Diversity is essential and not just in the diversity you see like race, gender, and ethnicity but also diversity of thought, life experience, and background,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

He said the department developed the philosophy of recruiting for diversity, hiring for character, and training for excellence.

“You can teach a person the job,” he said. “You can’t teach them to be a good person.”

Staff writer Eric Schwartzberg contributed to this report.

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