Advisory council sets goal to find answers to crime in neighborhoods

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

One of the challenges for Tallahassee Police Department in its effort to reduce crime is knowing the issues that plague each neighborhood. 

That’s one of the problems that deputy TPD chief Tonja Bryant-Smith plans to bring before a new Citizen Advisory Council. The group began taking form at its first organizational meeting last Monday.

The Council is the brainchild of TPD Chief Lawrence Revell, who promised to put it in place when he was chosen to lead the department late last year. Smith will serve as liaison between the Council and TPD, while Pastor Rudy Ferguson was named chairman of the group.

Deputy Police Chief Tonja Bryant-Smith will be the liaison between TPD and the Citizen Advisory Council. 
Photo special to the Outlook
Pastor Rudy Ferguson (left) will chair the Council.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

Making TPD more knowledgeable about the communities that it has to police is one reason that Revell said he wanted to form the Council.

 “We don’t know,” Smith said. “We are in the community but we really don’t know what the community wants. It’s hard. 

“You police neighborhoods and every neighborhood is different; needs different things. But you’ve got to bridge the gap so that all the neighborhoods know the different needs.”

Finding that out is part of what the Council will be tasked with once it’s completely formed. Forty-two people were selected at the initial meeting held at Thomasville Road Baptist Church. The call for interested residents to join the Council went out between late January and early February, with 86 people responding.

Ferguson, pastor at New Birth Tabernacle of Praise, said the Council will try to “capture every circle of Tallahassee.” However, he was especially concerned about Black neighborhoods that often complained about  over policing.

“The Black community has its problems with law enforcement more than any other community,” he said. “That’s something that has to be addressed and spoken on.

“We don’t know the approach that we will take on every aspect but we do know that the end result should be a better relationship between the Black community and law enforcement.”

Both Smith and Ferguson said sub-committees will be formed to deal with specific issues facing neighborhoods. For example, one sub-committee’s role could be to find ways to deal with youth violence and another could deals with mental illness, Smith said.

Council members will also be encouraged to have a physical presence in the community, Smith said.  Sometimes the Council might even have face-to-face meetings in the neighborhood. Smith suggested those might require overcoming the barrier between TPD and some communities.

“There are going to be some times when the meetings are heated, but you’ve got to let people vent and be OK with that,” she said. “You’ve got to be able to let them voice their concern, then say I hear you and what can we do to fix this.”

The core membership of the Council will be 30. They’re being asked to serve for at least two years.

Another meeting to complete forming the Council was scheduled for Friday. The first information-gathering meeting is being planned for a date to be determined in August.

Plans call for TPD to be part of that meeting, which Smith said could last as long as three hours. 

The Council is different from a Citizen Review Board that the City Commission agreed to form for oversight of law enforcement in the city and county.

Accountability and teamwork will be important aspects for the group, Ferguson said.

“The goal wasn’t about being Democrat or Republican, but rather Tallahasseeans working toward that goal no matter what side of town we live on,” he said. “We all share; directly or indirectly; the same problems.”