Reading police discuss methods with residents in light of Ferguson

Reading police discuss methods with community members

READING, Pa. - Eyes across the country have been on police departments after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, which sparked an uproar in Ferguson, Missouri.

Tension continues to flare after the black teenager was shot dead by a white police officer on Aug. 9.

The Reading branch of the NAACP held a public meeting Thursday night with the Reading Police Department to talk about problems facing the community.

"We're mindful of what's taken place in Ferguson, but we actually developed this program in a proactive sense in order to prevent those types of things from happening," said Bill Thompson, president, Reading Branch NAACP, who added the meeting was first planned weeks ago before the violence in Missouri.

It was a packed house at the Zion Baptist Church, 224 Washington St., in Reading as the NAACP and Reading police allowed residents to ask police officers tough questions about how they do their job.

"If we can continue a dialogue in the manner in which we're having one right now, we're good," said resident Elijah Rhodes.

"Sometimes there's language used on both sides that cause tempers to flare up," said Chief Bill Heim, Reading Police Department, who led the discussion.

Officials said the timing of the meeting can't be ignored. On the minds of many in Reading was the recent killing of Brown in Missouri, which has sparked heated confrontations between protesters and police.

Authorities said they're being proactive with meetings like that on Thursday night, where they explained to residents why police need to use force, and how residents can file complaints if they feel they were treated unfairly by an officer.

The meetings are a preventative measure to help prevent riots and violence from exploding into the streets of Reading.

"We're trying to rectify and we want people to understand they can turn to police and can be supported by police," said Thompson, who urged the public not to be silent.

"I think these meetings like this help provide the information that people need to be prepared whatever their concerns may be," said Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer.

Many agreed they were happy with the results of the meeting and officials said this is only the beginning.

"We're trying to sort things out so there's better harmony here in the community," said Bill Thompson with the NAACP.

The police chief said he wants to have more of these types of town hall meetings, including meetings that deal specifically with the police force and recruiting more minorities.

Officials said they will take the suggestions and questions posed by the public at Thursday's meeting and look into how best to address them in the future.

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