Community forum hopes to give Topeka outlet for change

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Dozens of people took part in the 2nd Community Forum on policing at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library Monday night.

After an initial meeting, people broke into different focused groups. The groups discussed a variety of topics including a “knowing your rights” campaign, lessons from de-escalation training and the creation of a Citizens Review Board to oversee the Topeka Police Department.

“This would actually be a chance for citizens to have their voice be heard,” said organizer Hannah Hansen. “The group would pretty much address police misconduct, review specific cases and talk about policy changes.”

Hansen said there have been attempts to negotiate a review board with the Topeka Police in the past and she’s hoping more community engagement can make it a reality.

Along with the change, they hope these groups will make organizers also want to give the community an outlet for conversation.

What people get bogged down by is not feeling like they have resources. Not feeling like they can turn into their community. Not feeling like they can turn to their neighbors and have these conversations,” said organizer Martinez Hillard.

A number of city officials showed up including Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla and Topeka Councilwoman Karen Hiller. Speakers had some harsh criticism of city government, but Hiller said that’s okay because organizers are putting in the work.

“Be part of the solution and that’s different than just asking someone else to understand what it is you’re not happy about and fix it,” said Hiller.

Despite major criticism of law enforcement from organizers and speakers, Topeka Police did take part in the community forum. Captain Mike Cross held one of the discussion groups. He talked about opportunities to get to know more about Topeka Police, including the Citizens Academy and ride-a-long opportunities.

“You have to have knowledge of something before you can look to make change in it and one of the things to get that knowledge of how we do policing in the Capital City is to come and spend some time with the officers who are a part of your police force,” said Cross.

Cross said there have been a number of tough conversations about policing in the past few years. He said it’s important for police to engage the community in those discussions and hear what community members have to say.

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