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Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office Continues Community Engagement Sessions

Credit Jorge Avellan / WEMU
Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton speaks to a crowd at Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter.

The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office held the third in its community education series  at Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter on Wednesday evening.  The overall idea is to improve the department's relationship with the community by informing offering insights into how the Sheriff's office operates.

What you are hearing is Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton referring to incidents in which police officers are accused of using excessive force on the job.  He addressed the issue to a peaceful crowd of more than  thirty at Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter.

Henry Heinold is an area resident who attended the community education session that focused heavily on on the department's management of  interpersonal interactions.

"I do think that a lot of the confrontation are due to a lack of proactive approach to situations."

Sheriff Clayton admits, anyone can make a mistake, including law enforcement officers.  In the effort to better avoid those kinds of encounters, department officers are going through a training called LEED.  

"Listen, Explain, provide Equitable treatment, and leave people with Dignity with each of our interactions."

The community education series was developed in the weeks after WEMU hosted a July 21st town hall forum on policing and community interactions. That event drew attendence of more than 600 and featured five panelists including Sheriff Clayton, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie and representatives of Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties Union. After last night's session, Omar Hasan of Ann Arbor said he fully supports new training for the law enforcement community but wonders  if will actually be put into practice. 

"I heard people complain about talking to sheriff's and their doing something else and they're not really given the full attention. So the other person doesn't feel like their needed."

Officers are also getting additional training to better deal with encounters involving mental health issues.  Eric Waddell is the training manager for the Sheriff's Office. He says officers were aware certain services and resources were available, but may not have know enough about them to fully take advantage.   

"We've got a Washtenaw County Crisis Team that has services available to our law enforcement officers 24 hours a day seven days a week."

Sheriff Clayton had originally intended to end the community education series with last night's gathering in Dexter but has now decided the public gatherings will continue.  One of the next topics of discussion will be to offer insights on how 9-1-1 dispatch services operate.  Sheriff Clayton also says there will be ongoing  evaluations of officer performance to make sure training is being put into practice out on the streets. 

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— Jorge Avellan is the Ann Arbor beat reporter and anchor for 89.1 WEMU News.  Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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