ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) — Nearly five months after Andrew Brown Jr. was shot and killed by Pasquotank County deputies, the county’s Board of Commissioners approved spending nearly $60,000 to help their sheriff’s department increase community trust.
Monday night, commissioners voted unanimously to direct the county administrator to enter into a contract with the Arizona based Police2Peace foundation, and move forward with three new initiatives known together as the “peace initiative.” It includes rebranding sheriff’s deputies as “peace officers,” forming a citizens’ advisory council and launching community listening sessions.
Commissioners also signed off on $9,000 in new de-escalation training for sheriff’s deputies.
The local NAACP chapter president calls it needed “progress,” after months of calling for change.
“It is a move forward,” said Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank NAACP, following the meeting.
Rivers has been a leading voice in the community ever since Brown was killed April 21. The marches he helped lead in the streets of Elizabeth City went on for weeks. On national news, protesters could be seen calling for transparency from the sheriff’s office and district attorney’s office.
On the 100th day of protesting, Rivers called for the creation of a community review commission to review policing and employment practices by the sheriff’s department.
He appeared pleased with the county manager’s idea to establish something similar.
“It is designed to bring about accountability and transparency,” Rivers said. “It’s there to offer that transparency when things happen.”
While an exact structure for the Sheriff’s Citizens’ Advisory Council isn’t known yet, County Manager Sparty Hammett said he and Sheriff Tommy Wooten are committed to its formation.
“And look at things like complaints against officers. We’ll look at the disciplinary actions … when the sheriff looks at new programs. We’ll get feedback from the citizens advisory council,” Hammett said. “Opens up everything to those citizens, gets them on board with what sheriff’s deputies are doing and they become their advocates out in the community. So just a very positive thing.”
The first step of forming the council is forming a task force to figure out how it can be done.
Sheriffs are independently-elected officials and aside from their budget, are not beholden to the county administration.
In the meantime, the county will also move forward with Police2Peace’s assistance in developing an action plan.
“Micro community listening sessions” will be held in order to gather input on what Pasquotank County residents would like to see in their policing Hammett said. In turn Police2Peace will then develop action recommendations for the county and sheriff’s department to take.
In addition they will help stand up a Peace Officer program within the department.
“[Police2Peace] just looked at the concept of putting peace officers on vehicles and does that change the perception of the public,” Hammett said. “They did a very detailed study and found out it did.”
The plan is for logos that say “peace officers’ to be placed on sheriff vehicles and on uniforms.
“But it’s also a change of the concept the way we do policing to truthfully a peace officer,” Hammett said.
Hammett, said he has see the success of the program through the eyes of Richland County Sheriff office in SC. Hammett used to be assistant county administrator there.
The contract with Police2Peace could run up to $50,000, per Hammett.
“I thought ‘That’s the answer for moving the community forward’.”
Brown was shot and killed outside a home on Perry Street as deputies attempted to serve drug-related search and arrest warrants. Deputy body camera video shows he was shot as he attempted to drive away from the scene after deputies surrounded his vehicle.
District Attorney Andrew Womble said he believed the shooting was justified because deputies were afraid they would be run over, and cleared the deputies of any charges connected to Brown’s death.
However Brown’s family continues to claim Brown was murdered and has sued the sheriff’s deputies in federal court for $30 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Sherriff Wooten assured there would be more training for deputies following the shooting.
On Monday, $9,000 was approved to allow the Wooten to contract with Blue to Gold, LLC to come teach the de-escalation, duty to intervene and “best practices” for traffic stops classes.
In a memo to the board, Wooten acknowledges the training would go above and beyond the training already mandated by the state.
“Students who complete the course will: reduce unnecessary force; increase community trust and increase traditional decision making.
Wooten did not respond to 10 On Your Side’s requests for comment on if the training was directly related to the Andrew Brown, Jr. but Hammett said the events in April influenced the county’s actions.
“It was a tragic event. We don’t want Pasquotank County defined by that event we want the county defined by our response,” Hammett said.
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