Greencastle Police Department holds forum to discuss community concerns

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In the first of many difficult conversations, Public Safety Chief, Angie Nally, as well as Greencastle Police Chief, Tom Sutherland, took a seat in the Watson Forum Sept. 9 in order to discuss, combat, and hopefully improve the community culture between police and students at DePauw University.

Renee Madison, senior advisor for diversity, organized the open forum to push students and law enforcement past an “us vs. them” mentality.

“If we feel safe in a community, we need to first know the people who protect it,” senior moderator Sarah Fears began, “This is hopefully the first of many difficult conversations that need to take place in our communities.”

The relationship between police and students, which at times has been divisive and has been littered with misunderstanding, was the first in many conversations moving forward to make DePauw students feel closer and safer to their neighbors.

In a half empty Watson forum in the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media, both Chiefs spoke candidly about the necessary precautions each take to ensure student safety.

Sutherland discussed his lack of interaction with the University since he was named chief in 2004, saying that “Mark (President McCoy) was the first DePauw president to reach out to the Greencastle Police Department.” Sutherland also said he wanted, “to not only make Greencastle a great and safe place to live, we need to do our best to make DePauw a safe place to live.”

Both Nally and Sutherland discussed their standard operating procedures for a myriad of situations. Excise police, public intoxication, and a reiteration of the importance of the Indiana Lifeline Law were all emphasized.

Nally leveled with students and spoke to them honestly. “I have a child growing up now, and they of course tell me they’ll never drink,” said Nally, “The Lifeline is important because I don’t want my kid, or any of you, to feel like you are incapable of making the safest choice.”

Fears highlighted a problem that plagues campuses around the nation including our own. She maintained that students of color may have a difficult time approaching the police.  In response, Chief Sutherland stressed the Greencastle Police’s willingness to reach out to its community. Events like Coffee with Cops on Sept. 14, Pokemon with Police, and National Night Out, where roughly 1,700 Greencastle citizens spend the night exploring the parks under the safety of the police, try to engage the community and the police force in friendly ways.  

Fears changed the direction of the conversation to the events of Sept. 23 and the infamous visit of Brother Jed. Nally spoke openly about the situation. “I think millions of times about what I could’ve and should’ve done. If things had been handled differently, police involvement could have been avoided,” she said, speaking in regards to the apprehension of student Avery Smith ’18 and Andrew Smith ’11, Assistant Director of Alumni Engagement.

“Looking back there was a haystack and we put napalm on it when Brother Jeb spewed his words,” Nally said.

Sutherland gave his opinion on his involvement in the situation, which was a rare occasion for Greencastle Police Department. “We are there for the protection of all. Both students and protesters. If that means we have to detain a student, unfortunately we have to.”

Fears expressed optimism for the future after the forum ended. “The first forum went fantastic. We successfully navigated difficult conversations about the national narrative of police using excessive force in underrepresented communities, and how we as a community here in Greencastle are actively addressing this at the local level,” said Fears. “Officer Sutherlin and Officer Nally are some of the best people you'll ever meet, and they take pride in their work and in the community.”