LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A group of Angelina County residents and a number of community leaders, from police officers to NFL stars, met to discuss police and community interaction. They weren't reacting to recent violence, but rather hoping to prevent it.
"Folks, we can't change the whole world, but we can change our world around us," said Greg Sanches, Sheriff of Angelina County.
It attracted residents of all ages, races, and perspectives that said they hope having the chance to ask police and leaders directly will keep the interactions between them positive. Robert Shankle, a councilman who organized the event, hopes this idea spreads to other communities as well.
"I think it would be a process of healing, coming together and unity. So many times there's division and I think this would help solve a lot of problems," Shankle said.
The panel of leaders consisted of highway patrol officers, chief and assistant chief of police for Lufkin, as well as church leaders. Assistant Chief David Thomas said coming together to have open dialogue is something they implemented long ago.
"We didn't wake up one morning and think 'Oh, we got to get in touch with the community.' No, this started this in '93," Thomas said.
One citizen, who has lived in Lufkin over 30 years, reflected on how far she has seen her community come.
"Growing up, I can remember the police having to stop in the car and chase criminals regularly, but we have done really good since and thank God we have a leader in our community and we are proud of that and glad we have such respective officers."
There were many that voiced concerns on incidences happening on a national stage, who wanted to know what law enforcement is doing to prevent it from happening here at home.
"If you have to fire an officer, you have to fire an officer. When people have complaints, you take those seriously and do not dismiss those things," said Gerald Williamson, chief of police, when asked what he would do if an officer acted unethically.
He also encouraged a direct line of communication and trust that works both ways.
"Call us. Call often. Call frequently. A lot of people don't want to report issues but that's what we need," Williamson said.
Pastor Earl Whitaker, with New Life Church of Lufkin, explained the key role that the community could play in ensuring police and community relations continued to be transparent and honest.
"It starts at home. We have to train our children; we have to have good strong families," Whitaker said. "When that happens, society gets better and we will have a good functioning world where everyone can get along."
The Chief also announced that just recently, the police department was awarded a grant that will provide every on-duty police officer a body cam to be worn when working. He stated they would begin issuing those to officers next week.