By Rebecca Gaunt
In the weeks of protests following George Floyd’s murder in 2020 by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Pastors Rod Green and Stephan Bell reached out to Kennesaw Police Chief Bill Westenberger to facilitate a community discussion.
They invited Westenberger to participate in a roundtable with local pastors and community leaders to discuss police relations with the Black community and how to reduce fear during encounters with law enforcement.
“After George Floyd’s death, a lot of protests, a lot of distrust toward law enforcement in the community. Although we’ve got a great team, a great group of officers, hearts are right and heads are in the right place, we want to serve the community to the best of our ability – still that distrust was there based on a lot of things happening around the country,” Westenberger told Kennesaw City Council at last week’s work session. “I realized more than anything that I needed to make sure that I had perspective, and that our officers had perspective, in regard to the needs of diversity in the community.”
That conversation led to the creation of a Citizen Advisory Board that meets monthly to provide insight into the diverse cultures of the city’s community. Dazzree Thomas, Migdalia “Micky” Rivera, Melissa O’Brien, John Gagne, David Nelson and both pastors are members.
“With perspective, the board strives to strengthen relationships with all in our community that will foster trust and cohesion,” Officer David Buchanan, from the office of public information and community engagement, told the Courier.
On the advice of the board, the department reinstated “Barber Shop Talk,” in which the community is invited to ask police officers questions at local minority-owned barber shops.
Advisory board members have also participated in ride-a-longs to see first hand what police officers experience.
They have partnered to donate toys to the Jerry Worthan Christmas Fund, backpacks to students, and created a scholarship for Pine Mountain Middle School students.
Kennesaw’s second annual board-sponsored Juneteenth celebration will take place June 18 at Swift-Cantrell Park. The Walk for Unity will take place at 11 a.m. and free activities are planned until 2 p.m.
Green told Mayor Derek Easterling and city council members that the board is a faith-based initiative.
“In addition to us providing perspective, we actually want to be advocates for the police department to bridge the gap between the communication and the relationships between the police officers and the community,” Green said.