Dec. 4, 2018

Batten Hosts First Central Virginia Learning Exchange

On Saturday, Dec. 1, the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy hosted the first Central Virginia Learning Exchange (CVLE) summit to improve communications, enhance understanding, and encourage a better working relationship between the Charlottesville community and the police. The CVLE was led by Batten professor Brian N. Williams and students in his course, “The Current State of Police-Community Relations: Problems and Prospects.”

In addition to Williams and his students, summit participants included Mindy Goodall, executive director of the Charlottesville Police Foundation; Charles Werner, executive director of the Albemarle County Police Foundation; Larry Terry, executive director of the Weldon Cooper Center at UVA; Brian Moran, secretary for public safety and homeland security for the state of Virginia;  Cliff Hayes, delegate for the 77th District of the Virginia General Assembly; Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and Foundation and the Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators; Heather Hill, vice mayor of Charlottesville; Mike Murphy, interim city manager for the city of  Charlottesville; RaShall Brackney, chief of the Charlottesville Police Department; officers from Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia Police Departments; and residents of Central Virginia.

Williams, who joined the Batten faculty this fall, focuses chiefly on community relations, in particular, public safety and race. The CVLE is his course’s signature class project and also an extension of a larger police-community based project. “The Central Virginia Learning Exchange is affiliated with a project that I recently began. This project is called ‘getting to we the people’ and plays off of the first phrase of the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution,” said Williams. “Only by getting to ‘we’ and away from the polarizing aspects of ‘us versus them’ that often aggravates police-community relations can we arrive at a destination of ‘forming a more perfect union’ and enhancing a productive partnership between all members of the public with the police to address problems that impact our neighborhoods and communities.”

The often fraught relationship between community members and the police has figured prominently and constantly in the Charlottesville and national news cycles. Police brutality is often spotlighted while the few but good interactions between the police and local communities go unacknowledged. This has led to a relationship built on mistrust and fear.

During the event, Secretary Moran and Chief Brackney listened to student groups present policy recommendations ranging from advising local law enforcement to better handle encounters with black women and people who are mentally ill or experiencing homelessness to the creation of civilian review boards and a more concerted approach to the hiring of black female police officers. Prior to the event, students prepared research and collected data and statistics to inform their presentations that coincided with their policy recommendations.

“This is the initial step in a series of steps to have a significant conversation on a serious topic that impacts us all,” Williams said of the event. “The more we have this discussion, the more we make progress on getting to ‘we’ as a unified community.”

Discussions of this nature are crucial—perhaps more than ever. By bringing together local government officials, law enforcement, and young citizens—in this case, Batten students, then and only then can the foundation for a ‘unified we’ be laid properly. With the painful memories of the 2017 Unite the Right Rally still present, it is imperative for events of CVLE’s caliber to set the tone and the standard for how communities like Charlottesville heal and recover, as well as to show students the future role they have to play in shaping that narrative and leading in public governance efforts.

Next spring, Professor Williams will lead the course, “Interviews and Focus Groups for Public Policy,” which will introduce students to qualitative research – an approach to discovery that allows for a deeper and richer understanding of perspectives, structures, and processes that drive or influence human behavior.