The McKinney police department says it wants to move past a high-profile incident last summer, when a white officer tackled an unarmed black teenage girl at a neighborhood pool.
Police want to foster a better relationship with the community so they’re holding public forums to hear from residents. At a recent forum, residents questioned how the department plans to move forward.
Dozens approached the podium at the Old Settler’s Recreation Center. The Police Chief was listening. Officers and community leaders were listening.
Dajerria Becton was listening too. She’s the teenage girl who was pinned down by an officer last summer. She didn’t speak, but her attorney, Kim Cole, did.
“If I, as a citizen, took my own child, threw her to the ground, pulled her hair, put my knee in her back and one knee on her neck, I would go to jail. When will the McKinney police department be held accountable for the law they are sworn to enforce?” she said.
Her comment was met with applause.
The community forum came a week after a Collin County grand jury decided not to indict the former police officer, Eric Casebolt, for tackling Becton at a neighborhood pool party. He resigned shortly after the incident. Some teens and parents had criticized Casebolt, who is white, for an overzealous and aggressive response against black teens at the party.
At the forum, Police Chief Greg Conley defended the department’s response. It handed off the investigation to an independent party, the Texas Rangers. And Conley said his department was transparent.
“I did not defend what he did. Whether that’s criminal or not, the grand jury’s decided,” Conley said to the crowd. “I’m looking at it from a policy perspective. We have solid policies in place. It’s just, what we have to ensure, is that our practices meet those policies.”
Conley said he’s working to improve community relations. He’s doubling down on training and implementing new outreach programs – like community events that connect residents with police officers, neighborhood patrols and a school resource officer program. He also touted his Chief Advisory Council, made up of community leaders, who talk with officers about how to be sensitive to residents’ concerns and promote diversity. Conley said he wants to make sure what happened last summer at the pool doesn’t happen again.
“No one instance defines a police department, but it has certainly been a watershed moment for us, and hopefully what it’s done is to help bring us a little bit closer to together,” he said. “That’s our goal, that’s our desire, that you feel closer and that your police department is more in tune with what’s going on and that we truly are here to serve you, to protect you.”
Many at the forum, though, are still upset. Pastor Larry Jagours said he hopes the criminal justice system recognizes what role race plays in policing – and how skewed its perspective can be.
“If it had been an African American officer attacking a Caucasian female, what would have been the decision of the grand jury?” he asked. “What would have been the conclusion if it had been an officer, regardless of color, attacking an animal?”
McKinney residents like Jagours say it’ll take more than words from Chief Conley to build confidence in the police department.