February 13, 2008
LIMA — A man providing diversity training to members of the Lima Police Department will be holding town meetings to give the community a chance to shape the future of the agency.Joseph Thomas Jr., the president of Jet Consulting and the chief of police in Southfield, Mich., was in town Tuesday and Wednesday for training to help employees of the Police Department understand the diversity within the community and its department.Thomas, who is black, was not brought to Lima as a result of the Jan. 4 fatal shooting of Tarika Wilson by a Lima Police Department SWAT team officer inside her Third Street home. He was here more than a year ago and the department in August scheduled his return.Chief Greg Garlock said group meetings, which have not been scheduled, will take place in the weeks ahead with smaller groups, such as 30 people. Thomas will serve as a facilitator to help the public and Police Department understand each other, as well as help the Police Department understand the public’s needs, he said.Thomas said his advice to the police and the community is to get to know one another to better understand each other. When he returns, he will ask the community what direction it would like the department to go and how officers can better serve the community, he said.The community “will be a big part of the success or failure of the Police Department,” he said. “It’s critical for people to understand that the people of Lima can solve this problem. People and the Police Department can solve this problem and move forward.”During this week’s sessions, Thomas concentrated on diversity, not only race but sex, religious background and ethnic background.“It’s not all about black and white but it does include black and white,” he said.Thomas and members of the department have talked about the shooting and some expressed concerns about the public’s lack of understanding of police operations, he said.Thomas said he is concerned about outsiders coming into the community over the shooting. This week the Rev. Jesse Jackson was in town and Thomas said he was out of line for calling for the indictment against the officer who shot Wilson before the criminal investigation was complete.He said people making early judgments need to step back and let the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation conduct its investigation. There will be plenty of time afterward to discuss the outcome, he said.“Then you can voice your opinion about what should or should not have been done once there is an outcome,” he said.In reference to minority hiring to make the Police Department more reflective of the city it serves, which in Lima is 25 percent black, Thomas said recruitment and retention are key.The community, civic groups, social groups, religious groups and others need to begin grooming local high school students for a career in law enforcement, he said. It’s best to have black officers from Lima who understand the city and know its background. And once the department has minority officers it needs to make sure it keeps them.