Police forum calls for cooperation

A police and public safety forum urged cooperation between local police agencies and the community. That was the basic take-away from a forum held Tuesday night in Kennett Square.

Taking part in the forum were Kennett Township Police Chief Lydell E. Nolt, Kennett Square acting Police Chief William T. Holdsworth, FBI Agent Charles Dayoub and dozens of residents of the township and borough. Retired Judge Daniel Maisano moderated the session held in the atrium of the Genesis Building in Kennett Square.

Topics ranged from communication between police and residents and response times to violent crime.

Maisano opened the evening by mentioning the hundreds of officer-involved shootings in the country during the last few years, shootings by, and of, police officers.

That issue resurfaced later in the evening when a member of the audience asked about the training police receive in dealing with officer-involved shootings.

Nolt said it’s a very emotional time whenever a police officer is killed in the line of duty. But that holds true when it’s a civilian, too.

“In my opinion, it’s a death, whether it’s justified or not…We need to stop focusing on the justification and focus on the fact that it’s death. Somebody’s family member lost his life. We need to focus on things we can do to avoid those situations,” he said.

Nolt added that the forum itself, where members of the general community have the opportunity to ask questions of police officers, is the first step in doing that.

“That prevents those types of encounters,” he added.

FBI Agent Charles Dayoub, far right, addresses the audience at the public safety forum in Kennett Square. With him are, from left, retired Judge Daniel Maisano. Lt. William Holdsworth, the acting police chief in Kennett Square, and Kennett Township Police Chief Lydell Not.

FBI Agent Charles Dayoub, far right, addresses the audience at the public safety forum in Kennett Square. With him are, from left, retired Judge Daniel Maisano. Lt. William Holdsworth, the acting police chief in Kennett Square, and Kennett Township Police Chief Lydell Not.

Holdsworth responded to a follow-up question about how police react to a mentally-challenged person whose actions could be misinterpreted. He said police are always looking to de-escalate potentially violent situations as best they can. The state, he said, requires annual training for that.

“We’re certainly not experts, but we do receive training and keep trying to fulfill the need we have for situations such as that,” Holdsworth said.

He added that police work with crisis intervention groups whose caseworkers respond whenever a situation requires it.

Holdsworth also said there’s nothing wrong with residents’ photographing or recording police activity, but did caution to keep a safe distance.

“Don’t interfere,” he said. “Don’t get so close that you become involved.”

Also in his opening remarks, Maisano said he doesn’t want anyone in the area to become a story about a police killing or become a story about police using excessive force.

“We believe this can be accomplished by communication, having an open dialogue like tonight’s event and by informing you, the public, what challenges our officers face day to day in keeping our community safe, and by listening to your concerns,” Maisano said.

Nolt said that good communication between police and the general community doesn’t happen by accident, that it takes hard work from civilians and officers alike.

“Strong communities don’t just happen,” Nolt said. “They are products of hard work by community members, residents and police putting the work in to maintain a healthy community.”

Holdsworth, who became acting chief in July following the resignation of former Chief Edward A. Zunino, echoed Nolt’s comment, saying, “We are only as good as our communities, and we need you as much as we need the officers that are working here.”

In response to a wide range of questions — most submitted in writing before the forum — residents were urged to keep those lines of communication open by calling police when they believe it’s necessary and not worrying about getting in trouble with the law if they report a family member’s possessing or using drugs.

When asked about areas of high crime, Dayoub, who works out of the FBI’s Newtown Square office, said those areas are Chester in Delaware County, and parts of Coatesville in Chester County.

This was the first in what the departments hope to be ongoing community forums. Maisano said they hope to hold them every four months or so, and have specific topics on the agenda. No specific dates have been set.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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