An Overview of the Town’s Community Engagement Efforts and Progress
In addition to finding innovative ways to pivot around the pandemic, the mayor and the town’s departments have looked to find ways and resources to help make our community stronger and healthier—not just financially but across the board—and not only for the citizens of today but for future generations of Zionsville residents, business owners and visitors alike.
The town launched Live Sessions with Mayor Styron and Town Council President Josh Garrett, live streams of board/commission meetings, Creekside Chats with residents and local groups, Overley-Worman Park virtual open house and more. Additionally, on the issues of diversity and inclusion, Styron and the Zionsville Police Department (ZPD) are committed to discussing diversity, inclusion and systemic racism and strengthening policies and practices beyond 2021.
On June 1, a vigil for George Floyd was held at Zionsville Town Hall. This community-organized event brought together local leaders, clergy and hundreds of residents. Since this event, the town has focused internally to define steps the town can take to support diversity and inclusion and to facilitate a meaningful dialogue around social justice as a community. The mayor launched a Community Conversations series to discuss implicit bias, and the Zionsville Town Council passed a Resolution to Call for Social Justice.
A board was established within ZPD to review internal policies regarding use of force. The board consists of three representatives from the department and two civilian members. Policies and training opportunities are being carefully examined by this board. Use-of-force actions taken by police officers will be reviewed by the board to ensure compliance with department policies and applicable law. The board will submit its findings to the chief of police along with recommendations for policy changes, training or other improvements. Also, department and town leadership are actively implementing plans to recruit qualified minority candidates for current and future opening within the police department to better reflect our community makeup.
Continuing the Conversation and the Efforts
“We are still in the initial stages of these efforts,” Styron said. “We will continue to lead these conversations throughout the four years of this administration because I feel that engagement is fundamental to community growth, understanding and health.”
Styron continued, “I feel like people who have been marginalized or feel that they have been marginalized and have had experiences that are alienating to them, when they get an opportunity to stand up in front of neighbors, friends, community members and leaders like the mayor and the police chief and share their stories, be heard and validated, that is a step towards healing. Another thing we can do is pledge to look at our own processes and see where we can improve them so that those experiences are not sustained in the future.”
ZPD has also created a Behavioral Health Unit, establishing the REACH unit (Resources, Evaluating, Assisting in Community Health). Officers are focusing on public safety, mental health and personal and community wellness to reduce the risk of injury for first responders and individuals in crisis, reduce and prevent crime, maximize self-sufficiency and improve quality of life. The REACH unit partners with mental health professionals to follow up on cases involving persons who might benefit from treatment, counseling or other services.
The town, along with ZPD Chief Michael Spears, collaborated with Dr. Abbie Robinson-Armstrong, a Zionsville resident and former vice president for intercultural affairs and professor at Loyola Marymount University, to facilitate virtual assemblies [due to COVID-19 restrictions] with the public this past summer.
What the public may not realize is that Chief Spears was already working with the mayor and his department on the issues of diversity and inclusion prior to the death of George Floyd, when the chief began his duties last April.
“I knew going into this position that these topics were at the top of our goals list for the department,” Spears said. “At that time [pre-pandemic], I wanted to assemble groups of citizens to look at the issues that not only affect Zionsville but all neighboring towns, cities and police departments, relative to race, diversity, inclusion and implicit bias. We want to continue to work closely with our schools as well.”
When asked if ZPD is or will be working with other local area public safety agencies on these issues, Spears said, “We are more than happy to work with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, Whitestown Police Department and any other agencies or organizations that are interested in partnering with us. Police departments, in particular, need to understand that they can’t do everything on their own. It’s much like tug of war. On one end of the rope, you have all the problems, and you’ve got the police department pulling on the other end. We can move that end of the rope farther in the right direction when other people put their hands on the rope. When we all pull together, we’re a lot stronger than we are individually.”