YOUNGTSOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The Shades Of Blue group of minority police officers hopes to bring policing efforts into the light for the minority community.
“We wanted to educate the community and bridge the gap between police ideology and the reality of the community,” said Deputy Will Harris of Shades of Blue.
The group, made up of members of the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and a member of the Youngstown Police Department, announced its existence Saturday and also welcomed its first new member, Deputy Mike Wilson.
Deputy Ronnie Casey Jr., whose uncle was a deputy sheriff and whose step-mom was a city police officer, said he thought about organizing such a group in May and talked to others before they decided to form.
“We want to give a more accurate view of what law enforcement is about,” Casey said.
The group is going to be made up of minority, full time officers as well as retired and part time officers.
They also allow an honorary membership for non-minorities and non-law enforcement, using this to pull back the curtain of policing to the community.
“The current ideology of law enforcement has been painted in a way that’s not accurate,” said Harris.
All the charter members have been in law enforcement for over 20 years, which is important, said Deputy Mary Jane Greene, because their experience can not only help to educate the community, but to shepherd younger law enforcement personnel in how they can relate to residents.
“We are the ones that will pave the way,” Greene said.
The group is loosely modeled off the Black Knights Association, a group of minority police officers in the Mahoning Valley that has been around for several years and are known for their building in the old fire station in Brier Hill with its unique artwork. Casey said he talked to senior members of that group while Shades of Blue was in its infancy and they gave his group their blessing.
With the country’s attention turned to policing issues after several recently highly publicized cases of the deaths of Black men during encounters with law enforcement, Casey said it is hard to not feel conflicted, both as a Black man and as a deputy.
“We get it from both ends.” Casey said. “We want to make sure our community knows what’s going on and how law enforcement operates.”
Deputy Will Harris acknowledges that the Mahoning Valley doesn’t have as big of a problem with racial profiling as some other places in the country, but the group wants to make sure there doesn’t become a problem.
Harris says the media often does not give an accurate depiction of policing and he hopes Shades Of Blue can change that narrative locally.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s not going on, that it couldn’t happen. We want to cut it off at the pass,” said Casey.
Casey says the only way to connect the Black community with police is with minority law enforcement, but they did agree there has been some conflicts, being a minority who is an officer.
“We just want to make sure our community knows what goes on and actually how LEO operates and not just what the mainstream media says how we do,” Casey said.
Malik Mostella, a member of the city police department, said he hopes people know that one of the reasons the group is being formed is to help give members of the minority community a sense that they know someone is watching out for them.
“We want the community to know we are here and we are standing up for you,” Mostella said.
Mostella says the members of the group are dedicated to that because they live as well as work in the communities they serve.
“One of the main things that we’ve gotten from the community is where are our Black officers. They need to stand up and speak, which is what bonded us. So, we are here to let our community know, we are here,” Mostella said.
Casey says the group is planning on holding some community events in the future and is planning some already.
There are varying levels of membership to the group, including official for current law enforcement; associate for retired law enforcement; part time; and honorary for non-minority law enforcement members or people who are not in law enforcement.
For more information on the group and how to join, check out the Shades of Blue Facebook page. The group is also working on getting a website up.
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