ELKHART — After two weeks of heated accusations that put a spotlight on strains between police and a south side neighborhood, representatives from both sides came together Friday night.
And after more than 90 minutes of discussion, police and about 80 or 90 people stood together, hand-in-hand, and prayed for better relations.
The Friday night meeting, called by members of the Elkhart Area Ministerial Association, resulted in what many believed was a badly needed dialogue between representatives of the police and a predominately black community after a chaotic Fourth of July weekend in the 100 block of Garfield Avenue.
Four representatives of the police department, including Assistant Chief Laura Koch, spoke during the meeting at Agape Missionary Baptist Church and tried to explain their perspective. They also urged residents to file complaints when they think it is warranted.
But much of the meeting was left for representatives of the community to talk about the situation.
Some people, including a man who was cited for jaywalking, gave examples of what they considered to be harassment.
A captain in the police department said he believed those types of citations are used across the city and that he didn’t consider it to be harassment.
Only a few people even mentioned the July 3 fight that left an officer injured and led to accusations of police harassment in the following days.
Complaints and concerns were outnumbered by calls for respect from both sides.
One woman urged police to undergo training to better understand different ethnic characteristics.
City councilman Brent Curry called for residents to form an active neighborhood association and “step out of their comfort zone” by including police in meetings and activities.
The discussion ended with a request from volunteer police chaplain Jim Bontrager to come together for a closing prayer.
Bontrager said the meeting itself “was a great start.”
Pastor Dannell Brown, of the Agape Missionary Baptist church, said he believed the meeting exceeded expectations.
Mayor Dick Moore thanked the crowd for their input and pledged to consider changes to improve relations between police and the community.
What happened on Garfield, Moore said, was simply an effort to keep things under control as quickly as possible.
Ultimately, he said, “We’ve got to seek some way to make a connection.”