Meet the Police – May 6, 2015

This year we have been fortunate enough have held parent evenings with both Menlo Park Police and East Palo Alto Police. We met first with MP PD. Afterward, a parent suggested that we invite EPA PD to come as well. Today I want to share with you a few things that happened leading up to, during and after this most recent meeting. Hopefully these thoughts will help all of us to reflect on our own prejudices, on how we can progress as a society and on what makes Beechwood an extraordinary community.

The meeting with EPA Police was held on a Tuesday night. After a long day of work, the thought of being here until 8:30pm had me feeling a little grouchy. In addition to my grumpiness, I was feeling anxious. Relations between people of color and the police have not been good of late and I was aware that EPA Police has not had the best reputation with our families. Would anger levels make it difficult to have a constructive meeting? Would the parents be on the verbal attack and the Officer on the defensive?

At 6pm, the Officer arrived and I immediately judged him. He was white and seemed distracted and unfriendly. I thought, ”This is not going to go well.” Slowly parents trickled into the library for the meeting while Officer Warford was busy on his phone. I wondered what they were thinking about him. My palms were sweaty and I was nervous.

What I soon discovered was that my preconceived notions about the Officer were not justified. Officer Clay Warford of the East Palo Alto Police Department is a good guy. The parents quickly warmed up to him. He listened to their concerns and did not talk over them. He assured them that he would always treat them with respect but was honest about the fact that there are still policemen in EPA who are not as respectful as they should be. He offered hope for the future (the new chief has promised to make things better) but was realistic about the limitations the Police Department faces due to budget constraints. He frequently broke the tension with his authentic sense of humor. He even stayed 30 minutes after the meeting to talk with a parent who needed to have some concerns addressed in private.

My worries about the families were unjustified as well. Beechwood parents who grew up in EPA shared emotional stories of how they have been mistreated by East Palo Alto Police officers. The stories were related honestly but without ill will towards this Officer. To their credit, parents did a lot more than voice their concerns. They went further by offering suggestions to help improve the relationship between EPA Police and the community at large. The suggestions were well thought out and delivered with respect. Parents also put forth the idea that all of us, not just the police, bear a responsibility to help make East Palo Alto a safe place to live.

So there you have it. A meeting that I was not looking forward to turned out to be one of the best experiences I have had in my 21 years at the school. The discussion that we had gave me hope that we do not have to remain stuck where we are now with regard to Police/Community relations. Thank you Officer Warford for your open-mindedness and respectful attitude. Thank you Beechwood parents for being willing to put aside the past and take a constructive and hopeful approach to the future.

-Mr. Laurance