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Beloit PD, #BlackLivesMatter collaborate for Q&A

Katherine Jossi/The Round Table

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, the City of Beloit Police Department and #BlackLivesMatterBeloit collaborated to give the presentation “Conversations with the Beloit Community — Beloit College: Traffic Stops.” It was the first of three conversations to take place this semester, all sponsored by #BlackLivesMatterBeloit, in hopes of educating and informing Beloit College students regarding police. The goal of the “Traffic Stops” conversation in particular was to help students distinguish routine traffic stops from dangerous ones. 

Political science professor and #BlackLivesMatterBeloit organizer Ron Nikora prefaced the presentation and introduced City of Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski, who led the conversation.

Zibolski started by saying the objectives of the discussion would be to educate, engage, build trust, and strengthen relationships with the community, as well as answer any questions throughout the conversation. He gave examples of historical events that created tension between police and citizens, such as the implementation of Jim Crow laws in the late 1800s. He also talked about protests of those laws, which eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the protests of today, such as the Occupy Movement and Black Lives Matter.

Inequitable policing has also contributed to this tension. Zero-tolerance policing is an example of this, in which police rarely issue warnings and give tickets regardless of the severity of the violation. Some police forces have also engaged in ticket-driven revenue, in which officers distribute tickets simply to meet their financial demands.

Zibolski also discussed how police tend to be stationed mostly in low socioeconomic areas, since these regions generally have higher crime rates. However, this results in low-income citizens receiving an abundance of tickets that they cannot pay. Zibolski mentioned that crime has decreased significantly over the past 20 years, but the trust level in police has remained at around 40% due to failed relationships.

He then asked the crowd what their biggest concerns are as a driver when getting pulled over by an officer. Answers included the cost of the ticket, safety, and whether they will go to jail. Zibolski acknowledged each as valid concerns, and then introduced Beloit alumnus Tala Cornell’16, who is now a member of the City of Beloit Police Department. As a recent addition to the force, Cornell spoke about her concerns as an officer when partaking in a traffic stop. When approaching a vehicle that has pulled over, an officer has to worry about what kind of situation he or she is getting into, as the driver could be armed or dangerous in some way. Cornell explained from her own experience: during her first traffic stop ever, the driver got out of his car and started to run away, and then Cornell’s car was swarmed by 16 people who thought she was going to shoot at the culprit because Cornell is a white officer.

Zibolski then returned to the conversation and made sure those in attendance knew their rights, such as what the driver is allowed to do in their car once he or she has been pulled over, as well as how the driver should interact with the officer.

The conversation concluded with a discussion regarding a somewhat controversial topic: fake officers, a rare but dangerous case in which an ordinary citizen acts as an officer, usually by rigging their car with lights to make it look like an undercover cop car.

This collaboration between the City of Beloit Police Department and #BlackLivesMatterBeloit started this past fall when several Beloit College students, staff, and faculty members teamed with the department in hopes of improving the training of police officers locally and fostering greater trust between police and the public. Two more conversations resulting from the collaboration will take place this semester: “Body Cameras” on March 1, and “BPD Responds: Topic Based on Participant Surveys” on March 29.

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