Reminiscent of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s highly successful “fireside chats” given in the 1930s and ’40” s, when he used the format as an effective communication tool designed to quell rumors and/or explain policies, “Barbershop Uncut” begun recently, offers promise.
Launched by Chief of Police David Hess and Miracles Barbershop owner Derrick Pettiford, “Barbershop Uncut” offers a format for serious communications to occur, in a non-threatening, comfortable and casual atmosphere. Both Chief Hess and Pettiford expressed hope that the events will build a connection between police and the community. The event is designed to eliminate formality and allow residents an opportunity to speak directly to concerns. Just as the “fireside chats” portrayed President Roosevelt as interested and engaging, so is the potential for Barbershop Uncut. The first step to open dialogue is selecting an appropriate forum. Barbershops are known as the place where people feel comfortable talking about anything especially in black barbershops.
During the inaugural launch of Barbershop Uncut, attendees wasted no time raising issues that clearly indicate a need to build stronger connections. Specifically, issues were raised about where officers are assigned to patrol and the potential for a larger number of blacks receiving tickets as a result of a heavier presence in predominantly black neighborhoods. This prompted the Chief of Police to point out the implementation of strategies and efforts as he explained patrolling assignments based on a mapping system that rotates officers through four geographical areas so that officers are not working the same areas, thus preventing an imbalance from occurring. More concerns were raised about excessive police force which prompted another discussion about better training in crisis intervention for officers that allows them to assist the community with more than just enforcing the letter of the law. A target date for all officers receiving this training is Dec. 31.
Both residents and the Chief Hess expressed a desire to continue the conversations in this format as a means of building transparency and trust. Although Chief Hess was correct in his pronouncement that, “the police can’t fix all societal problems nor can the community alone fix all societal problems,” however, “Barbershop Uncut” series is a collaborative, community effort, worthy of further exploration and the Chief is to be applauded for his willingness to continue this level of engagement with the community.