Throughout the summer of 2020, while cities burned down amid tensions between citizens and the police, the city of Bowling Green attempted to be proactive. In trying to bridge the gap in communication and comfort between the police and communities of color, the city council adopted a resolution for racial equity at their July 7 meeting. One section of the resolution included adding a police liaison to better address issues and advocate for the communities in Bowling Green.
When Sgt. Adam Skaff, an 18-year veteran of the Bowling Green Police Department, read about the position he immediately contacted his boss with interest. Skaff saw real value in the role and felt it would allow him to have conversations and build relationships within Bowling Green’s communities. He went to high school in Toledo and felt he had a strong background in diversity.
His boss agreed and he was appointed to the position in the summer of 2020.
One main reason Skaff became a police officer was to help people and make a difference in the community he lived in, he said. He views this position as an opportunity to bring people together.
Among the speakers at the July 7 meeting was BRAVE President Anthony King. Standing for Black Rights, Activism, Visibility and Equity, King and the organization aimed to create a dialogue with the police department on their relations with communities of color.
He wanted to hold the police accountable for issues that were happening. King said that issues between the police and communities of color are systemic.
Trust can only be gained and earned going forward, and is not something that can happen overnight, he said.
King believes having Skaff in the position of liaison has helped the police take BRAVE more seriously about the issues they try to bring up. He thinks it has helped the police make a conscious effort to incorporate BRAVE in conversations.
“As a white man, Adam cannot understand the issues we face by nature and that is completely not his fault. He is really trying and doing a good job so far in the role,” King said of Skaff.
King hopes that a next step can be to help set up a police liaison board with multiple members on it.
“We don't have many minority officers with our division. That's part of our outreach and something we're hiring for right now. One of the biggest things we're striving for is to get more diverse applicants,” Skaff said.
The BGPD are being more proactive now than they have been in the past to try and get people from all backgrounds to apply for jobs. They want to have a police force that represents the community they serve.
In addition to BRAVE, Skaff works with Welcome BG, Not in Our Town and the Diversity and Inclusivity task force with BGSU Athletics. He attends their meetings to get a better sense for how the groups feel. He also sets up events within the organizations to try and build trust, although it has been difficult during the pandemic.
“Even though we are with the city, a lot of our diversity comes from the campus,” Skaff said. “So a lot of our interactions come with people who go to BGSU. Our goal is to reach out to any group that would want to meet with us.”
Skaff has reached out to contacts at BGPD about other groups for outreach as well as Ana Brown, Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs for Bowling Green State University.
“We have had some good conversations,” Brown said. “The position is important as we try to build and expand upon the relationship between the campus and the community. We want BGSU to be safe and welcoming on campus and in town.”
Brown believes that the liaison’s position will be beneficial to improving the bonds between the police and communities of color. She believes there is tremendous potential for Skaff in this position.
The outreach is not limited to African-Americans; it's intended for all groups “who feel disenfranchised or feel they are not receiving the same level of service that we expect our officers to provide,” Skaff said.
When approaching peers about making changes, Skaff looks to show value and benefit for why the changes should be made and why they would make a difference. So far he has yet to have any pushback on adjustments.
“Sergeant Skaff is doing a good job,” Bowling Green Police Lieutenant and Skaff’s supervisor Mike Bengela said. “We definitely picked the right guy. He has no bias and he wants to do what's right for the community. When the position was made, he was the first one to come to mind and he was the first one to come to us. He is the right choice.”
The Bowling Green Police in recent months has worked on more training, de-escalation practices and reviewing how they evaluate officers. Listening better and learning more about different groups’ concerns are among the changes that Skaff has tried to implement so far.
He and his team review and think about ways they can adjust and adapt. Another improvement area, Skaff said, is working on cultural awareness with their officers.
One way the police have tried to improve the communication and comfort with all citizens in the Bowling Green community is through the “Transparency” button on their website. The tab says that many policies have been in place since 1993.
The bottom of the transparent link says “Since that time, the Police Division is continually reviewing, analyzing, updating, and revising these policies based on best practices, proven techniques, revisions in the law, and community input.”
This is followed by information about different police techniques and the BGPD’s practices with the techniques.
This is all aimed to provide clarity to residents. The police want to be as transparent as possible, when they can and be upfront about issues. They want to make people aware that they listen to research and are trying to improve in all ways, Skaff said.
“Base your judgement on us, on how we provide service,” Skaff said. While he understands that some may have distrust with the police, he wants citizens to evaluate them on their aid and not other districts.