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Sylva’s police sensitive to national conversation

Sylva Commissioner Danny Allen had a question. He’d been watching what was happening with the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, where police-involved fatalities of black men have led to civil unrest, and wondered about his own home. 

“I wonder,” Allen asked during a recent Sylva Town board meeting, “if the police have gone through any kind of ethnic sensitivity training to handle such things?”

In Ferguson, an unarmed black man was shot to death by a police officer who claimed he was protecting himself. In New York, a black man selling cigarettes died after being taken to the ground by a group of police officers, one of which held him around the neck as the man said he could not breathe. Neither case resulted in prosecution, and the incidents have sparked protests across the country. 

“We have a very small minority population here in Sylva, but we have a very large minority population at WCU,” Allen said.

Sylva Town Manager Paige Dowling assured Allen that the national conversation was on the police department’s radar. 

“I know that it’s been a hot topic and they’ve discussed it a lot,” Dowling said. “I don’t know if they’ve had any training on it or not.”

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When contacted for comment, Chief Davis Woodard referred any questions to Dowling. The town manager said that the police department routinely underwent required training, but that officers had not had any training focusing on ethnic sensitivity. 

“Since that’s so new, the training that they’ve had hasn’t dealt with that,” said Dowling.

Dowling said that if any type of additional training was to be required, Sylva officers would certainly undergo such training. She also noted that officers’ training did focus on the appropriate use of force. 

Dowling said she understood the concern over police-minority relations, but stressed that Sylva’s law enforcement strived to “treat everyone equally.”

“All over the country right now there’s a lot of focus on law enforcement and what’s appropriate and what’s not — I mean, law enforcement are going to take a lot of heat all over the country,” Dowling said, before assuring that Sylva’s police officers were committed to equality. 

“I certainly think our officers serve the interest of the town to the best of their ability,” Dowling said.

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