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DAYTON - Less than a year after a city man died while in police custody exposing a gap in trust, a coalition of community groups and the Dayton police have officially pledged to improve their relationships.
City, community and business leaders Monday signed a "declaration of intent" to work to develop a positive, lasting relationship between the Dayton Police Department and the community it serves.
The effort to improve trust between the police and the community stems from community outcry following the death of 20-year-old Kylen English while in police custody in July.
A representative of the U.S. Department of Justice joined local groups and police in signing the nonbinding document during a community forum at the Dayton Kroc Center on Monday.
"This document is something you can frame and hang in a prominent place to remind you of your commitment, a commitment to build community capacity," Deadra A. McGhee, conciliation specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, told about 40 community leaders.
Under the agreement, members pledge to "foster a positive atmosphere of respect" between citizens and police; resolve conflict through improved police-community relations; and reduce crime through collaboration among police, citizens and community groups.
McGhee first came to Dayton shortly after English's death to facilitate community discussions and has been working with the Community Police Council that was formed to promote trust.
"This will be a long process that must be sustainable; otherwise we will lose our community, our next generation," said Catherine Crosby, acting executive director of the city's Human Relations Council.
Crosby said the Justice Department has continued to provide support as the Community Police Council was forming.
English died July 17, 2011, when police said he escaped from a police cruiser while handcuffed and jumped off the Salem Avenue bridge. Police provided audio- and video-recordings of English breaking out the rear window of a cruiser with his head, rolling out the window and jumping over the bridge railing, plus a minute-by-minute narrative of events.
The information was greeted with skepticism by some in the community. To answer that skepticism, the city requested the FBI investigate the death. That investigation was forwarded to the Justice Department for review. To date, the results of that investigation have not been released.
Signers of Monday's document included the president of the local unit of the NAACP, several clergy members, the city police chief, community activists, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the city manager and city officials.
"What is so important is the community collaboration," said Marlon Shakelford, street advocate supervisor for the Omega Community Development Corp. and a signer of the declaration. "On the street the community now has feet, ears, eyes and mouths to speak for them."