As Lynchburg community demands change from police, chief shares plan for moving forward

Lynchburg Police Department to have community listening sessions

LYNCHBURG, Va. – On Tuesday night, Lynchburg’s police chief Ryan Zuidema educated city council and the public about the department’s proactive approach to address community concerns about policing.

This comes as the call for police reform grows across the country.

In a city council meeting, Zuidema shared with council members about where the department was before George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, what they’ve done since then and what their future goals look like.

As 10 News has previously reported, shortly after Floyd’s death, the department added clear language to its policy saying officers cannot use neck restraints during an arrest.

Officers also have the duty to report their colleagues who use excessive force in the field.

In the chief’s presentation he gave numbers about the use of force in standoff situations as well.

There have been about four in the last several months, some lasting more than 20 hours and others just 4 hours.

The chief says he’s proud of his officers who successfully deescalated the situation with no injuries to anyone on scene.

“Overall for many, many years we average using force in less than one-tenth of one person of our interactions with the public, which I think is remarkable. So, we just need to make sure our folks are well-trained, well-equipped and they’re well-led. That’s our commitment to the community,” Zuidema said.

One of the biggest tasks Zuidema has in his hands is diversifying the police department.

Right now, the department is 85% white.

Zuidema said he recognizes they are woefully behind in diversity and the department does not reflect the entire Lynchburg community.

Zuidema told 10 News in the past they’ve traveled as far as New York and also North Carolina to recruit more black people at historically black colleges, military events and career fairs.

He says the challenge is getting them to stay. And it’s why he needs the community’s help.

“Some of our best success is having those one-on-one relationships with people here in our community to ensure that we are getting the best individual to serve them. We’re asking for our community to help us with that. We need help in identifying young men, women of color that can serve here in the Lynchburg police department,” Zuidema said.

During the hourslong council meeting, Lynchburg community members requested change within the police department. Zuiema let them know he will meet their standards.

Local pastor Keith Anderson stood in place of Black Lives Matter group members who have been pushing for peaceful protests throughout the city asking for police reform.

The new group called "Community Task Force on Policing" has several demands for the department.

Some include transparency, providing disciplinary records of police officers, mandating body cameras be worn and on for all sworn in officers, and that every officer is mentally capable to do the job.

“Not in my city will we allow the prevalence of hatred to run rapid in our streets,” Keith Anderson, group representative, said.

Zudiema explained to council some of these demands are currently in place.

A new implement is that officers must now see a psychologist.

The chief said he had his first session a couple weeks ago.

“We need to make sure that that we men and women that we hire to protect you are men and women that are strong psychological background. Once they are hired, we continue the ongoing review for them,” Zuidema said.

Zuidema said they are currently working on a new website to make citizen complaints available online.

Zuidema is also planning to have listening sessions with community members starting next week.