The first session of a pilot program for strengthening Erie police and community partnerships is set for this Saturday at Mercyhurst University.

In February, Mayor Joe Schember and his administration first announced the initiative for Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships (SPCP) an effort supported by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

The DOJ and the mayor want Erie to become a model in how to identify what is wrong in local police community relations, and how to formulate plans to fix it.  

Mayor Schember is already aware of some issues.  "I think there are definitely some issues in the relationship especially with the minority community and that’s where our focus will be," said Schember.  He added, "We want to make that relationship better, we want everyone that lives in Erie, regardless if they’re first generation American, if they’re Hispanic if they’re African feel that they trust the police and they’ll work with the police to help them solve crimes."

Organizers on the SPCP Committee have invited eighty people representing eight different homogeneous groups to attend the session and have a voice in improving how police and the community proactively work together.  The groups at the table will include youth, new Americans, civil rights organizations, police patrols, community members, social service organizations and businesses.

Michael Outlaw Community Liaison for the City of Erie said it's been a lot of work. "We’ve committed countless hours and we’re looking forward to the manifestation of our hard work. It’s good for the city of Erie, it’s long overdue, to engage in conversation with different sectors within the community, different people within the community and to give them a voice to identify the good as well as things which should be improved upon."

Mayor Schember said each homogeneous group will meet with a facilitator to talk candidly about the problems they believe need to be addressed, and then come together to share those issues with the larger group and work on crafting solutions. "Then we’re going to mix the groups up, and say okay we’ve identified these issues, now how do we address them, what should we be doing over the next couple of years," Schember said, "and that’s what we’re really excited about that will be coming out of this meeting."

A community partnership council will be formed by the end of the session, to hold the city accountable for carrying out an improvement plan.  Outlaw said that council will be important.  "They'll have access to the Mayor, Chief Dan Spizarny and myself and we can potentially create policy that serves the best interest of the city two years down the road and onward."