Santa Rosa police seek to mend fences with forum

  • In this photo provided by the Lopez family is a picture of Andy Lopez, who was killed by sheriff's deputies in Santa Rosa, Calif. Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. Northern California sheriff's deputies have shot and killed the 13-year-old boy after repeatedly telling him to drop what turned out to be a replica assault rifle, sheriff's officials and family members said. Two Sonoma County deputies on patrol saw the boy walking with what appeared to be a high-powered weapon. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Lopez family via The Press Democrat)

Ana Salgado lives in an area of Santa Rosa on West Ninth Street that has struggled with gang activity and draws frequent police patrols.

Salgado said she worries partly about that law enforcement presence and the safety of her children, recalling a sheriff's deputy's fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez last year in another troubled Santa Rosa neighborhood to the south.

Authorities have sought to address such concerns in the six months that have elapsed since the shooting, opening up difficult conversations about ethnic and cultural divides and gaps in trust between law enforcement and residents.

Salgado said efforts by law enforcement have a long way to go.

"The police have a hard time (ahead of them) getting the confidence of the community back," she said last week at a meeting with members of the Santa Rosa Police Department. She called the gathering a starting point.

Salgado was among more than 120 people, mostly Latino and from Santa Rosa, who attended Wednesday's event at Cook Middle School, where Lopez was once a student. Many of those present echoed Salgado's concerns and raised other issues, including how officer-involved shootings are handled and a lack of Spanish-speaking officers in Latino areas of town.

Attendees included students from Cook Middle School, Elsie Allen High School and Roseland University Prep. Teachers and parents from the schools also turned out, along with a smattering of residents from around the county.

They sat down in small circles with one of 12 representatives of the Santa Rosa Police Department, including Interim Chief Hank Schreeder, command staff, a dispatch supervisor and police officers who work in the area.

The event was organized by a subcommittee of the task force formed by Sonoma County after Lopez's death. He was shot on a sidewalk near his Moorland Avenue home Oct. 22 by Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who reportedly mistook the BB gun the boy was carrying for a real assault rifle.

Wednesday's meeting was the first of six that task force members plan to hold around the county with local law enforcement agencies and the public. Organizers hope the conversational format will become a model for discussions that can continue after the task force concludes its work at the end of the year.

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