SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - On Monday night, a sold out crowd at San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church attended a discussion, hosted in partnership with the Commonwealth Club, about police reforms. The theme was "Policing the Police".
"How can we create a more perfect union between the police and the citizens they protect?" was a question posed by the moderator to the audience of 800.
Comedian W. Kamau Bell, retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and political commentator Van Jones made up the panel of nationally recognized speakers at the event. They said reforms are long overdue.
"People marched then. People talked about accountability then. People talked about the need for oversight then, said Jones. He spoke about being in San Francisco as a young man in 1996 when a police involved death sparked community outrage.
20 years later, Jones says equal justice for communities of all socioeconomic backgrounds is a goal still not achieved.
Bell, a Berkeley-based comedian used humor to talk about the struggles many communities have in trusting the police.
"If you can't get police in this seat, we're like people at Thanksgiving and grandma's a problem and grandma ain't there." He questioned why there was no member of law enforcement speaking on the panel.
Bell said law enforcement needs to be part of this discussion.
"I'd like to feel safe walking the streets. If I was in a bad situation, I'd like to trust that when I call the police that they were coming to get my back." When KTVU asked, "You don't feel that now?" Bell replied, "It's a little bit of an issue."
Richmond Police Chief Allywn Brown was in the audience. He told KTVU he's here to listen and learn.
"A commitment to being open-minded and continuous learning is how any of us make progress in an ever- changing world," said Chief Brown.
Another audience member says she's here to find out what's being done to change police tactics and attitudes.
"With more training and things like mental health and racial sensitivity, cultural humility; there are things that can change and make the community stronger instead of more fractured," said Alexis Aragon who lives in San Francisco.
"It is not acceptable for the police to police themselves," said retired Judge Cordell to the audience. She and the other speakers say community events such as this one are but one step in changing attitudes.
"We have a lot of work to do to get people to understand it's not an us against them atmosphere or mentality we're dealing with," said Cordell.
Organizers said they invited San Francisco's Acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin to be a guest speaker on the panel but that the Police Department said there was a scheduling conflict.
KTVU reached out to Chief Chaplin, but did not hear back from him at air time for this story.