It’s almost always the first question police officer Jason Lehman hears when out on the beat: “Why’d you stop me?” It comes up over and over again in his line of work.
“I wanted to be able to explain all those concepts prior to the stops,” he said.
Lehman has been with the Long Beach Police Department since 2006. He currently works patrol, but has experience with directed enforcement regarding gangs and violent crime and has taught at the Long Beach Police Academy.
The idea struck him to begin speaking in public more about police and community member contacts in 2011 and 2012.
“I started going and presenting to different schools, community organizations and faith-based organizations,” he said.
Those presentations resulted in the development of the Why’d You Stop Me program and nonprofit last February. Lehman just received the blessing from the Long Beach Police Officers Association within the last month.
No sooner did that happen, then events across the country, including the Ferguson officer-involved fatal shooting, made his quest even more important, he said.
“I always felt like if there was something I could do — I don’t want to see people die,” Lehman said. “There’s nothing fun about that and it is extremely scary. WYSM is there to protect community members and police officers when they have contact with each other in the community.”
The LBPD has more than 650,000 contacts with the public each year.
“An increase in the trust of police officers leads to an increase in public safety,” Lehman said.
To that end, the WYSM program has several branches of outreach:
• The Real Reason: Giving explanations to inner city people aged 14-25.
• A Community Perspective: Targets current and future law enforcement members.
• Managing Anger Toward the Police: Talks to both currently and recently incarcerated people.
At schools, Lehman and his volunteers hand out kit bags, which are backpacks with hats, T-shirts and folders with school supplies. The kit also comes with a reminder band with the letters ERO in an equation — event, reaction and outcome.
“That reaction part is really the important piece of the equation for that,” Lehman said. “In life, events will occur, but we need positive reactions for positive outcomes.”
The goals of the program are to increase transparency — something much needed on both sides, he added.
“We can’t think everyone (police members) is bad or that every community member is bad,” Lehman said. “What we want to try and do is reduce those acts, the acts of injustice on both sides of the thin blue line.”
POA President Steve James said programs like Lehman’s could make a difference.
“I think police work is the single most scrutinized and second guessed profession in the world,” James said. “And it is probably the least understood, which is problematic. What Jason is doing is taking a small part of it and using his real life experiences as a police officer. People never seem to understand why we stop them. We hear that every time.”
James said he could see the POA partnering more readily with WYSM in the near future, with the hope it can make some difference in public perception of the LBPD.
“If what Jason is doing stops one contact with the police from going bad and requiring a use of force or an attack on an officer, then I think the program is worthwhile,” he said. “My guess, it will not be just one, but numerous.”
For more information, visit www.wysm.org.
Jonathan Van Dyke can be reached at email@example.com.