'It starts with us': Calif. agency's video series focuses on facilitating an open dialogue

The Tustin Police Department aims to address and improve community relations through the project


Reprinted with permission from BehindtheBadge.com

The sight of Sgt. Robert Nelson, dressed in a backward hat, black hoodie and talking into a cellphone, may not be the image most residents connect with the Tustin Police Department.

But the message – his take on the George Floyd killing – was real, it was heartfelt, and it was a perfect way for the Tustin Police Department to kick off its recent campaign to connect with the community.

Tustin PD Sergeant Robert Nelson is featured in the first video in the series. (Photo/Tustin PD)
Tustin PD Sergeant Robert Nelson is featured in the first video in the series. (Photo/Tustin PD)

Reaching out to neighbors is a constant challenge, but also a prime directive for the Tustin Police Department as part of its community policing focus.

With restrictions on large gatherings and out of concern for individual protection, the COVID pandemic has significantly impacted Tustin PD’s community interaction programs. In an effort to combat those challenges, Chief Stu Greenberg and his staff launched a video project called “It Starts With Us,” a five-part series to reintroduce the police department to the community.

“It’s never been more important to take that relationship with the community to the next level,” Greenberg said in introducing the series.

The first video of “It Starts With Us” features Sgt. Nelson, who originally made a personal video about the death of George Floyd and its aftermath

Subsequent videos are of community members talking about their interactions with the police; city officials, including the mayor and city council members speaking; a video about community engagement efforts by the Tustin Police Department; introductions of members of various departments and their jobs; and a virtual dialogue with the community in which residents submitted questions to police leadership.

The police note the videos are not edited or scripted but allow participants to speak extemporaneously.

Originally the series was to be in four parts.

That was until the department learned of Nelson’s video about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Greenberg introduced the video by saying Nelson took a chance in making the video as he was unsure whether it conformed with department policy.

Greenberg said Nelson’s decision was within policy and “important enough that (Nelson would) stick his neck out.”

A six-year veteran with Tustin PD and a former Officer of the Year, Nelson said he had been urged by friends and relatives to weigh in because of his unique understanding.

As he sat in front of a Compton sign and thin blue line flag, Nelson told his story, combining both the perspectives of a cop and an urban Black male.

Nelson took to task not only police, but the Black community and the media for contributing to the tragedy and aftermath.

Nelson speculated that because the crowd that gathered during the arrest of Floyd was Black, the officers would “take it as a loss,” if they backed down.

Such an attitude, he said, can’t be tolerated because officers need to “check their ego and pride when they suit up.”

About the police who failed to act as Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck, Nelson said “shame on you for being meek and not having confidence as a man to swallow your pride and do the right thing.”

Nelson didn’t spare the Black community either, saying riots give conservatives the ammunition to “paint you as self-destructive creatures.”

And for sensationalizing all of this, Nelson criticized the media.

“So, how are we going to fix this? Sad to say, we don’t. At least not immediately and not in my lifetime. Unfortunately, sensation sells, fear sells even more. The media and our ignorance to understand the divisiveness they will always try to create will continue to keep us as sheep,” he said.

However, Nelson says he’s in the fight for the long haul and that he will always have his Compton community in mind while working with police to move forward and bridge gaps.

Greenberg said he was “floored” and “couldn’t be more proud” of Nelson’s commentary and hopes the video series will help to generate open dialogue between the department and the community for years to come.

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