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Charlotte Police Officer Shaun Ward Faces A Tough Job

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Shaun Ward
Courtesy photo
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Shaun Ward

Charlotte police officer Shaun Ward faces a tough job.

After years of nationwide protests over deaths in police custody and police behavior, and recent calls for defunding, Ward’s job is building relationships between the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and community members -- particularly those from minority populations.

Before and after the deaths of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte in September 2016 and George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, the lesson for police officers has not changed, Ward said in a recent interview.

“The simple clear message is that no matter who you encounter, you’re going to treat them with professionalism, with dignity and respect,” Ward said. “We want to improve our relationship and positive interactions with groups that do not have that level of trust in us. It’s not that they are scared of law enforcement. Instead, there isn’t that high level of trust in law enforcement.”

As the police department’s director of strategic development, Ward leads several community policing, training and community education initiatives. After growing up in a family of law enforcement workers in New Jersey, Ward came to North Carolina 18 years ago to study at Brevard College. He holds a doctorate in organizational leadership, an MBA, and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Ward moved to Charlotte from Asheville six years ago.

The concept of customer service comes up in discussions with Ward, whose role brings him into frequent contact with community groups. In education programs for both police and citizens, Ward sometimes demonstrates hands-on scenarios to illustrate common field situations. They include traffic stops, disturbance calls, and approaches to hand-cuffing.

The level of force used by officers is dependent on levels of resistance, he said. After the Floyd protests, Ward said, “we were reminded that we were always to be respectful, always treat people with dignity, always be professional. But when the time comes, if we have to bring things back to a calming type of situation, we will do that as well. But we will do that within the constitution, policy and procedures.”

Knowing the cultures and differences among communities is essential for police officers, he said.

“It’s no secret I’m Black. I know that I can go into the Black community and I can say, because there is a sense of comfort, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ I can say those exact things in other communities, but I may get a different response. Because of that, I may feel more comfortable in saying, ‘Hey, how are you doing? I’m officer Shaun Ward of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.’”

COVID-19 complicates communication for police officers, Ward said, as it has for everyone else.

“Although you can’t see the smile, or discern the facial expressions through the mask, you can still show friendly approaches in other gestures,” Ward said. “You can look at the facial expressions through the eyes, you can look to see if someone is in tune, for example through head nodding -- that’s affirmation. There are other gestures that show that you are present, you do care. And then also, if you have social distancing, or some type of barrier where you can take your mask off, that’s encouraged too.”

Ward said he could understand how residents of the Carolinas might lose faith in the police.

“I get it because for me, I’m not just a cop, I’m a Black man too. And these things affect me too. But one thing I can say about this organization is that we are trying. The part I’m doing in this organization is showing that we’re trying. And we want you as people to give us an opportunity, and in order to give us an opportunity, you have to be involved too.”

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Corrected: April 18, 2021 at 10:07 PM EDT
Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police in September 2016. A previous version of this story listed the incorrect year.
Elvis Menayese of Cardiff, Wales, is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication, which provides the Queens University News Service in support of local community news.