More people should have been there.

That's one takeaway from a Tuesday evening forum hosted by the York NAACP, which had invited the public to learn about proper ways to handle encounters with police officers.

Only about 20 people showed up for the presentation, which included a 40-minute video and a question-and-answer session with two local attorneys.

One of those attorneys, Sandra Thompson, said part of the responsibility for improving relations between the police and the community — York City, in particular — lies with the community.

People who believe police violated their rights must file complaints. Whining on Facebook or complaining in the beauty shop accomplishes nothing, said Thompson, who also serves as president of the York NAACP.

Complaints about particular officers, for example, can be easily dismissed as "isolated incidents" if there's no statistical data suggesting an ongoing problem, she said.

That doesn't mean filing a complaint is easy. It requires time, money and resources, she said. And each police department has its own complaint process.

In York City, for example, citizens must physically go to the station to file a complaint, Thompson said. Members of community organizations, like the NAACP, can accompany a complainant if desired.

"You have to be bold enough to walk in there," she said. "You as the community must complain."

The first rule of interacting with police is not to cop an attitude, attorney Clarence Allen said.


During a traffic stop, put your hands on the wheel, turn the internal lights on and turn off the radio, Allen said.

Racial profiling happens frequently, Allen said, but proving it is difficult to do.

No matter what, don't run from the police, Allen said.

Thompson urged people to assert their rights to remain silent and refuse searches. But don't lie and don't physically resist, she said.

"It's always best to just keep your mouth shut," she said.

Don't be afraid to ask an officer: "Are you detaining me, or am I free to go?"

Thompson said she's planning to host a follow-up meeting with representatives of local police departments in the near future, but a date is not set.

— Reach Erin James at