Metro area law enforcement executives will begin meeting with local Muslim leaders next month to look for ways to improve relationships, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force announced Friday. "What we're trying to do is bridge the gap between the law enforcement community and the Muslim community,” Edmond police detective David Otwell, a task force member, told the Governor's Ethnic American Advisory Council. Council members were invited to join the new Muslim Community Outreach Program or to recommend other prospective members. The first meeting, which will be closed to the public, will focus on what the outreach program can do to improve understanding and communication, Otwell said.
Goal is knowledge"One of the things I'm going to suggest is to educate the law enforcement community in the Muslim culture,” he said. "Unfortunately, I think a lot of law enforcement officers tend to offend some of the Muslim community” with questions they ask or by knocking on doors during prayer times, he said. A Webbers Falls police officer recently was fired after a Muslim woman reported he harassed her about her religion during a November traffic stop. Otwell said he had no knowledge of that case but said, "We want to prevent those kinds of things from happening.” The outreach program is patterned after one in Tampa, Fla., and Los Angeles has something similar, Otwell said. Fifteen law enforcement officers and about 10 Muslims already have been invited to attend the first meeting at 8 a.m. March 18 at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, 621 N Robinson. Invited law enforcement officers include Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty; FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Ward; Edmond Police Chief Bob Ricks; Kerry Pettingill, director of the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security; and Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel. On the Muslim side, the task force has invited leaders of every mosque in the metro area, Otwell said. Once the Oklahoma City program is established, a similar program will be launched in Tulsa, Otwell said.
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