By Breanne Holley
Police reform has been “the talk of town,” so to speak, in the news and around social media. Since the murder of George Floyd, and even long before that, there has been an ever-growing rift between law enforcement and people of color. Lack of trust, anger, and even a desire to defund the police in an attempt to stop police brutality has risen.
And yet, despite all of the hurt and turmoil, there is hope.
The Shop Talk program emerged as a way to help many communities build a better relationship with their law enforcement officers. Organizers of the program in The Colony include; Irving Officer Jon Plunkett, Demetrius Ennett (Owner of 5 Star Cutz in both Irving and The Colony), retired Dallas Sergeant Brad Deason, Chief of The Colony Police department David Coulon, The Colony Officer RJ Roberts, and retired Dallas police officer Sergeant Robert Munoz.
Plunkett said that after the Dallas shootings, he got with his assistant chief at the time saying more needs to be done in the African American community to build a relationship. Having a relationship with the NAACP was a good start, but Plunkett insisted that even more needs to be done. He suggested to start with the barber shops because in the African American community barber shops are a “communications channel” a place where people can talk and express themselves and not be judged.
And thus, it all began four years ago with Mitchell’s Barber Shop being the first barber shop to kick off the “Shop Talk” program. Plunkett mentions how, “they began to have block parties there and expand and even bring on the female beauticians.” At this point in time, in Irving alone, there are 23 shops that have expanded the Shop Talk program. He discusses how, through this program, they have been able to take certain programs like “Coffee with a Cop” and bring it into the community through Shop Talk so people can get better acquainted and get to know their police department.
Plunkett described one the most successful events, Blue Christmas, with One Community USA, a nonprofit organization, who came on board with the Shop Talk program about three years ago. Officer Plunkett wanted to take Shop Talk outside of Irving and, with One Community USA, was able to do that. They took Shop Talk outside of Irving and with Blue Christmas were able to provide funding to barber shops and those in need in multiple communities. Plunkett said that “this is 100% change… we are going down the right road.”
Deason, a retired sergeant of the Dallas Police Department came onto One Community USA back in June of 2020. He wanted to give back to his community after 31 years as a police officer and repair the fractured relationships between the African American community and first responders. He understood that it was greatly needed. He is the director of the Shop Talk Program within One Community USA. He says that they have added the Euless Police Department, Carrollton Police Department, Desoto, Duncanville, and The Colony Police Departments to their cause.
“Shop talk is more than just going into barber and beauty shops,” says Deason, “it is also about being able to provide funds and resources as well to those in need with the first responders.”
They have gone so far as to offer five different scholarships to both barber shop and beauty salon owners.
“The have quarterly meetings with the Chief of Police in these areas as well with the barber shop and beauty shop owners with the recruits and have the Chief speak with them formally for 35 to 45 minutes at a time so they can know first-hand what is going on,” Deason said.
For the first time and going forward One Community is going renovate Mitchell’s Barber Shop since it was the staple in starting the program.
Coulon, chief of the Irving Police department, said he was excited to jump in on the Shop Talk program and help to build relationships.
“It’s about getting to know the community and being friends with them so that if someone does mess up or act up on either side they can recover more quickly and there is an understanding when it is a mistake and not a bad heart”. Coulon said, adding “It is also so that you can approach them and be comfortable asking them anything like ‘What are the policies’ and ‘Are you for us?’ or how they feel about stuff.”
He often responds, “We are your police department. You pay us. We are your employees.”
He says they have a good relationship with the minority churches in The Colony and he does speaking there and sometimes they even do training.
Plunkett calls Ennett one of their most instrumental shop owners. Ennett joined the program in 2018 and said that at the first meeting he had with Plunkett he was nervous because a lot of times, “It’s a bad encounter when it’s us and the police.”
But Plunkett helped to dispel some of that nervousness by telling him that he just wanted to talk to him about the program and Ennett was happy to be on board, a little skeptical at first, but on board. After the first meeting he says he realized it was authentic and he continued to be a part of the program with a successful back to school event where all of the first responders showed up and brought food to the community and did giveaways for back to school supplies for the kids. Ennett said even the residents were impressed with how much both the first responders and One Community USA helped out.
He was so pleased with the outcome of the program that he wanted to do it again with an opening of 5 Star Cutz Barber Shop in The Colony. He is happy to be able to have someone like Plunkett and the police chief of the Colony to be able to call on even if it isn’t for something major but just having that relationship there.
Participants believe having a better relationship with first responders and law enforcement helps to eliminate some of that nervousness when interacting with those who are there to take care of them and their community. Ennett said it is being able to have those hard conversations with law enforcement like getting pulled over or having something happen and having them there to help that proves that the Shop Talk program is having a huge positive impact on the community.
Ennett even had the opportunity to participate in a police simulation where he was the police officer and got to experience what it was like from the other side and how often you have to make split second decisions as a police officer. He said it helped to provide another perspective from the other side.
Plunkett says that, since its inception, the program has been recognized numerous times by the NAACP, the Department of Justice, and he personally met with the United States Attorney General. Through this program Plunkett has not only been able to build a relationship with shop owners but civilians as well. He made mention of how a “customer had spoken to a shop owner regarding a sex trafficking incident and Officer Plunkett was notified and able to get ahold of the feds based on a tip from one of the customers.”
Roberts, who is a retired Marine Veteran, mentioned as well that there are all kinds of officers, black, white Hispanic, and “being a black person himself being able to go to not only a black officer but a white or Hispanic officer as well and receive the same respect is important.”
Roberts does consider himself a segway in the barber shop between law enforcement and people of all walks of life because he has seen and lived around many different people, “from people living on food stamps to people who live in million dollar mansions,” so he can relate to all aspects of life. He says that many of the officers in department who are Caucasian are on board with the program and have started coming into the barber shops and getting great reviews.
Plunkett wanted to ask retired police sergeant of 29 years, Munoz what he thought as well of the Shop Talk program. Before Munoz retired he was the Latino Community Liaison, he ran the Hispanic outreach program. Bringing his experience to the civilian side he understands the concerns that the Hispanic community has.
“Police legitimacy and trust is what is needed in 21st century policing,” Munoz says, most importantly genuinely listening to their concerns. “We are going to learn from each other when we sit down and listen. The foundation is there we are just expanding from One Community to The Colony Police Department.”
He said Toni Brinker, the founder and CEO of One Community has a “heart of gold” and is appreciated her leadership. He’s also thankful to Plunkett for “being the founding father of this program and starting this, as it has expanded.”
Shop Talk continues to expand with plans to go nationwide, with the goal of being an ever-expanding ray of hope to a better future with better relationships between civilians, people of color, and those there to protect them.