Bigger than Black and Blue: Danville Police Chief, Youth Coordinator Examine Race Relations

By Amie Knowles

December 22, 2020

The duo use community policing as an example where change has worked.

DANVILLE – When Chief Scott Booth of the Danville Police Department moved to the area in 2018, he purposefully engaged in sensitive conversations. It wasn’t to stir the pot and create discord. Instead he wanted to start the healing process of a wound that the city’s carried for decades.

From barbershop talk to community forums to chats with everyday passersby, Booth discovered a common trend in the subject matter – racial relations in Danville could use some work.

That wasn’t a wound that simply needed a Band-Aid. In a medical sense, the city needed open-heart surgery.

Equipped with a community policing idea that people blatantly told him would not work, Booth set out on a mission. He wanted to clear Danville’s metaphorical arteries, filled with historical obstacles like 1963’s Bloody Monday and a slave-holding past.

Cue Robert David, a Mr. Universe body builder and four-time world champion power lifter, who also accepted a position in Danville in 2018. He became the city’s first youth and gang prevention coordinator.

As fate would have it, David also advocated for community policing.

Despite the naysayers, Booth and David moved forward with their similar law enforcement ideals. They struck up not only a professional working relationship, but also a friendship.

Together, they worked to reduce racial tensions – while also lowering the crime rate in Danville – through actively promoting and implementing community policing.

A Similar Interest

Booth served in Richmond for nearly 20 years before moving to Danville. He said that while Richmond is larger than Danville, they’re demographically similar and have some of the same racial issues.

“I always loved to see how we could work through those issues and make the profession of law enforcement better and more, especially, the community better. That really carried over to come into Danville,” Booth said. “Danville also has a long history. When we look at things like the fact that it was the last capital of the Confederacy, you know, these Confederate flags that hang around the city – and that is a point of contention for our community.”

David also expressed awareness in racial relations. However, his interest didn’t stem from his job, but rather from experiences he had when he moved to town.

“One of the first things I noticed was of course it is the capital of the Confederacy and the flags here. I had to understand that there’s a population here where I’m not even considered a full man in some of their mindsets because prior to civil rights, African American people were not considered truly people,” David said. “And so working in the capacity that I work in and coming in to create programs of unification, [this was] one of the things that I had to address. I had to humanize myself and then I had to get the population here to humanize those individuals that we wanted to help.”

Rather than glossing over the issues plaguing the city, Booth and David started meeting for discussions.

A series of conversations between the two over the summer turned into a collaborative effort. Over the next few months, the two co-authored a book about racial relations.

Bigger than Black and Blue

Bigger than Black and Blue presents candid conversations about race, equity and community collaborations.

At 65 pages long, the intention of the book is not to provide a comprehensive study of racial relations. Instead, it’s meant to serve as a pathway toward a brighter future with a working plan.

“It’s a short book, so it’s not a massive tome or anything like that,” Booth said. “And a lot of it is really just us talking and recording those conversations and our perspective on different things that are going on – and, you know, the professional law enforcement, the Danville community, a little bit on the history of the community.”

David expressed the importance of the book’s readability.

“We wanted everyone to be able to grab this book and get an idea and read it. Not just law enforcement, not just the average person,” David said. “We wanted even the eighth grader to be able to pick it up and say, ‘Hey, you know, I can read this,’ all the way up to someone in academia.”

The book covers historical aspects, but also provides guidance for law enforcement agencies to grow, reform and meet modern challenges. It also apologizes for the department’s role in the 1936 Bloody Mondy protests and embraces local protests this year against police brutality.

“There’s probably no more of an advocate for the concept of community policing than me. I am that advocate because I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen it work not only in this community, but I’ve seen it work in other communities and I’ve been a part of that. I think when you’ve seen success with something, you become a true believer,” Booth said. “I think working with the community to solve problems is the only way that the policing profession really flourishes. It’s the only way it can actually get better.”

RELATED: COVID-19 Hits Nearly One-Third of Inmates, Employees at Danville Jail

Getting back to a bygone era

No, Danville isn’t Mayberry. However, violent crime reached a 30-year low this year, according to the Danville Police Department December 2020 Crime Update report.

From 2019 to Dec. 2020, burglaries were down 41%, robberies were down 42% and murders were down 39% in the city.

Booth credited the department’s community policing practices, also praising the community’s response to those relationship building measures and professionals like David who serve as bridges between the officers and the citizens.

David recalled a recent example where the facets of community policing worked in tandem. Danville officers had identified a suspect in a series of crimes.

“An officer told me that “in years past, we may have got a team together and kicked the door in,’” David said. “But this is what they did. They called me because I had somewhat of a relationship [with the community]. And because I had a relationship with [the] community, I contacted some community members. They went to contact that young man. So instead of wasting man hours and having a possible incident where some lethal force could have been used, the young man contacted the officers and came in.”

David expressed that instances like that are why he and Booth co-authored the book.

“That’s the strength of the community policing: the working together and letting law enforcement be law enforcement, but letting mental health be mental health, letting substance abuse be substance abuse and letting everybody do what they do best,” David said.

Hitting shelves

The book comes out on Dec. 23 through Amazon, available in a Kindle edition or in a paperback format.

Booth stated that while not everyone will agree with every idea in the book, he hoped it sparked conversations.

“I want people to talk, and talk about the things we’ve done here. And maybe be open-minded if you aren’t doing something like that in your community, some of the things we’re doing here, be open that maybe that could work in your community. Start that conversation, whether it’s with your elected officials, whether it’s your police chief, whether it’s your fellow community members. However, there are different ways to do things. And this is something that we feel that works for us,” Booth said. “Be open-minded. There are ways to do things that involve community partnerships and working with stakeholders to make it better. And if your community hasn’t explored that, I would offer up that that’s a very powerful way to move things forward.”

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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