How to build bridges through community policing
Police officers serve their communities in three fundamental ways – as warriors, servants and leaders
by Jinnie Chua - American Military University
The divide between police and community has become so severe that some towns and cities have suspended or altogether disbanded their police departments over allegations of racism, misconduct and controversy.
“Communities are getting so fed up with how bad and dysfunctional their police departments are that they're firing entire departments and contracting out to a sheriff's department or some other agency to provide police services,” explained Pat Welsh, a 26-year veteran police officer.
Camden, New Jersey was one such city to disband its entire police department in 2013 before rebuilding it from the ground up, with a renewed focus on community policing. This shift in strategy has been credited as the reason Camden, often ranked as one of the deadliest cities in America, ended 2017 with its lowest homicide rate since the 1980s.
According to Welsh, community policing is key to rebuilding trust in police officers. However, there is more to community policing than protecting and serving. With this in mind, Welsh designed a training course for military and civilian law enforcement that emphasizes three fundamental roles of police officers: warrior, servant and leader. He also authored a book that elaborates on these principles called "Warrior-Servant-Leader: Life Behind the Badge."
BEING A WARRIOR, SERVANT AND LEADER
“As a warrior, as a cop, you must conduct yourself with deep and unwavering commitment to what is right and just,” said Welsh. This doesn't just apply to enforcing the law, but also to ensuring other officers act as they should and uphold their responsibilities. “When you see another cop abuse a citizen, it's unacceptable to do nothing.”
In addition, Welsh reminds officers that a warrior does not necessarily need to engage in physical confrontation. “We train and test cops on the law, which is very black and white,” said Welsh. “Yes, there are times we're going to need to be enforcers, but we can't go treating everybody like they're criminals.”
Officers need to know when and how to use force when appropriate, of course, but it's just as important for agencies to train officers on using de-escalation techniques. Welsh recalled one incident where, rather than using force as was the original plan, he convinced his sergeant to let him approach and talk to an emotionally disturbed man. Welsh managed to persuade the man to cooperate before transporting him to the hospital for evaluation. “Talking, not being an enforcer, saved several folks from getting injured that night,” he said.
In order to serve, officers must put the needs of other people ahead of their own. “Cops tend to be good at the protecting part, but not so good at the serving part,” said Welsh. “They're used to giving orders and they become more focused on being message-driven and less focused on connecting with people and developing relationships.”
Officers should be role models and are in a position to serve the public, both when they're on duty and off. There are plenty of ways for officers to volunteer, be present in the community, and give back. “If you're looking for opportunities to serve, you'll find more of them,” said Welsh.
He shared that one of the best opportunities he had while working with the Colorado Springs Police Department was volunteering at the Marian House Soup Kitchen, preparing and serving over 600 meals for disadvantaged members of the community. “You gain a greater appreciation for the hardships others face, but also for the blessings in your own life,” said Welsh.
While it may seem counterintuitive, Welsh insists that new police officers shouldn't always aim to replicate the actions or approach of veteran officers. “The danger is that some veteran officers lose sight of why they became cops,” said Welsh. “Most cops start out wanting to help people, but five years later, the reason they're going to work is to put people in jail or get their next paycheck.”
Welsh explained that bad leadership stems from veteran officers becoming disillusioned with the job and bringing that mindset to work can negatively impact newer officers. He recommends officers regularly check in with themselves by asking how their thoughts, words and actions are influencing those around them.
Regardless of rank, Welsh encourages all officers to strive to be coaches to one another on a daily basis. “Leadership has nothing to do with all the bars and stripes on your uniform,” he said. “If you have influence, you're a leader. It's often the cops in lower ranks, who are out in the community, who end up having the most influence on the public.”
CHANGING POLICE CULTURE
To really rebuild trust in police officers, there needs to be a greater focus on changing police culture, which Welsh believes sets the foundation for building a better relationship with the community. “The culture is what drives the ‘us versus them' mentality and relates to how we conduct ourselves in our interactions with the public,” he said. “We need to focus on creating a strong and healthy culture rather than on mission statements because true policing goes beyond protecting and serving.”
Welsh defines police culture as the accepted way of thinking, believing and behaving among officers. He points to several unwritten, but widely embedded, beliefs such as the “code of silence” and “thin blue line” that are detrimental to the way officers approach both the job and citizens. “We need to get rid of that mindset because it drives a wedge between us and the community,” said Welsh. “Cops aren't just enforcers, but problem solvers and carers.”
Making such a monumental change to culture can actually be a fairly simple task and something every officer should contribute to. Much of an officer's job involves communicating with victims, witnesses and suspects, as well as other officers. Officers need to take more time and put in more effort to employ empathy when engaging with others. Such a practice not only improves officers' ability to deescalate situations when needed, but it also greatly influences the way the public interacts with them.
“It will radically change how the public perceives police,” said Welsh. “We need to show people that we do care about them and don't just see them as problems. People won't care about what a cop has to say to them, until they know the cop cares about them first.”
Philadelphia police want to turn street corners into career launch pads
by Darryl C. Murphy
J. Jondhi Harrell is the executive director of The Center for Returning Citizens, which has partnered with the Philadelphia Police Department in an initiative to link employers with potential employees on Southwest Philadelphia street corners. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)
People hanging out on the corner are often stigmatized as hoodlums or miscreants, but Philadelphia police officer G. Lamar Stewart sees something more.
“I see kings; I see queens. I see my son; I see my daughter. I see my niece, my nephew,” said Stewart.
Stewart said while patrolling his beat, he'd stop and ask the “corner boys” and “girls” what led them to the corner. He heard lamenting about not being able to find work, especially among the formerly incarcerated, who feared their criminal record would be overshadowed by their qualifications.
Inspired by these conversations, the Philadelphia Police Department is sending officers out with local employers and workforce developers to set up a new breed of corner office. Called Turning a New Corner, the program will kick off Friday at 6 p.m.
The initiative will put officers and community partners on different corners in Southwest and West Philadelphia on the first Friday of every month. The goal is to connect the people they see with information about jobs and workforce training opportunities.
Stewart said they've already identified 100 job openings including positions at Target, Sprouts Farmers Market and Petsmart that are ripe to be shared. They will also share details about employers such as The Fresh Grocer that are open to extending a second chance to people with criminal records.
“This is not something just for the community,” Stewart said. “This is also challenging our department and other law enforcement communities to think outside the box. And to think about how we look at people.”
The agencies offering workforce training include JEVS, The Center For Returning Citizens, and the National Workforce Opportunity Network.
They'll offer a wide range of support to help the new workers prepare for and retain employment. Barriers such as criminal records, transportation, child-care, computer literacy, and even wardrobe will be addressed through the program.
“Getting these young people jobs is a beginning point,” said J. Jondhi Harrell, executive director of The Center for Returning Citizens. “But once they get a job they need to maintain and move forward. And they need a quality support system to do that.”
Stewart said he understands if there's some apprehension about engaging police in such a manner. But over time he expects to earn trust.
“I believe it's this type of work, this innovative, creative community policing that helps to break down those walls,” he said.
James Brown is a West Philly native who is on board with Stewart's idea. After all, young people need alternatives to the street.
“This program here will give those kids an opportunity to do the right thing,” he said.
Stewart intends for the program to run indefinitely.
NC cop uses Marvel costume to connect with teens, community
Sgt. Clint Ferguson says his hobby "bridges the gap and shows [police] are human"
by Kara Fohner
GRANITE FALLS, NC — Sgt. Clint Ferguson has more than one uniform.
His first, the one he wears each day as a patrol officer at the Granite Falls Police Department, is the one most people see, an important, physical representation of the solemn oath he took to protect and serve his community, at times risking his life to do so.
His second doesn't hold the sanctity of the first. He took no oaths to wear it. In fact, it's a costume. In it, he embodies a fictional character, a Marvel Comics antihero named Deadpool.
Ferguson is a cosplayer, a hobbyist who dresses up as fictional characters ("cosplay" comes from "costume play") and goes to events – sometimes comic conventions or fundraisers for terminally ill children. His Deadpool costume is custom-made, and he made the props himself, looking up YouTube tutorials to design, build and paint foam armor, swords and helmets.
He has been a cosplayer for around four years, and his interest in it is rooted in an early love of Halloween.
“What got me into it was Halloween as a kid. I've always loved Halloween,” he said. “I actually made my costumes every Halloween, but I would stick to horror, usually. I did the 'Dark Knight' Joker, Heath Ledger's Joker, one time.”
Later in life, after a movie about Deadpool came out, Ferguson felt drawn to the character.
“He's not a perfect superhero,” Ferguson said. “He has a sense of humor, … so when I cosplay, it's not so much acting. It's just me being me.”
To Ferguson, cosplaying is a fun, off-duty pastime and an outlet for his artistic proclivities, but it also serves a purpose. The costume is an icebreaker, a bridge between himself and his community that helps him to personally connect with those that he serves as a police officer. When the Granite Falls Police Department recently released a lip-syncing video – part of a viral online trend in which law enforcement officers filmed themselves lip-syncing to popular songs – Ferguson was shown in his Deadpool costume.
“They let me do that. I told them why. I said, ‘I think community policing sometimes is a thing of the past, and it's not as common anymore,'” he said. “As a whole, police, we're not getting out and interacting with kids, teenagers, even adults, to show them that we're human.”
He said that when people he meets learn about his hobby, they're often surprised.
“You would not believe, when I tell people what I do, it blows their mind. When I'm talking to them, they're looking at me, they're like, ‘Man, I can't get past the fact that that's you, but you're in a uniform. You're a cop,'” he said. “And I say, ‘Why is it hard to believe? What do you like doing?'
“And honestly, that's what I think bridges the gap and shows that we're human, and we're not robots."
It's a way to break the ice, especially with children, he said.
"Or if it's a real young kid, where they still have their imagination, I'll tell them, ‘Hey, I'm best friends with this superhero. … I got him on speed dial if you want to meet him.' It just blows them away," he said.
Ferguson said that often, people have preconceived notions about law enforcement officers, and when they learn that he cosplays when he is off-duty, it humanizes him.
“It stuns them. They don't know what to do. They may think I'm just a robot. I'm going to pull them over, you know: ‘License, registration, here's your ticket,' and move on. But no,” he said.
Ferguson's wife, Bridgett, travels with him to comic conventions. She is supportive of his hobby and is interested in cosplaying. She enjoys anime, a type of Japanese cartoon, so instead of going to the beach, the two often spend vacation time traveling to cosplay events.
“It makes him so happy to,” Bridgett Ferguson said. “If he does have any stress from his job, it's like a stress relief.”
Ferguson agreed that the creative work it takes to design costumes and props helps him unwind.
"The sky's the limit. Whatever you have in your imagination, you can make," he said.
New York City
Neighborhood policing program builds relationships to cut crime
by ANISHA NANDI
In 2017, New York City saw some of its lowest violent crime numbers in decades. The nation's largest city police department reported historic reductions in crime last year, including the first time the number of shooting incidents fell below 800 and the number of murders below 300 — the city's lowest per-capita murder rate in almost 70 years. Other reductions were seen in the number of robberies and burglaries in the city.
With those benchmarks in mind, the NYPD now faces the challenges of sustaining, and attempting to surpass, that progress in 2018. The police force kicked off the year with some key internal promotions including the appointment of Rodney Harrison as Chief of Patrol. At the core of their approach to crime reduction is a concept called neighborhood policing.
"We have more police officers on the streets who are in the process of building relationships," said Harrison. "Having that shared responsibility with the residents of the city of New York, that's a great way of being able to maintain violence at a low level."
That concept of "shared responsibility" is often reiterated by NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill. In order to build a sense of unity, the NYPD is training neighborhood coordination officers through the Neighborhood Policing Program to deepen community relationships and make cops accessible to residents, not just in times of distress but as an integral part of their daily lives.
Officers John Buchanan and Robert Bramble are neighborhood coordination officers at the 79th Precinct, focusing on the people and issues of their Brooklyn community.
"The policing module is changing the way the community and police interact," said Buchanan. "It's taking officers that are generally scattered throughout the precinct every day and assigning them to the same areas consistently so that if they have an issue, a problem in that area, that they're aware of it and they respond.... A person doesn't have to re-explain their problem over and over. It provides a sense of consistency for the officer and person knowing who's gonna show up when they call 911."
Modern technology also helps make them more accessible. All 36,000 officers in the department have cellphones and many use them as ways to be contacted by their local residents.
"Have you ever had a personal issue like if you had an ailment you had to go see a doctor? You always go see the same doctor," said Chief Harrison. "Well, it's kind of the same thing now. You have police officers in your neighborhood that are always assigned to you and you have access to them and you'll be able to call them when you need them and you'll be able to email them and there's always dialogue going back and forth."
New York City
Police union offers money for civilians who help cops take down suspects
Citizens who assist officers during difficult arrests instead of filming them will receive $500
by P1 Staff
NEW YORK CITY — Help a cop, get paid – or at least that's what the New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association is hoping to make happen with its new “Help a Cop” incentive program, announced Wednesday.
According to WNBC, the program aims to encourage would-be onlookers to stow their cell phones and get involved next time they witness an officer struggling with a tough arrest.
“Far too often, we see police officers engaged in violent struggles with perpetrators while members of the public stand by and take videos of the incident,” Association president Ed Mullins told the New York Post.
To combat this, the SBA has come up with a creative solution: Instead of recording footage or taking photos of the incident, citizens who assist struggling officers would receive a $500 reward.
According to the Post, a panel of experts would deliberate on a case-by-case basis on whether assistance would earn a reward, but stopping and detaining a fleeing suspect would count.
The program has generated support, including from State Senator Martin Golden, who is working with the SBA to draft legislation to protect Good Samaritans who come to an officer's aid.
Other groups, such as the New York Police Department, are not as keen.
“The NYPD encourages people to support their cops by calling 911,” an agency spokesperson told the Post. “The department doesn't want to see people put in harm's way unnecessarily to collect a reward.”
However, Mullins believes the Help a Cop program will be worth the risk.
“Hopefully, this program will incentivize Good Samaritans to do the right thing,” Mullins said
New Community Policing Strategy Ready To Roll Out
Bike, Foot Patrols Begin Next Month
by Tom Robb
A new force of non-sworn Niles police community service officers will hit the streets on foot and bicycle early next month as part of a new community policing strategy.
Starting the week of Friday, June 1, community service officers will be deployed on foot to business districts throughout Niles while community service officers will be deployed on bicycles in residential neighborhoods in 10 beats throughout the village.
The goal of the program is for community service officers to build relationships with business owners, managers and employees in business districts and people, primarily teenagers and young adults, in residential areas to increase communications and preemptively solve problems before they escalate.
Where sworn police officers are armed and wear dark blue shirts, community service officers wear gray shirts and a different patch.
Niles Police Cmdr. Robert Tornabene, who heads the police Crime Prevention Bureau, said although community service officers have the authority to issue parking tickets and village ordinance violation citations, both business district foot patrol and residential bike patrol officers would have the goal of building relationships and solving problems without issuing citations.
The village has a core of community service officers who perform duties including administrative office functions, traffic control, crowd control at events and other duties. Niles trustees recently reclassified auxiliary police officers to become community service officers as well.
Tornabene said although staffing levels could fluctuate, given community events, generally two, two-man teams of community service officers would be assigned to business districts each day.
The business district community service officers would work with businesses to build relationships to address and solve issues ranging from parking to credit card fraud and identity theft to issues of customers leaving behind wallets, cell phones and car keys at store counters.
Part of building those relationships would include keeping key holder lists up to date. Police need to be able to quickly contact business owners or managers when doors are found unlocked or when other issues arise.
A map shows 14 new Niles police community service officer beats, which would be served with new foot and bicycle patrols.
Police have trained four community service bike patrol officers, mostly teenagers, to fan out on bikes across residential neighborhoods primarily Thursdays through Sundays through September when many younger community service officers would return to school.
The primary goal of these officers will be to build relationships with teens and young adults, preemptively solving problems. Bike community service officers would also be present at community block parties and other community events.
Niles ran a similar bike patrol program decades ago. Before becoming a police officer and rising through the ranks, retired former Niles Police Chief Dennis McEnerney worked as a non-sworn bicycle officer as a teen in the 1970s.
Niles police also run a separate bicycle unit of regular sworn police officers not part of this program.
Sgt. Robert Fox of the Columbia Police Department meets with City Manager
by Madison Czopek
For Sgt. Robert Fox of the Columbia Police Department, community policing is “simply good policing.”
He believes positive interactions between police and Columbians are important not only for residents but also for the officers, who often see “too much trauma and pain” on their shifts.
That's part of the reason City Manager Mike Matthes nominated Fox to lead the city's community policing project when the resolution was passed by the Columbia City Council.
Fox has been tasked with developing a plan to involve more police officers in neighborhood interactions to build relationships with those communities.
Matthes said Fox's interview set him apart from the five other officers who applied for the position.
“(Fox) focused a lot on how having a positive interaction with the public can really make a world of difference in the life of an officer,” Matthes said. “He said, ‘Cops need community policing just as much as the community does,' and I thought that was a pretty fantastic insight.”
As project manager, Fox will create a plan in collaboration with the Police Department, Columbia residents and other stakeholders. The council resolution requires Matthes to present the proposal no later than Aug. 31, which gives Fox about six months before returning to his job at the Columbia Police Department.
Fox was selected from among five officers Matthes interviewed, and his appointment was supported by Police Chief Ken Burton and Columbia Police Officers' Association Executive Director Dale Roberts.
Background and policing
Fox, who was born in Massachusetts but grew up in England, has a diverse background. He attended the University of Bradford and graduated with honors and a bachelor's degree in community studies. He was in the reserves in England and served for 11 years, part-time, before being honorably discharged and moving to Missouri.
While in the reserves, Fox had jobs that focused on youth and communities, including work with charities and in England's local government agencies. He worked with a project called New Horizons, which engaged young people in discussions about employment and where they want to go in life.
He also worked with the Leicestershire County Council, where he was transferred to social services to join a team that worked with young offenders ages 14 to 21. Fox said the team's goal was “to reduce recidivism.”
Now at age 47, Fox has been a Columbia police officer for almost 13 years. Medics have told him three times that he has saved people's lives with emergency medical care. The first time, he gave CPR to a man who stopped breathing until medics arrived — he received a meritorious service ribbon from the city for his actions.
The second time, Fox arrived on the scene of a home invasion robbery to find a Columbia resident on the ground, next to a tree, with a gunshot wound. He had been shot in the leg and was bleeding out, despite another officer's attempts to apply pressure to the wound.
“I was carrying a tourniquet with me, and I applied the tourniquet. That was before all officers were issued tourniquets, but I had a tourniquet that I carried, that I bought myself,” Fox said.
That earned him another life-saving award.
In the final instance, Fox applied a chest seal to a gunshot victim. Although there have been other occasions where he has administered emergency medical care, Fox said these stand out the most.
“Those were the times when medics had said if it wasn't for what I did, then that person would have died,” Fox said.
Fox served as acting sergeant for a year before he was permanently promoted in November 2015. He supervised the second shift, a squad of seven officers and three officers in training. In 2015 and 2016, Fox was nominated for supervisor of the year by his officers and peers.
Officer Derek Moore has worked with Fox for two years. He said the sergeant taught him how to apply what he learned in training, and offered valuable lessons about how to treat people.
“He helped shape and mold (me) into the person I am today,” Moore said.
Commitment to community policing
As sergeant, Fox promoted community police work among his team of officers by requiring them to make a non-enforcement contact with someone in their beat, whenever possible.
He advised his officers to prioritize single parents, ethnic minorities, the elderly and families in high-crime areas.
“They've been instructed to introduce themselves, start a conversation, find out what are their issues, if any,” Fox said. “We leave a business card to inform them that we work for them and to contact us if we can help them.”
He believes it is unhealthy for officers to be exposed to trauma for prolonged periods of time, and community policing was a way to combat that.
“That is one reason I insisted on it, so they would have at least one positive interaction with the public in their shift,” Fox said. “It's truly been a win-win.”
The overall reception has been positive, despite some initial resistance from officers, he said.
“We very rarely go to the people that don't need help. We go to the people that call us,” Moore said. “So that leaves a lot of the general population not really knowing who we are. Going out to those extra people and just saying hi and introducing ourselves and leaving a card, it's a good way to tie us in with the community, and I think that was (Fox's) goal.”
Fox said that's the type of policing everyone wants to see in their neighborhoods.
“It's the policing that good beat cops have been doing ever since (it was started), which is getting to know people, issues and problems in their beat and working in partnership with other people in other agencies to solve those problems,” he said.
The goal of community policing comes with challenges. Traci Wilson-Kleekamp of Race Matters, Friends, expressed her concerns the night the Columbia City Council passed the resolution that launched Fox's work. She worried that too much of the conversation focused on distractions about staffing and money, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Fox, however, said moving past a hypothetical conversation about community policing requires discussions about things like “staffing, recruiting, pay, retention, morale and leadership within the Police Department.”
He said it is important to remember the city has a hierarchy of needs.
“A high-priority 911 domestic assault call, for example, will trump activities that people would like to see the police doing based on their opinion,” Fox said.
Some members of Race Matters, Friends, also have said on social media that Fox isn't the ideal person to lead an effort toward community policing. In a Facebook post, Carol Brown cited Fox's involvement in a February 2010 Columbia SWAT raid as a potential barrier.
When raiding the home of Jonathan Whitworth, SWAT officers — including Fox — fatally shot a pit bull and wounded a Welsh corgi. Whitworth's wife and child were in the home during the raid, according to reports.
Officers found only a marijuana pipe and enough marijuana to lead to a misdemeanor charge during their search of Whitworth's home. Video of the raid went viral online and the incident was heavily criticized.
“It's important to remember that while, my understanding is, that was a somewhat controversial thing back then, the team didn't do anything illegal,” Matthes said. “It was a by-the-book sort of SWAT exercise.”
Fox said SWAT enforcement is sometimes “the safest way to deal with specific situations.” He also said he was looking forward to working on community policing.
“I haven't met Race Matters, Friends,” Fox said. “Their opinion is equally important as everyone else the department serves, and I look forward to meeting them.”
In the summer following the SWAT raid, Fox was briefly suspended for a comment he posted on a Columbia Daily Tribune article about a protest against the raid.
In the article, protester Gregg Williams was photographed carrying a “Stop Brutality” sign and quoted as saying, “I just want this to stop. It's wrong for cops to do that stuff.”
Fox posted a comment on the Tribune website that referred to Williams, who had a juvenile record.
“Hahahahahah!!!!!! The guy with the ‘stop the brutality' sign has multiple convictions for assaulting people with guns!!! I'd like him to stop the brutality of humans!” Fox wrote, according to the Tribune.
Fox was suspended for 120 hours without pay for violating his duty to safeguard information pertaining to Williams' juvenile record.
“I was suspended in 2010,” Fox acknowledged. “In 2018, I am looking forward to working on community-oriented policing in Columbia.”
When selecting Fox for the position, Matthes said he was aware of these incidents but that they were not representative of his entire record with the Police Department.
“I knew about those two things,” Matthes said. “That happened before my time here with the city, so what I relied on was the whole record. I looked at his whole HR record, and when you do that, those things aren't particularly troubling.”
Fox hopes his knowledge of the Police Department and experience as a sergeant will guide him as the community policing project manager.
“I think knowing our officers and knowing how our department works will hopefully help to make this transition to community-oriented policing more efficient by keeping it focused and realistic,” Fox said.
He also emphasized that this plan will be more than a hypothetical one.
“This is about a plan for implementation,” Fox said. “It's about a service that's provided to people in the city every hour, and because of that the plan has to be realistic and sound.”
Fox's officers said they were sad to see him go, even for the time being, but they hope he'll achieve good results.
“I'm sad that he's not my sergeant anymore, but other than that he's a great choice,” Moore said. He added, however, that some officers are hesitant about community policing because they see the community-outreach unit attending barbecues, for example, but not engaging in “any actual police action.”
Although some officers see negative aspects of community policing, Moore believes Fox will be able to balance the needs of the community with the duties of police officers.
“I think Fox will be able to show the department that it's two sides of the same coin,” Moore said. “I think he's going to show us the benefits.”
Fox believes his experience will help him facilitate cooperation among multiple stakeholders and agencies. This will be no small task, considering Fox believes all residents and visitors to the city of Columbia are stakeholders with valuable opinions.
Matthes said one thing that has been striking about Fox's approach is his willingness to be open to different viewpoints.
“I've been really struck by his openness, his real intent to facilitate without leading discussion but drawing it out,” Matthes said. “He's not got an outcome he's got in mind that he's trying to shoot for. It's a real honest, honorable conversation he's trying to create with everyone in the community.”
Fox also hopes to get the opinions of residents who don't regularly attend community meetings.
“I will have failed in my job if the plan I produce is what a vocal few want and not what the city as a whole wants and needs.
American Police Must Own Their Racial Injustices
by SAMUEL KUHN & STEPHEN LURIE
To improve relationships with communities of color, a reconciliation movement has begun in several cities, in which police brush up on their history, admit past mistakes, and listen to frank talk and hard truths.
Americans rarely discuss racial injustice. When they do, many people treat the subject like an exorcised demon, a distant past without present-day legacies. But Americans still live in a country characterized by racial hierarchy that infuses its institutions and organizations. Lawmakers, reflecting the will of a sizeable portion of the public, set the laws that made slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration possible. Schools, hospitals, businesses, and municipal agencies implemented those measures. And law enforcement exacted the consequences for disobeying them.
Police have been central to American racial injustice since our nation's founding, when nascent police forces enforced slave codes. Today, the wars on crime and drugs continue to produce disproportionate and destructive enforcement in black and brown neighborhoods. Communities' of color deep distrust of law enforcement is multi-generational and well-founded. And as the recent “living while black” incidents show, many white people still view police as instruments of control over those communities, especially African American ones.
The effects of racially disparate policing remain imprinted on us as a people. Today, however, some police departments and leaders have moved to the front lines of America's racial reckoning by explicitly recognizing historical racial injustice and committing to collaborative change in the communities most harmed by the structural racism their institutions have been so crucial in shaping.
Unlike popular community policing efforts, these reconciliation processes, particularly the police acknowledgement of harm, may meet a deeper need for moral alignment on historical and contemporary challenges.
As we cover in our recent report, some police agencies and communities are engaged in unprecedented efforts to engage with and remedy fundamental historic harms and ongoing sources of mistrust. After reviewing dozens of examples of reconciliation endeavors, and from our work advising six cities—Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Birmingham, Gary, and Stockton, California—on piloting full reconciliation processes, we believe reconciliation offers something that other reform efforts don't: a path towards mutual respect that enables sustainable improvement to public safety practices.
Our definition of reconciliation, developed at the National Network for Safe Communities and the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, is “a process whereby police and community engage in joint communication, research, and commitment to practical change to foster the mutual trust essential for effective public safety partnerships.” This process has four core elements: acknowledgment of harm; listening and narrative sharing; fact-finding; and policy and practice change.
This work begins when police leaders engage residents by acknowledging the decades of harm caused by institutional flaws, and committing themselves and their departments to improvement that is largely guided by their partnership with harmed parties. Holding listening sessions with law enforcement leaders and community members and collecting local narratives—similar to testimony collected by truth and reconciliation commissions around the world—allow these two groups to air experiences and feel the moral weight of a collection of individual stories. To ground a healing process, communities also create authoritative records of the local history that has led to the need for reconciliation. Ultimately, these narratives and facts should not only help identify core areas for policy and practice change, but encourage mutual commitment to those changes.
In the six pilot sites of the National Initiative, police and communities are embarking on reconciliation processes as part of a systemic rethinking of public safety. The Stockton Police Department, in particular, has demonstrated what reconciliation can look like in practice. Since 2016, Police Chief Eric Jones has held dozens of “listening sessions” with historically marginalized groups, including local Black Lives Matter activists, Latino community and East Asian immigrant groups, LGBTQIA leaders, organizations serving people returning from incarceration, and at-risk youth.
These sessions begin from a tailored acknowledgment of the harms perpetrated by the police department against the specific community; participants are then invited to share their experiences that inform their perceptions of police. For example, in listening sessions with the city's large Filipino community, the chief began by recognizing the segregation his department enforced to keep Filipinos within the city's “Little Manila” neighborhood. Acknowledging these structural harms often leads to community participants speaking candidly about the issues that impact them, a crucial step in helping develop actionable measures for improvement. Stockton's Police Department uses these sessions to identify both situations that require individual follow-up and consistent themes that can be built into the department's policy, practice, training, and socialization. A series of listening sessions with family members of homicide victims, for instance, revealed persistent failures by the department to update families on the progress of their loved ones' cases; as a result, homicide detectives and their supervisors are now directed to provide regular updates and track their communications.
The SPD also established a relationship with historian Elizabeth Hinton, author of “From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime,” to integrate her research on the department's history into SPD training. The department gave Dr. Hinton rare access to decades of police administrative files, and though her research is ongoing, she has already shared some crucial findings with the department's executive team. Her research on the department's heavy-handed response to the city's 1968 uprising is being incorporated by the executive team into mandatory training on the SPD's history and into current-day protest policing policy.
Community policing officials positive on relationships
by Zachary Horner
On Thursday morning, Sgt. Jynn Bridges of the Lee County Sheriff's Office delivered bags of food to a drop-off site for Backpack Pals, a program that provides food to children in need.
Bridges, who leads the sheriff's community policing unit, said her office covers three of the program's 25 drop-off sites during the summer, depositing 70 bags a day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She said this is just one of the ways the sheriff's office tries to maintain a good relationship with the Lee County community.
"We strive to be so much more than just arresting people and serving papers,” Bridges said. “We really build those relationships with the people we serve. I know it's really important to the sheriff that we're out here building those relationships.”
Some law enforcement and local leaders say because of those strong relationships, Sanford has avoided the problems other cities have faced.
Mayor Chet Mann said he worries every night about the possibility of riots and vandalism after a police-citizen confrontation. He referenced the 2014 violence that erupted following the officer-involved shooting death of an unarmed African-American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.
“A lot of times these things start with outside interests coming into a city,” Mann said. “A lot of time the people that protest and instigate are not from the community. It could easily happen. If your community is not solid and the relationship with the police is not good, it could become Ferguson quicker than you think.”
There have been local incidents that could have led to those types of protests, he said.
In December 2014, 26-year-old Travis Faison was shot and killed during a confrontation in his Magnolia Street home with Sanford police attempting to arrest him on an attempted murder warrant.
Earlier this year in March, Juan Carlos Romero, who authorities say was armed with a handgun, was shot and killed when three officers opened fire on him.
“We've had some trying times here that didn't result in violence,” Mann said.
Sgt. Greg Deck with the Sanford Police Department's Community Policing Division would not comment on those incidents in particular, but he cited community opinions of law enforcement as one of the reasons why such events didn't lead to riots.
“The people in Sanford don't have the attitudes of the people in bigger cities,” Deck said. “We just have a better relationship with them and talk to them more. More people know everybody, it's not like you've got 100,000 people where you don't know everybody.”
Deck and Bridges also talked of various programs their respective departments have in place to help foster a good connection between residents and law enforcement.
The Sanford PD's Community Policing Division regularly visits schools to build relationships with children, Deck said. The department also participates in events like National Night Out and its Cone with a Cop precursor — this year's event at Dairy Queen is slated for 1-3 p.m. Tuesday.
“We're starting with the younger kids first and trying to get their mindsets changed so that the police are not the enemy,” Deck said.
The sheriff's office, Bridges said, regularly interacts with residents through initiatives like the school resource officer program, church safety training sessions and National Night Out. It's all an attempt, she said, to change the narrative.
“The community doesn't just see us when they have a crisis, when they're calling 911,” she said. “They see us in their churches and in their work and in their schools. They see us at all these things, so when they call us for a crisis, they're familiar with the officers that are showing up.”
And more events are coming up. On Aug. 15, the sheriff's office is hosting Decision Day at Lee County High School, where teenagers will be encouraged to make smart decisions for better futures. The event will have food trucks, games, music and public safety personnel on hand. On Aug. 21, the office will hold a one-day citizen's academy to give participants a look into the day-to-day operations of the LCSO.
Mann said the city isn't through trying to make things better. He said some will point to recent shootings in the city as evidence of a high crime rate, but he argued that it isn't “any more than we've had on average.”
“I think the goal now is to reduce the violent crime rate,” Mann said. “We'd just like to see some of the particular incidents decrease.”
Policing When Faced with Resistance: When to Use De-Escalation Tactics
by Andrew Bell, faculty member, Criminal Justice with American Military University
As an officer, have you ever been challenged and backed down from an incident even when you knew you were in the right? Have you ever un-arrested someone? Have you ever not served a warrant, even though you believed you had the wanted person? I have done these things, and while it took time to get over the initial embarrassment, they were ultimately the right decisions because they helped de-escalate volatile situations.
What's Changed in Society?
It seems the divide between society and police is greater today than ever before. Mainstream media would have us think that use-of-force, racial unrest, riots, and injustice is an everyday occurrence. This fuels resistance towards officers and encourages people to challenge the authority of law enforcement. But is this sentiment worse than in the past? There has been unrest and riots throughout history. What's different now? Technology!
The prevalence of social media and camera phones means that a single incident can quickly escalate into a movement against police for the world to weigh in on. How have police responded? By getting their own body-worn cameras, joining social media, training on ethics, and working to better understand diversity. Obviously, this is not enough. More needs to be done to train officers in unconventional tactics to ensure justice is done while vindicating police action in the eyes of the general public.
Training Police to Pursue and Control
My fellow police veteran and frequent co-author Bruce Razey and I have regularly written about how cops are people, too. But they're not ordinary people. There are major differences between trained officers and the average citizen. Bruce and I have more than 50 years of combined service, and we can recall academy and in-service trainings that taught us that citizens have a duty to retreat, whereas police have a duty to pursue, preserve the peace, and arrest.
As a result of this training comes the mindset that officers must always act and control every situation. In some scenarios, police have wide discretion about what action they can take, but in others they have a legal obligation to act. For example, warrants don't give cops the option to arrest. A warrant commands that police “shall arrest” and bring that person or their body before the court.
Are there situations where police are issued a warrant, but should not make an arrest? I would argue that for the sake of public safety, there are times when officers should not take immediate action. For example, when officers encounter a volatile situation that is beyond their control or on the verge of becoming so, officers can turn to de-escalation tactics and still complete their mission to “protect and serve.”
Applying De-Escalation Tactics
Over the course of my police career, I have encountered several situations where, rather than forcefully implementing my authority, the best course of action was to apply de-escalation tactics.
Perfecting the Tactical Pause
Working in uniform patrol, I had more than a dozen warrants for a woman who, according to other cops, could not be caught. I also failed to catch her a few times because she would see me and not answer the door. So, I parked down the street and walked to the address unseen. I placed my finger over the peephole and rang the doorbell. Likely due to curiosity, she opened the door and, with a surprised look, immediately tried to close the door on my foot. Too late. I stepped in as she yelled for me to get out.
The address was correct on the warrant and she met the description, however, that description was vague. She would not identify herself and since she was in her own house, she legally did not have to. This was definitely a “contempt of cop” situation, which is when a cop's authority is challenged. In many of these cases, officers lose control and take forceful action. I was ready to drag her out. Before I could act, a big man came down the stairs and demanded to know what was going on. The dynamics of the situation changed dramatically. I still wanted to drag her out, but I paused and thought about the remote chance I was wrong about her identity. If I arrested the wrong person, she could sue me and the department.
In that moment I decided to do something I had never done before: back down. But I didn't back down without a plan. I advised the man I had warrants for the woman and they now “had a choice.” I said: “You can either get your things in order and turn her in, or I can come back with the SWAT team and drag you both out.” I returned to my car and sat there wondering if I had made a major mistake. About an hour later, the dispatcher called to tell me the woman had requested to meet me at the magistrate's office to serve the warrants.
This was the first of my many humbling experiences as an officer, but it taught me about the power of the “pause.” I learned to incorporate the pause in both tactical and administrative situations to provide a brief moment for everyone involved to think. For the most part, it worked. Short of being engaged in hand-to-hand combat or a use-of-deadly-force situation, I learned to use a “tactical pause” in strange and stressful situations.
The Just-Be-Nice Tactic
Later in my career, I received a Letter of Commendation for finding the most stolen vehicles and arresting more auto thieves than anyone else in patrol. My supervisors asked me how I had done it. I responded, “I look for them,” but there was more to it than that. I would drive to the worst neighborhoods with the “hot sheet” and look for vehicles.
During one apprehension, the driver insisted it was his car. I didn't buy it because the dispatcher verified the vehicle was stolen through the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC), so I conducted a felony stop. It was a hot summer day and I had the man spread eagle on the asphalt road. As I approached him from behind and placed him in cuffs, I realized just how hot the pavement was. I lifted him up and brushed off the dust from the road at I patted him down. I apologized for having him lay down on the hot pavement and told him I would get to the bottom of the issue.
Our department had just had training on something called “Verbal Judo” that I decided to use during interactions with citizens, even when using force. The theme of verbal judo is basically just to be nice. No matter what the citizen acts like, police discussion and commands should be friendly in tone.
In the police car, I checked the registration for the car and the man's license. As it turned out, it was his car. The vehicle had mistakenly not been taken out of NCIC after it was recovered weeks ago. I immediately removed the handcuffs and “un-arrested” the man. I explained the error to him and asked if he would like to sit up front with me while I made sure the car was removed from NCIC. We chatted about the heat wave and other things until the dispatcher confirmed that the vehicle was no longer in NCIC and then we parted ways. It was a good lesson that as an officer, you never know when your probable cause to arrest someone may disappear, so “just be nice” works in more cases than one may think.
Be Aware, Understand, then React
During a riot, I was at a corner redirecting traffic away from the event that had been deemed an “unlawful assembly.” At one moment, the riotous crowd turned its attention toward us officers. Several hundred people squared off against three of us cops. The rioters stared at us, and we stared back. Then someone in the crowd started throwing cans of soda. Most of the cans missed, but one connected and glanced off the riot helmet of the cop next to me, exploding as it hit the ground in a spray of carbonated mist. One of the cops yelled, “Let's get them!” and we made a mad dash toward the crowd as they ran in the opposite direction.
I was the fastest of the cops and caught up to the back of the crowd with my riot stick in the batting position. I was within arms-reach of the rioters. One glanced back at me and yelled “Please don't hit me!” At that moment I came to my senses. First, I could not tell who threw the can so I decided not to hit or arrest anyone. Second, and more importantly, I realized the other officers had stopped running several blocks back and I was now the only one chasing several hundred people. I walked back to my station as the other cops laughed and I rolled my eyes at them. As a cop, you must be aware of what is going on, understand what that means to you and the life, liberty and property of others, and react in a way that you hope will not be on the six o'clock news.
The Ends Do Not Always Justify the Means
These situations are just a few examples of how police can apply different tactics to de-escalate volatile situations, but de-escalation is not always possible and many times officers have to take direct action. In order to gain citizen support and legitimacy, police must work hard to ensure their actions are seen as reasonable. Officers need to constantly think about the nuances of the situation, the impacts of their actions, and think outside the box to use force as little as possible. In order to “protect and serve” in these changing times, police must maintain awareness and understanding. They must quickly adapt to changing situations in a manner that is acceptable within the law, as well as acceptable to the general public, who ultimately gives police the legitimacy and authority to exist.