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A Tale of Six Cities

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Carletta Walker
January 27, 2017

As we enter 2017, it’s impossible to forget the lives lost in the black community, as well as the law enforcement community. According to the The Washington Post, 233 African-Americans were killed by police in 2016; however, it should be dually noted that law enforcement officers also were killed in the line of duty by gunfire. Recent events are forcing law enforcement managers and community leaders to have hard and necessary conversations regarding race, equality and justice.

To restore and strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the communities in which they serve, in 2015 the Department of Justice established the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. The program is coordinated by the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and partnered with Yale Law School, the Center for Policing Equity at John Jay College, UCLA and the Urban Institute. The six pilot sites for this study is Birmingham, AL; Ft Worth, TX; Gary, IN; Minneapolis, MN; Pittsburgh, PA; and Stockton, CA. By educating law enforcement officers and the community regarding root issues, the Department of Justice hopes to bridge the gap between minority groups and the community.

Three pillars build the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice:

  • Procedural Justice: Officers providing fair treatment and just outcomes of all people by providing citizens with a voice, neutrality and legitimacy.
  • Reducing Implicit Bias: Recognizing and eliminating stereotypes between members of minority groups and the impact it has in policing.
  • Fostering Reconciliation: Addressing historical tensions, mutual mistrust and eliminating the “us versus them” mentality.

six cities

As an officer in one of the six pilot cities, I was fortunate to receive procedural justice training. The first phase of the training emphasized giving the community a voice, employing neutral decision-making and increasing the department’s trustworthiness. The training was very informative and allowed officers and first line supervisors to voice their concerns regarding recent protest. Although the first phase of this training seemed to be helpful, will this training produce the results the community expects once an officer has left the classroom?

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Having a multi-generational workforce in law enforcement could determine the type of officer you encounter. Baby Boomers in law enforcement were taught to “cuff em’ and stuff em”. The arrest of Rodney King is one of the most noted high profile cases of police brutality in the 90’s. “Back then, it was pulling out a baton and whacking people,” said Deputy Chief Bill Murphy, of Los Angeles Police Department. Generation Xer’s were trained to take no prisoners; or rather, all prisoners under zero-tolerance policing. Currently, millennials are being trained under the umbrella of community policing. It’s safe to say policing has seen its fair share of changes, from handling every dispute with a strike of a baton, to entering what’s being coined the “Ferguson Effect.” After the death of Michael Brown, and the shootings involving minorities thereafter, many officers are unsure how to police. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 86 percent of officers feel high profile incidents between police and the black community have made policing harder. Going backwards is certainly not the answer and where we are, is uncertain.

The Roadmap to Reconciliation

The project conducted by the Department of Justice is only one of many steps towards a new beginning to restoring community trust. Community leaders, mayors, police chiefs and members of the community will need to track and periodically re-evaluate progress. But what happens in the meantime can either moves us closer or further apart. Here’s what history has taught us about police reform:

  • 1960s:  Mapp v. Ohio would ultimately change how police would conduct searches; Civil Rights Movement stirred hostility and distrust between minorities and law enforcement.
  • 1970s – 80s: Civilian review boards would serve to hold law enforcement officers accountable for their actions.
  • 1990s – 2010: The 1994 Violent Control and Law Enforcement Act empowers the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to hold local law enforcement agencies accountable for abuse.
  • 2010 – Current: De-escalation training is sought to resolve conflict by talk tactics and using the appropriate amount of force necessary.  

Unfortunately, racial equality continues to be a major concern for the law enforcement community. Time will only tell if yet another reform such as the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice will prove to be a move in the right direction on the reformative timeline.

Author: Carletta Walker is a POSTC Certified Officer & Academy Instructor. She has a B.S. in Criminal Justice, M.P.A. She can be reached at [email protected].

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