There is undeniably a fatal disconnect between many communities and the law enforcement that polices them. The problem is the continuous breakdown in communication, tolerance, and respect between the two groups. No one person, or entity, deserves blame. Instead this comes from years of distrust and unaccountability on both sides.
In such a hypersensitive time it is beyond overdue for police departments and communities to reignite the dialogue.
Police departments need to reassess policies such as: use of deadly force guidelines, de-escalation techniques, and dealing with mental health-impaired suspects. This is particularly important in major cities where these fractured community relationships turn out to have the worst outcomes.
At the same time, communities need to recognize that visceral and explosive knee-jerk reactions to incidents involving police only exacerbates the problem. Reform starts by holding the bad actors within the community accountable. Someone seeking justice cannot be upset about the death of Alton Sterling and turn a blind eye to the death of five police officers.
Across this country community policing desperately needs to become the philosophy, not just another program.
It is important to understand the apprehension towards law enforcement in many communities. The majority of their police interactions are negative and they have grown used to seeing friends and family, usually for good reason, on the receiving end of the force of the law. The consistent negative interactions with police have left people in these communities scarred, creating a culture of fear.
Houston Police Department’s Positive Interaction Program (PIP) has proven to be a successful version of bridging the gap between the community and the police. The purpose of the program is to educate citizens on what to expect should they ever need the police. It also offers a non-confrontational interaction with the city’s law enforcement.
This was a major reason that the “Officer Friendly” program was implemented. The program, which was originally launched in Chicago, promoted positive interactions between children and police with the intention of breaking the cycle of repetitive negative interactions.
These programs don’t necessarily reduce crime directly, but by building these relationships officers are better equipped to manage explosive reactions when there is an incident.
We need to renew the compact between communities and police. Reform starts with rebuilding community trust as well as teaching the importance of respect for law enforcement.
Transparency and accountability play a major role in fostering better police-community relations. The communities may feel there is no transparency when it comes to their interactions with police but many officers don’t feel the community does enough to hold their neighbors accountable for their actions, and instead blame the officer for every negative interaction.
Make no mistake, these problems don’t belong to one party, the only way to find much needed resolution is for all stakeholders to work together to reform policing policies, rebuild trust, and police our own communities. Tolerance is a two way street, and as these confrontations seem to be growing in number, change is long overdue.