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The apology by IACP President Terrence Cunningham to the nation’s minority population “for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color” was applauded by civil rights groups and I am also glad he said it.
I acknowledged the “sins of our fathers” a few years ago and my own Chief has done the same. For those that have been hurt or heard stories of others being hurt, I think what Chief Cunningham and others have done is important and needed but now we have to ask a very important question.
Where do we go from here?
There are some vital steps that law enforcement and the minority community have to do if we are ever going to get past apologies.
It Takes Two
There are two words in police-community relations. The “police” and the “community”. It takes both parties to succeed and all too often communities expect everything from law enforcement while they sit back and do nothing. This clearly isn’t in every case but just as there is an effort on law enforcement’s part, there has to be an effort on the community and that goes for both parties. If the community is working towards that relationship, law enforcement must join them in that effort.
When .someone lies, it is very difficult to see them as a credible change agent. This was certainly the case in Ferguson (MO) when the false narrative was “hands up-don’t shoot.” The Department of Justice outed that lie and cleared Officer Wilson. Despite that, those lies are still propagated which is why those singing that song will never be able to accomplish change.
They have no credibility.
The same holds true for law enforcement. The Los Angeles Police Department still lives in the shadows of the Rampart Scandal where dishonesty and corruption ruled and while the LAPD is a very professional agency today, that dishonesty two decades ago hurt them immensely.
We seem to be living in a day where honesty takes a backseat. For success to occur, the community and law enforcement need to take an oath of honesty. Whether the truth hurts or helps what one’s agenda may be, honesty must take priority. Without this, nothing will ever be accomplished.
The police need to respect the community they serve and the community needs to respect the police. That mutual respect is important in any relationship so don’t tell me as a police officer that you understand the importance of community relations when you just cursed out a citizen on a traffic stop and citizen, don’t say you want to help foster police relations when you slammed the door in an officer’s face who was looking for witnesses to a neighborhood crime.
The police and the community need to commit to training. It’s hard to be “honest” and have “respect” if neither side understands the other. I have taken numerous classes on understanding cultures and de-escalation and I need to continue that but what about the citizen that continues to blame law enforcement for various things when according to the law and policy, the officer did nothing wrong?
A citizen should not expect “de-escalation” if they continue to yell, scream and resist.
That makes no sense.
I could discuss more issues because this is a complex topic but we all must understand that improving police and community relations is not an overnight process. The DOJ, policy changes and protests will never change the heart of men and women both behind the badge and those that are served by the badge.
Apologizing for past mistreatment takes a few seconds and the work for successful police-community relations will take years and those years need to include everything and more that I have previously mentioned. It’s not only possible but achievable and if you are reading this, you have a role to play.
So let’s go play it!
Travis Yates is a writer and editor at Law Officer. An ILEETA Trainer of the Year, his Seminars in Risk Management & Officer Safety have been taught across the United States & Canada. Major Yates is a current Doctoral Student in Strategic Leadership and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the Director of Training for Law Officer (www.lawofficer.com) and the Founder of the Courageous Leadership Institute (www.courageousleader.org), providing leadership consulting and training to law enforcement around the world.