We see it on the news almost every day. In a city in America, sometimes, even your city, there's a story about citizens and a negative encounter with police. Although the law enforcement shootings gain the most attention and sensationalism, all negative encounters create mistrust between communities and the police sworn to protect and serve them.
We can no longer operate in a bubble, as we once did in the days past. With police scanners, news media outlets are on the scene of a critical incident shortly after law enforcement personnel arrive. With cell phone video technologies, citizens are able to capture law enforcement actions right when they happen. With social media, police actions are made viral minutes after they happen. With live broadcasts happening both on major news channels and over the internet, misdeeds by police arrive in the public conscience faster than ever before. Because of these factors, our citizens demand accountability more swiftly and with greater fervor then ever before.
Our nation's trust of its leadership has been on the decline for decades. Two instances of lost trust with the government reign supreme here: the broken trust between our government during the war in Vietnam, and Watergate. President Lyndon Johnson's Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, admitted in his memoir that he and his aides had misrepresented the strength of North Vietnamese forces in order to get more troops and escalate USA"s involvement in the war. President Nixon lied about his knowledge of the burglary of the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, leading to his resignation from office. These two events have led our nation to mistrust its leaders for the decades that follow.
With trust between law enforcement and our nation's communities at such a low point, its imperative that we start rebuilding trust in order to be successful at our mission to protect and serve. Although this decision must permeate all areas of law enforcement, it must start at every police academy in our nation. New recruits must be taught the value of relationships with the communities they serve, not just the legal and use of force aspects of the job that are often the only areas covered. New recruits must also be taught the consequences of police brutality and misconduct and how it will impact themselves, their families, and their communities.
Where these vital messages are often overlooked are in the departments themselves. Once an officer graduates their police academy, they often receive little to no training on how to build relationships with their communities. There are few police training courses offered to help police officers build excellent relationships within their communities. Most still focus on use of force issues, legal updates, and other types of training focused on liability mitigation.
Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey says law enforcement needs to shift its perceived mission from one of enforcing the law to one of protecting the rights of all. When the latter becomes the priority, communities experience not just safer and more secure neighborhoods but the presence of justice. And the thin blue line that allegedly separates good from evil instead becomes a strong thread woven throughout the community, helping to hold together the very fabric of democracy.
Chief Ramsey said in order to rebuild these relationships we need to understand our history. He started a program with the National Constitution Center to help police understand their history. From the days of unpaid watchmen in the 1700s, to the days of the Jim Crow Laws and Bloody Sunday, to the police in Germany that helped the Nazis, our law enforcement history is vital for us to understand as part of our evolution. When people see an unjust act committed by law enforcement, the hand of one becomes the hand of all in the minds of citizens, and mistrust is formed. Chief Ramsey said that shifting our focus from just enforcing laws to protecting the rights of all people, will help mend these broken relationships. He said we have often focused on the reduction of crime at the cost of fair application of justice, and we should focus on the attitude of the members of that community after our enforcement efforts. Once we bring back our service mentality and mindset, we will begin to rebuild our broken relationships. Chief Ramsey also explained that instead of police being "a thin blue line", we should be "a thread woven throughout the community".
Finally, Chief Ramsey stressed the importance of respect to all. When we let people maintain their dignity and self-respect, we create trust within our communities. He stressed than even those in the criminal element, when given their dignity and respect, will sometimes become informants for investigators. Chief Ramsey emphasized that each interaction between police and citizens plays a part in rebuilding trust. Through giving all their dignity and respect, we can slowly but surely regain the image of trustworthiness that our profession deserves.
Watch his TEDx talk below to learn more about how to mend these vital relationships.
Did you just get a job as a law enforcement officer or are you trying to get one?
Law enforcement is a very rewarding career, one that can enhance your life and benefit you greatly. Preparing for a job in law enforcement shares some similarities to other careers. At the same time it has unique challenges to overcome.
Let’s take a moment to examine how you can prepare for a job as a law enforcement officer.