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Building Trust Through Community Policing

Community Policing
Once upon a time in small communities like Brooklyn, residents would walk down the street and see a neighborhood patrolman. We’ll call him Officer McMurphy — a solid presence, admonishing the local hooligans for missing school, loitering, or just general perceived mischief.

Back then, it wasn’t profiling, racial or otherwise, because McMurphy walked the beat regularly and in all ethnic neighborhoods. The natural familiarity bred an understanding and mutual respect, in many instances. McMurphy generally knew who the usual suspects were and if someone new appeared to be up to no good, it was not unheard of to have the community point out the culprits.

Indeed, this fictional scenario seems straight from the fairytales, especially considering the present-day, untrusting (if not antagonistic) relationship that exists between law enforcement and civilians, particularly in more urban and populated areas.

Yet it was very real.

However, this is not to wax poetic about any idyllic past relationship with law enforcement and our urban communities, ‘cause that never existed. Prejudice and distrust ruled on both sides, a dichotomy worsened by the makeup of the police department being nearly all Caucasian while serving all Black and Brown communities.

Instead of an inane debate over the past effectiveness of community policing, I would rather focus on why it is desperately needed in our communities today, whether in Brooklyn, Miami, or other urban areas throughout the country.

First, police departments in most cities are significantly more diverse than in the past. Not that many cities aren’t still lacking in their departmental diversity efforts, but overall, there are officers who look like and often grew up in the type of neighborhoods that they could be asked to patrol.

I’m not saying only Black and Latin officers should patrol Black and Latin neighborhoods, but their presence should be dominant and prevalent. The people behind the badge should have a familiarity with such neighborhoods, devoid of the fear and prejudice that too often come with those unfamiliar or biased by the racial and cultural differences. Cops should be placed in neighborhoods that they can readily identify with so that, most importantly, the members of the community can identify with them.

Community policing is not simply about ethnicities policing their own — it is about familiarity and building trust.

Having officers be a part of the community. Removing the antagonism that exists within the community and supplanting the “Stop Snitching” and “Them Versus Us” mentality with “If You See Something, Say Something.”

Stop Police Brutality - Icy and Sot - Community Policing

“Stop Police Brutality” by Icy and Sot. Image courtesy of ArtistsAgainstPoliceViolence.com.

This will not happen overnight. It will take a concerted effort by the officers involving a complete shift in the existent policy of treating everyone like a suspect until proven otherwise. I am not suggesting that the police stop arresting criminals, but the only way to truly protect and serve with professionalism is to earn the respect and not just the fear and contempt of those you are supposed to serve.

This will never be achieved for many. Some in these neighborhoods will always view the police with contempt and disdain. Those minds may never be changed, but I argue that they are in fact the minorities within these respective communities. The average person in these urban environments is hardworking, wanting more from life. Oftentimes, their socioeconomic conditions create disadvantages, but the American Dream is still the goal. Regardless, the search for prosperity will always take a back seat to the need for being treated with respect.

The police have to take the first, second…fifteenth steps and more to implement and make community policing a success. The more familiarity — neighborhoods where the officers know many of the constituents by name — will invariably lead to more trust by those constituents and civic leaders. That trust can then lead to more openness by the community in general to communicating with and even helping law enforcement. And help is surely needed in high-crime areas where the distrust and animosity towards the police stifle investigations time and again.

This is not an instant gratification project, but a long-term indoctrination of attitudes on both sides. Looking at the current state of turmoil, division, and mistrust of the police in our urban settings, I think it is a must that we try something different.

Nothing will be a perfect solution, and police-involved shootings will still exist. However, the hope is that the immediate distrust and call-to-arms against the police may be replaced by some benefit of the doubt to at least hear the facts first.

If the officers are a greater part of the community, communication may lead to changes in perception, even in high-crime areas where views are skewed into believing that all the youth are criminals, to fear, to jail, to neutralize.

It may be a difficult balance to navigate, but let the police strive to serve and protect, with professionalism, all members of the community. If that is done, and respect is given, the community will eventually respond to the efforts. So try it.

The community wants to be heard, recognized, and respected.

Something must be done differently.

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SimplyGood reached out to the multi-talented composer and tenor saxophonist Kenneth Whalum to feature his new single, “Might Not Be Ok,” alongside this piece. Consider it a sincere and impassioned howl, with Whalum’s haunting vocals and rapper Big K.R.I.T.‘s fervent, crescendoing verse addressing police brutality and the dire need for change.  

Richard Ray is an attorney, restless entrepreneur, and critical thinker. You can view more of his unabashed writing on his daily blog, Diary of a Mad Mind.

Titled “Faith and Confidence,” the featured image up-top is cropped from a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by William C. Beall and was originally published in the Washington Daily News in 1957. 

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