Interactions Between Police and Residents Continue to Draw Attention


Fifty years later, interactions between police and residents continue to draw attention.

Last month, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross apologized to two black men who were arrested last week at Starbucks, to the officers involved and others “who I have failed in a variety of ways.”

The Wall Street Journal, which said the incident renewed a national discussion on how police and businesses treat African-Americans, described Ross’ apology as follows:

Ross said he regretted initially saying the officers who arrested the men did nothing wrong, though he defended their actions in other ways and denied that race had affected the police response.

“I should have said the officers acted within the scope of the law, and not that they didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “Messaging is important, and I failed miserably in this regard.”

The department has a new policy for how it will handle similar situations, he said.

A Starbucks manager had called police when the two men did not purchase anything. A video of the men being handcuffed by police went viral online. Starbucks apologized. The chain plans to close more than 8,000 U.S. company-owned stores for an afternoon May 29 to provide employees with antiracial-bias education.

While the above incident involved corporate policy, police and community leaders acknowledge the importance of positive police-community relations. At a national meeting hosted by the Police Executive Research Forum, community leaders offered several ways that police can build trust with the community.

From that meeting, the following recommendations for police-community relationship building were made:

  1. Acknowledge and discuss with your communities the challenges you are facing.
  2. Be transparent and accountable.
  3. Take steps to reduce bias and improve cultural competency.
  4. Maintain focus on the importance of collaboration, and be visible in the community.
  5. Promote internal diversity and ensure professional growth opportunities.

A review of the 1968 Kerner report revealed similar recommendations. It summarized its recommendations in another excerpt, which captures the exact language of the time, from the report’s introduction:

“The Commission recommends that city government and police authorities:

* Review police operations in the ghetto to ensure proper conduct by police officers, and eliminate abrasive practices.
* Provide more adequate police protection to ghetto residents to eliminate their high sense of insecurity, and the belief of many Negro citizens in the existence of a dual standard of law enforcement.
* Establish fair and effective mechanisms for the redress of grievances against the police, and other municipal employees.
* Develop and adopt policy guidelines to assist officers in making critical decisions in areas where police conduct can create tension.
* Develop and use innovative programs to ensure widespread community support for law enforcement.
* Recruit more Negroes into the regular police force, and review promotion policies to ensure fair promotion for Negro officers.
* Establish a “Community Service Officer” program to attract ghetto youths between the ages of 17 and 21 to police work. These junior officers would perform duties in ghetto neighborhoods, but would not have full police authority. The federal government should provide support equal to 90 percent of the costs of employing CSOs on the basis of one for every ten regular officers.”

The Kerner Commission dedicated an entire chapter in its 1968 report to “Police and Community.” In the report’s introduction, the commissioners wrote:

“The abrasive relationship between the police and the minority communities has been a major-and explosive-source of grievance, tension and disorder. The blame must be shared by the total society. The police are faced with demands for increased protection and service in the ghetto. Yet the aggressive patrol practices thought necessary to meet these demands themselves create tension and hostility. The resulting grievances have been further aggravated by the lack of effective mechanisms for handling complaints against the police. Special programs for bettering police-community relations have been instituted, but these alone are not enough. Police administrators, with the guidance of public officials, and the support of the entire community, must take vigorous action to improve law enforcement and to decrease the potential for disorder.”

The National Civic League newsletter will highlight explanations from the Kerner report in future editions.

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