The United States are feeling the effects of the tension between police and the public.
It has been an ongoing struggle between the two sides for decades. Police officers have been using excessive force and or illegal moves, with little to no consequences. Most police officers that get sworn in every year take an oath to serve and protect, uphold the law with integrity and remain unbiased in their approach and interactions with the community. There has been a lack of integrity, morals, and ethics by many officers throughout America. The countless videos on social media and news stories that are published are a testament to what is happening all over America. This has a long-lasting effect on the public perception of the Police. How can you trust the police when their track record is anything but fair? People who have been abused by the police have no regard for them. Too many communities and families are shattered by loss and tragedy. A continuous issue is that these people with these inherent biases and or racist feelings fall through the cracks and use their power for bad. What is the reasoning for this continued behavior, “there is at least some evidence that various forms of racial prejudice as well as the dehumanization of African Americans can help to explain these encounters? Political scientists who examine issues of criminal justice would do well to consider both sources of bias, especially dehumanization” (Issac).
Las Vegas is a relatively diverse community.
The officers in the community are representative of the ethnicities within the community. It is clear there are a lack of leaders in the criminal justice field and the identity of many Police Departments are not within good standing. Leaders should want to foster a change within the community to build the trust back to an appropriate level. Community leaders should demand change from their community as well as police. This takes on a new argument that the socio-economical issue is at the forefront of the problems within the community. Criminal justice leaders like any other leader need to be able to convey a message that reaches the masses.
Education is the starting point for a stronger organization, “Transformational leadership theory (Burns 1978, Bass 1985) was based on the principles of shared leadership, shared vision and the continuing improvement of the individual. Continued learning improved the competence level of the teacher, instructor or college professor in the classroom, which in turn, may contribute to a more professional organization” (Bynum). Education can be the great equalizer, not only for the community but for the police department. The more educated the leaders are the more likely the message is to be passed down, perceived and executed. The values that are important to the police should also be important to the everyday man. A certain set of skills is needed to be successful as a criminal justice professional. Personal ethics, excellent communication, leadership skills, calm demeanor, and technical skills to go along the ever-changing technology in this world. Officers need to have a calm demeanor to de-escalate heightened situations. The negative images that show police in an unfavorable light make it hard for the public to trust them.
If these officers are to serve and protect, why aren’t some citizens being treated as such? Albeit most of the social media show the seconds after an incident has happened, it doesn’t make it less alarming! Officers should be there to defuse situations not worsen them, “What are you doing? Get off me!” yells a girl. An officer is struggling to secure her hands. Another teenager thrusts herself between the scuffling pair, sweeping her friend to the side to face the officer. He seizes the wrist of the new teen with one hand, and with the other, punches her in the face. Then he has her turned around, body up against the patrol car and one arm behind her back” (Prenzler 2009). Visualizing that situation, punching a female is the last thing the officer should have done. This is a prime example of an officer abusing his power. These situations are all too familiar, change the city, change the state; it is all the same. One of the most notorious police departments accused of police brutality is the Los Angeles Police Department. The most famous case that comes to mind is the beating of Rodney King in 1992. His violent beating was caught on tape and it still was not enough to get a conviction. The police vilified King making him a credible threat and every menacing blow they made to him was justified. The standard verbiage “I was scared for my life” keeps officers from jail to this day.
From 2010 to 2014, police in LA county shot 375 people, about one person every five days. Black residents makeup 9% of the population, but represented 24% of deaths (Levin). The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police department has a smaller area to police but that hasn’t kept them from having their misconduct cases. These cases range from excessive force, drug use, and other issues dealing with misconduct. In 2011 a study showed, “a comparison to shootings in the nation’s two biggest cities in 2010. Last year, Las Vegas police shot at people 25 times, killing eight. The New York City Police Department, with 13 times more officers covering a population six times larger, shot at people 34 times, killing eight. The Los Angeles Police Department, with more than three times as many officers covering more than double the population served by Las Vegas police, shot at people 32 times. LAPD fatality numbers were not available” (Mower, Maimon & Haynes). When officers act poorly the people suffer. Over 11 years from 1990 to 2011 the LVMPD had 114 fatal shootings. The officers involved in those cases were returned to work after serving administrative with no justice being served. Of the people shot during this time, 33% of them were black and unarmed.
The above statistics show why the LVMPD was heralded as the deadliest police department in 2010 and 2011. The image needed to change along with their policies. They were tasked with changing their image, their standards and the public’s perception of their officers. The LVMPD began to use BWCs (Body Worn Cameras) in 2011, because of a reform initiative in response to public criticism for the department’s use-of-force policies (Sousa 2016). The outcome of the study showed that there was a significant statistical reduction in officers being reported for use of force,
“The absolute difference between the BWC and non-BWC officers in the percentage of officers with at least one use of force report was a 12.5 percent reduction in favor of the BWC officers over the pre-intervention and intervention periods” (Braga). There has been a rise in video evidence as well as social activism. Turn on any social media account or go on a basic internet search, you will find hundreds of police misconduct videos and a catchy hashtag to follow. Nowadays, people are specifically listening to police scanners and going to scenes to catch the police in compromising situations. Essentially, policing the police. It was the implementation of body cams that is doing the job of keeping police accountable during their interactions with the public, “just because the body camera on a police officer captures his excessive use of force on a civilian, that does not make his prior actions any more constitutional. There is just better evidence of it now. The question is: does the conduct of the officer violate the Constitution? (Pavletic). Those same cameras that can convict police when they engage in misconduct with the public have also exonerated them. The use of cameras today has proven to be vital.
In 2017 LVMPD Officer Kenneth Lopera used an illegal chokehold on an unarmed mentally ill black man. Officers reported the man was acting erratic, appeared to attempt to steal a vehicle and stating that people were after him. He was tased 7 times, the standard for tazing someone is 3 times. It was clear that the officer did not do all that he could to assist then man. Officer Lopera was fired and arrested for using an illegal chokehold, “Lopera was charged with two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and oppression under the color of office in connection with the Brown’s death. A grand jury opted not to indict Lopera, and Wolfson’s office said it would take no further actions against the officer” (Solis). Why is this an acceptable form of justice? Justice seems to rarely be served in these situations. The community would view this as a loss, although the officer lost his job and was charged, it did not equal a conviction. The family is now left with unanswered questions and no justice. In this instance, the officer should have seen the signs that the male was not all there in his mind. Instead of helping this man, the officer escalated the situation and irreversible damage occurred. Police need to take into consideration the communities in which they serve to better understand how to act and approach citizens.
Resolving conflicts is a skill that not many possess. This situation could have benefitted from proper communication skills. These officers are highly trained and skilled, but when emotions get involved trouble always ensues. It is time to look at new training techniques to keep up with changing standards and expectations of the public. Eyewitness accounts sometimes contradict officer testimony and body cams. It does no good to a police departments reputation, it further drives a wedge between the public and the police. At the end of the day, the human element is always at the forefront of each issue, humans make mistakes but at what point is enough, enough? Each time a person of color is gunned down unarmed it feels racially motivated. While the Officers never admit that they indeed were scared, it is a recurring use of verbiage that has become alarming for every recorded death. The idea that all officers are acting ethically is up for question, “Counting and naming the women, men, and children who died, disproportionately of color, they signified the loss of individuals through their relation to shared systemic violence and oppression” (Prenzler 2009). Community policing requires fundamental changes to the philosophy and organization of police work.
Among these changes will be a substantial reduction in the political and social isolation of police departments and police officers as well as the granting of more autonomy and discretion to individual police officers (Nelligan & Taylor 1994). There is no way to know the thoughts that are going through an officer’s head when you may have to take a life and unfortunately, they must make split-second decisions without knowing the outcome. If the goal is not to protect all of the public then why take the job. The difference between success and failure lies in the strategy employed. Agencies and their officers must face ethical dilemmas proactively, with measures already in place. Ethical decisions are not always easy, and the right answer does not always make itself readily known. It is vital to a department’s success that those involved are not caught with their guard down (Cartwright).
When looking at the effectiveness of community policing the amount of crime must be considered. Crime will be forever, there will be no point in time in which criminals do not exist. This goes beyond the need for community outreach programs and more community BBQ’s, that’s not going to solve to deep-rooted issues. An effective measure of change is a combination of community interaction as well as conflict resolution techniques. It is fear that is driving both the police and the community on separate sides, when they have a common enemy, criminals. Many police departments have embraced the need for change and the relationship between the public has greatly improved. Back in 2017 Portland, Oregon searched their new police chief public on the national level. Changing the tone of the city while improving the working environment within the bureau and enhancing police accountability. In Salisbury, NC crime has dropped down 11.6% in 2017. These are just some of the police departments that have taken notice of issues that the public is having. There are still some areas that have issues, it took decades for these relationships to erode and this unfortunately is not going to be fixed overnight. The community and the police both hurt by the acts of crime and it somewhat desensitizes everyone, “focused deterrence policing efforts, consistent with the problem-oriented policing framework, rely on data-driven intelligence gathering to identify carefully and target repeat, high-risk offenders (for increased interagency law enforcement attention and individualized social service programming)” (Brunson 2015).
Police departments are aware of their issues, they have taken the necessary steps to start revitalizing their departments, change the culture and perception. The realization is that the police and the community need to work together to combat crime and stop them before they happen. Community policing means bringing about a new dialogue, the best way to cool down a neighborhood instead of rioting is to communicate with one another. Police in Menlo Park, Bel Air California have taken their community policing to the heart, “The department pivoted toward community policing. Cops got out of their cars and started walking the beat. Line officers sat in on town hall meetings. The department opened a new substation where residents are welcome to drop in and get to know the officers. There hasn’t been a gang-related shooting since 2013 and violent crime is down by half. “Residents walk their dogs at night, they go out,” Bertini said. “The fear that used to be palpable no longer exists” (Stone). This is proof that the community matters to the police and they are taking it back together, “The federal government has been backing this play. Since 1995, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has invested more than $12 billion to encourage community policing nationwide, with about half those funds going to smaller cities, towns, and counties. Police are buying in: The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports about 70 percent of local police departments to include community policing in their mission statement. That includes nine out of 10 departments serving populations of 25,000 or more” (Stone).
One of the programs that LVMPD has implemented by the Office of community engagement is RECAP (Rebuilding Every Community Around Peace). This group was recently in the community after a drive-by shooting, reaching out to assist community members. They assist victims of human trafficking and domestic violence victims. One of the most important aspects of the Office of Community engagement is, they’ve created programs to assist people in three different phases in their life, “ before they enter the life of crime; after they are in the life and decide they want out; or once they are incarcerated, they are given reentry tools to make better choices once they are released (LVMPD). LVMPD has been big on social media organizing events to engage with the community ranging from Coffee with a cop at local restaurants and community town hall meetings. These events help build positive relationships with the police department.
Police cannot effectively police an area in which they fear the occupants. If the police are required to change policies, then community leaders must demand the same of their communities. This should be the penultimate goal of every police department around America. The police and the community should operate as one. Goals have to be obtainable and realistic. Community policing needs to permeate through the community and it will take the collective responsibility of the officers, community leaders, and the public to resolve problems. Many departments encourage officers to spend an appreciable amount of time and effort with the community to develop and maintain personal relationships with citizens, businesses, schools, and community organizations. Community interaction should be put on the yearly evaluations to see how the officer is being perceived by the public.
The keys to being a successful officer are measured by the positive interaction within the community whether it’s caught on tape or not!