Second to the loss of life and the grieving of far too many families, the great tragedy of last week’s race-related shootings in St. Paul, Baton Rouge and Dallas has been the public reaction. Too many have sought to try police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana via social media. While those incidents require robust investigation, innocent-until-proven guilty remains a bedrock American value. That same value also applies to the men who lost their lives in those two incidents. Similarly, too many people celebrated or laughed at the murder of five Dallas police officers. And others claimed the murders proved a broader war by black Americans against police. Such vitriolic reactions serve no interest other than free speech. They certainly will not help us to resolve an issue of major national concern.
So here are five bipartisan ideas for improving police-minority community relations.
The results of police department body cameras have been unambiguously positive. From California to Ohio, body cameras are reducing complaints against officers and thus raising the confidence of citizens. The importance of this trust-confidence dynamic cannot be overstated. After all, if both citizens and officers know their interactions will be recorded, the innocent party — or both innocent parties — will be vindicated.
As citizens gain confidence in their police officers, they will cooperate with more information sharing and broader positive engagement. In time, body cameras are also likely to increase in conviction rates. If a criminal knows he has been caught on camera, he’ll be less likely to plead not guilty! And even if he does, he will have far less chance of escaping justice.
- Put Citizens on Police Review Boards
Police departments are public services. But many Americans today believe they have little voice as to how their communities are policed. An important solution is found in the opportunity of citizen participation on police review boards. While police internal affairs units should lead misconduct investigations, we should allow trusted members of the public to assist in reviewing misconduct allegations. This approach allows a dual-track confidence process. First, police officers would have confidence that their colleagues — police who understand the complexities of policing — are still assessing them. Second, citizen reviewers would give the public greater confidence against perceived cover-ups.
- Police Commanders Should Be Flexible in Community Relations
Disciplined formal structures are an essential component of effective policing. The risks and responsibilities of policing do not allow for relaxed attitudes. Nevertheless, there are times when senior commanders should relax the rules in order to build trust with skeptical communities. Consider how a police officer proposed to his partner at a recent gay pride parade in London. The proposal video went viral in a major public relations victory for the London Police Department. But more importantly, it told gay men and women in London that the police are servants to all citizens. In short, it built trust.
For another example, consider how Black Lives Matter protesters took photos with Dallas police officers prior to last week’s atrocity. These moments remind us of the common humanity between citizens and police officers. But they also serve another purpose in offering a recorded juxtaposition to photos or videos that misrepresent police officers. Consider this Baton Rouge photograph. It purports to show a militarized arrest of a peaceful protester. But what it actually shows is the peaceful arrest of a citizen who refused to step out of a public road after repeated warnings.
- Greater Police Efforts to Highlight Successful Anti-Crime Operations
Police officers confront incredibly unpleasant people. Anti-gang efforts are a good example. Sucking the futures — and in some cases, lives — away from too many young men, criminal gangs are a blight on America. Yet gangs are often celebrated by musicians and other celebrities. Countering this absurdity, police departments should ask their minority officers in anti-gang units to act as role models in advertising why gangs are bad and what they are doing to communities. This should involve greater classroom interactions with police, “ride along” patrols for children (with parental consent, of course) and more robust rhetoric from police leaders side-by-side with community leaders in calling out those who ruin lives.
- Invest in Community Intelligence Collection and Witness Protection Efforts
Criminal organizations wage war on those who inform the police about their crimes. Today however, at the state and local level, many citizens do not receive the security confidence they deserve when they assist police investigations. That is a disgrace.
Helping to bring a criminal to justice is an act of bravery and great public service. But when criminals identify these good Samaritans, their lives are in grave danger. Many times, these people are low-income residents who cannot relocate easily. Too many innocents are thus threatened, attacked — or murdered — into silence. In turn, many other citizens are unwilling to assist police investigations in fear of a similar fate. This repugnant reality must be confronted. Specifically, penalties for witness intimidation should be strengthened and there should be greater resources to support more federal indictments against those who would threaten witnesses. Police also should work alongside opinion leaders to delegitimize the false idea that protecting a drug dealer or murderer is an act of moral virtue.
Resolving the challenges in police-minority community relations won’t happen overnight. But with respect for citizens and police alike, there are obvious opportunities to make things better sooner rather than later. Complaining about a problem is not the same as addressing a problem. In common cause, as citizens and police officers alike, we must focus less on the former and more on the latter.
Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.