Police seem to be increasingly using unnecessary force and violence against citizens, and with that comes ever-louder calls for retraining police to handle situations differently. We have many people who believe that the police aren’t really the problem, and some of those folks like to say, “The answer’s simple: Don’t break the law.” However, the answer is not always that simple (read: Tamir Rice, McKinney), and it’s time that someone does something.
Two groups are trying to do something. Utah’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) is working with a California-based non-profit organization called Why’d You Stop Me? (WYSM) on this exact thing. According to KSL TV Utah, this training focuses on how to build trust and respect between officers and the communities they serve.
Utah’s FOP sees a strong need to humanize members of the community to police officers, as well as humanize police officers to community members. To put it another way, they’re working to make both groups see each other as human. WYSM’s founder and executive director, Jason Lehman, is a police officer himself, and wants officers to be outgoing and willing to explain to concerned citizens why the police engage in certain actions, such as searching property.
Lehman doesn’t want this to occur only when police are already searching people’s property, or arresting people, either. That’s not a good time to explain it, although they certainly could, and should if their suspects are cooperating. He asked the officers involved in the training in Utah to think about what people watching from across the street are thinking when an officer, say, removes an uncooperative driver from a car with a force technique. Onlookers don’t know what happened, or why; they could easily think that the officer is just a jerk on a power trip.
Lehman makes a good point here; not knowing why the police do what they do certainly does nothing to foster the trust we’re supposed to have in those who allegedly protect and serve us. But this is only a part of the overall problem.
Another part of the problem is that some officers seem to have itchy trigger fingers, and pull their guns and fire before they even know whether they need to use lethal force. That’s what happened with Tamir Rice, the twelve-year old kid from Cleveland that was shot to death for playing with a toy gun.
Yet another part of the problem is police officers, like the one in McKinney, and the one who killed Eric Garner in New York City, who seem to be drunk enough with power to brutalize people for very minor infractions. One law enforcement expert said that the situation at the pool party in McKinney was escalated when Officer Casebolt made multiple errors in judgment, including some that seemed to have a racial bias.
We also have the problem of racism here, where officers are more likely to assume that someone has either committed a crime or is on their way to commit a crime if they’re a person of color than if they’re white. That also seems to influence when an officer pulls their gun, or whether they pull it at all.
These things need to be addressed. However, community trust is an issue, and something that badly needs to be rebuilt in many communities. KSL TV reports that Why’d You Stop Me? says that their methods have contributed to a 50 percent reduction in officer-related shootings between 2013 and 2014. Perhaps what Utah’s FOP and Why’d You Stop Me? are doing will get the ball rolling towards better policing all around.