Dallas aftermath: How can police and community learn to trust each other?

What will it take for healing to begin?

What will it take for healing to begin?

Sorrow, pain, anger, fear. I don’t even know what to feel anymore.

Communities across America—not just Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas—are reeling from days of viral videos showing the unjustified shooting deaths of two African-American men by police officers, peaceful protests, then the shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas.

Some obvious points stand out for me.

It’s time to rewrite the book on police training. The Dallas Police Department instituted a new approach with an emphasis on reality-based training and a focus on de-escalation techniques. They’re taught to slow down, instead of rush in, when it comes to responding to emergencies.

In 2009, before the new training approaches were implemented, there were 149 complaints about excessive use of force by police. Since then, according to a story in The Dallas Morning News, the number of complaints has dropped precipitously. In 2015, there were only 13 such complaints by November of that year, “on pace to be the lowest number in at least two decades.”

Dallas Police Chief David Brown, the man many of us saw on TV after the Dallas shooting and who has called for unity, cooperation, and peace , said the new approach had led to “a 30 percent decline in assaults on officers this year, and a 40 percent drop in shootings by police,” according to the Dallas paper.

“This is the most dramatic development in policing anywhere in the country,” Brown said in an interview. “We’ve had this kind of impact basically through training, community policing, and holding officers accountable.”

Brown says his commanders have improved the quality of so-called reality-based training and increased required training hours for street cops over the past year. Trainers model the scenarios on real-life events recorded by officers’ body cams, dash-cams, and the media.

“We can learn from what Dallas is doing,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C. “That’s what police departments need — they don’t need training in silos: one day about the law, one day about firearms, one day about crisis intervention.” …

Department leaders acknowledge that other factors also probably contributed to the decline in complaints, such as community engagement efforts. Also, the complaint decline coincides with street officers being outfitted with body microphones and dash-cam videos.

Dallas was where they were doing it right. Dallas was supposed to be a model. Dallas was a place where police and community made efforts to work together, and it was paying off. You could see that in footage of the Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in Dallas, where residents and police intermingled.

And yet it was in Dallas where five officers died.

Police can’t be afraid to cross the blue line. I’m going to use Chicago as an example. In Chicago, IPRA, the Independent Police Review Authority, has a miserable record when it comes to disciplining cops. Even though the word “independent” is in the title, the authority is made up of mostly former police officers. It has such a poor record that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has vowed to replace it with a more responsive system, especially after a damning report this spring about Chicago police and the department’s racist past.

Good luck with that. IPRA replaced the internal Office of Professional Standards within the Chicago Police Department in 2007. It’s still not working.

Chicago has more than 13,000 police officers for its 2.8 million citizens. According to data from the Citizens Police Data Project, a database compiled by the University of Chicago and the journalism nonprofit Invisible Institute, allegations of police misconduct fall by the wayside. Few of those complaints go anywhere, and most of the complaints go against a small group of officers.

“Repeat officers — those with 10 or more complaints — make up about 10 percent of the force but receive 30 percent of all complaints,” a summary of the database shows. “They average 3.7 times as many complaints per officer as the rest of the force.” According to the database records:

28,567 allegations of misconduct were filed against Chicago Police Department officers between March 2011 and September 2015. Less than 2% of those complaints resulted in any discipline.

A few bad apples? Ten percent is more than a few, but it’s a concentrated group. Why aren’t fellow officers willing to call out and get rid of those bad apples?

You might have seen this video posted by Nakia Jones, a black police officer near Cleveland, in which she expresses anger and frustration with police shootings. She has served for 20 years, and she has had enough, both of bad police and of those committing violence in her own community.

“It bothers me when I hear people say, ‘Y’all police officers this, y’all police officers that. They put us in this negative category when I’m saying to myself, ‘I’m not that type of police officer.’ I know officers that are like me that would give their life for other people.”

We need more officers like Nakia Jones, who is serving the public but not afraid to call out fellow officers when needed. And she’s also not afraid to call out violent offenders who look like her.

It’s past time to talk about gun safety. The Dallas shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, was in the U.S. Army Reserves, had served in Afghanistan, and had no criminal record. By all accounts, he would qualify as what the National Rifle Association would call a “good guy with a gun.” Instead, he used an assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine to spray bullets into a crowded area, aiming at police and killing five police officers, wounding seven, and wounding two civilians. Even armed responding police officers couldn’t take the guy out; Johnson was killed by a bomb-carrying robot. Before he died, he told police he was angry about the police shootings and wanted to “kill white police officers.”

I have seen no information on the kind of bullets Johnson used (police might not have released that yet), but since the officers would have been wearing bullet-proof vests, it stands to reason that he was using armor-piercing bullets often referred to as “cop-killer” bullets. They are, unfortunately, legal, given a decision by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to drop its opposition to banning such ammunition.

Thirty years ago, the federal Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act banned the manufacture and sale of cop-killer bullets that could be fired from handguns. But it still allowed exemptions for ammunition “primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes,” in other words, in assault weapons, for hunting and target shooting. The number of exemptions and those applying for exemptions shot up. When the ATF tried to regulate the exemptions, as manufacturers made new cop-killer bullets that could be used in handguns, it received blowback from the NRA. The NRA screamed about the ATF in effect trying to ban the AR-15, even though there were some 160 other cartridges available for that weapon. Members of Congress started threatening to strip the ATF of its regulatory power. So the ATF gave up.

This is from a 2015 editorial in the Los Angeles Times:

The ATF caved and announced that it was mothballing the new framework. That’s a deplorable decision, but not just because it means “cop-killer” ammunition that should be banned under the 1986 law will remain available. The government has allowed itself to be bullied by the gun lobby, which with its defense of these armor-piercing bullets has in effect aligned itself with violent criminals and against public safety.

It’s time to tone down the rhetoric — on all sides. Blaming police, blaming President Obama, blaming black protestors or the black community in general isn’t getting us anywhere. (Except the NRA — it’s OK to blame the NRA.) It’s time to start talking and listening to each other.

Better police training. Better police discipline. Better gun safety. More civil discussion. At least it’s a start.

 

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