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Restoring community trust in police

Crime will continue to plague our neighborhoods and cities until trust can be restored and maintained between law enforcement and the citizens they protect and serve. But how do we get there?

Several measures should be incorporated into police training that are designed to improve the interaction between the city/county police departments and the African-American communities.

To ensure candidates are suitable for employment in law enforcement, pre-employment psychological and cultural competency screening mechanisms should be in place. Such mechanisms are particularly important in municipalities with a majority of African-American, Latino or other minority populations.

Psychological testing and profile assessment should be mandatory for police officers. This should be done at least every two years to uproot racial bias and unproductive behaviors that don’t comport to police department written standards of behavior, interaction and professionalism.

Police officers’ mental health must be continuously evaluated. Their mental clarity, self-reflection of personal bias, and regular reminders of servant leadership is critical to public safety and community confidence in them.

Diverse community groups and individuals who have had constructive commentary of police/community relations should be included in ongoing police training among the academy recruits, in the field, and with officers and commanders/supervisors. Diversity of ideas is as important as racial diversity.

Law enforcers must understand the neighborhood demographics, socioeconomic trends and cultural competency on how to de-escalate potential tensions. Understanding is critical to minimizing and resolving potential problems.

Law enforcers must fully understand the constitutional rights and other legal restrictions – especially Amendments I, IV and XIV – that cannot be violated and that must at all times be assured to citizens. Officers who are repeat offenders of using unconstitutional means to suppress the legitimate rights of citizens, including but not limited to using excessive force, should be fired.

During the Ferguson protest, the main tensions arose as a result of the denial and recognition of legitimate constitutional freedoms. This country was founded because of agitation, demonstration and public outrage expressed through protest.

To ensure justice is served, civilian review boards, made up of community members selected by constituencies who historically have been critical about police abuse and bias, should be established.

A key to transparency in any investigative process is the ability of an independent body to examine information relevant to any circumstance. This is another way the police can be monitored by citizens. The community has rightful distrust of investigations and inquiries done in the dark.

Police departments should be required to equip their officers with body cameras, and all patrol cars should have dash cameras. When incidents arise, the video recordings then would be available as evidence for review by department personnel and a community-based civilian review board. Severe penalties should be applied for dismantling or turning off cameras.

Police abuse is in the news more frequently because technology allows people to document and record these incidents. The black community is no stranger to what is captured on video. These occurrences have been happening for decades.

Without video documentation, Officer Michael Slager likely would not have faced charges in the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina.

In Staten Island, N.Y., without video, we could have been told that Eric Gardner was engaging in a criminal act at the time of his shooting.

In Baltimore, Freddie Gray was accused of severing his own spine. Video documentation has proven to be essential in detailing the truth.

If a video had been available of the shooting of Michael Brown Jr., perhaps former Officer Darren Wilson would be on trial today.