Transforming American Policing: A Defining Moment
It would be naïve, irresponsible, and disingenuous to portray policing in America as infallable especially due to recent police-community division in places including Staten Island, in Baltimore, Ferguson, Cleveland, and North Charleston.
But while these issues demand transparency, dialogue, and resolve, we must take time to appreciate dedicated police officers. Our police are community members, and in collaboration with law-abiding citizens, critical to security and safety.
Amtrak Derailment Disaster
The heroic response of police along with first responders to the Amtrak disaster is an inspiring testimony of courage, compassion, and character.
As people screamed for help from the chaotic train derailment that claimed eight lives and injured over 200 in Philadelphia on May 12, the bravery of police and first responders was inspirational.
They cut through fences in the dark of night, entered decimated train cars to assist hundreds of passengers with first-aid, evacuations, and administering tourniquets.
It’s My Job
One heroic response included Lyndhurst, New Jersey off-duty Officer Michael Keane who was a passenger. Ironically, Keane was heading home from the 300-mile bicycle Police Unity Tour during National Police Week in Washington, DC honoring fallen officers.
Steven Pissamano, the father of another Lyndhurst cop, also on the train returning from the same event stated “I want to tell [Keane] thank you. He saved our lives and he saved many other people’s lives, disregarding his own, because he went back into that train and started helping people.”
Humbly evading praise, Officer Keane simply stated, “It’s my job, that’s what I was put on this planet to do.”
Although the derailment will be a flashpoint on America’s need for enhancing infrastructure, one issue is irrefutable, appreciating those who protect and serve, individuals who risk their lives for us.
Camden Progress: Community Policing Model
Although just a few years ago, Camden was considered dangerous beyond redemption according to the President. Yet, the city is now a model of transformation due to the courage, compassion, and caring of their police.
Community policing initiatives in Camden have included doubling the size of its police force and cutting desk jobs so officers can be more involved with the community, especially with students. Police officers set up basketball games, volunteer in schools, and assist with reading programs.
Although, the city is a work in progress and issues beyond policing such as poverty, unemployment, broken families, race, drug abuse, health, and education need attention, community policing has had positive results including the following:
•Violent crime is down 24%
•Murders are down 47%
•Open-air drug markets are down 65%
•911 response calls have been reduced from 1 hour to 5 minutes
Changes are rapidly taking place and community policing is the heart of this transformation.
Along with numerous policing changes, the White House by executive order, will also ban local police departments from acquiring some types of military-style equipment from federal agencies. These include tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft, grenade launchers, certain high-caliber weapons, bayonets, and ammunition of .50 caliber, or higher.
The concern, as witnessed in Ferguson, is the potentially negative impact on police-community relations, if such equipment is used without proper training, arbitrarily, or inappropriately.
In my opinion, the equipment issue needs discerning dialogue as these are violent times. Law enforcement needs not only community policing, but every tool and unit necessary to protect themselves and society.
Also, the “Final Report Of The President’s Task Force On 21st Century Policing” was released on May 18. It highlights pillars of building trust, fostering collaboration, technology-based community engagement, community policing, leadership training, as well as officer wellness and safety.
The report is a must read for all concerned with police-community relations as it is filled with recommendations to make America safer.
Undeniably, these are challenging times for American policing igniting a defining moment for transformative community policing initiatives as the heart of reawakening the nation.
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1. Community Policing Officer Jackelyn Burgos with Cleveland Public School children at conclusion of G.R.E.A.T. program (Photo Credit Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Police Department)
2. Camden County, New Jersey Police Officer with youth. (Courtesy COPS / USDOJ)
3. Cover Photo “Final Report Of The President’s Task Force On 21st Century Policing”