SUN SENTINEL / MIAMI HERALD
Positive bond needed between police, community
By Mike Ryan
We are facing a crisis of race and trust on our streets, sometimes infected by distant acts. This is neither an epiphany nor a new discussion for many. Now, alleged misconduct is not being hidden behind credibility battles, on either side, when a video surfaces.
In Cleveland, where I attended law school, I had friends who faced housing discrimination and others who told of being pulled over by police for nothing more than being four African-American guys in an expensive car. They were bright young law students headed for greatness, and yet they were constantly crossing turbulent waters of racism. Vigilance against discrimination requires endurance.
U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings and Debbie Wasserman Schultz formed the Strengthening Police Community Relations Task Force in Broward County to discuss the conditions which disrupt the necessary positive bond between law enforcement and the community. Not focused solely upon the most recent reprehensible distant acts, the diverse task force focused upon what leads to negative police and community relations and how do we bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community.
The result of these honest conversations was the recognition that there is no single solution. Instead, the entire community, including law enforcement, social safety nets, government and neighborhoods, must do better from now into the foreseeable future.
The transcendent themes included improving hiring practices, screening and training; stronger communication strategies; methods to discard the "bad apples" and helping ZIP codes where employment and educational dreams have been vanquished by social, government or familial inaction or failures, with police often left to deal with the negative consequences. All rational parents have the identical dreams for their children: a safe neighborhood where children are not molested by crime, drugs or violence, where children receive the best education possible and where children are treated based upon their innate greatness, not the hue of their skin. We must also acknowledge there are guns on the streets, some people will attack or kill police officers, families of officers are scared they will not come home safely and too many officers have died or been injured in the line of duty.
Time and again, we see police encounters where we suspect better strategies, training or screening may have prevented a catastrophic outcome. It is said police academies are not doing the best they can to prepare new officers for the stress of the streets and must improve; police hiring, training and policies which must reflect respect of the community served. And we must invest in post-hire training to address those who react out of bad strategies, blind fear or race. We wish all parents would promote respect for law enforcement and the job of a police officer as a noble profession, but they don't.
A well-educated lawyer friend, who is African-American, recently told me how he educated his son to deal with law enforcement. It wasn't any different than you tell your children: obey officers even if they are being, you believe, too harsh or they don't understand you are a good kid. He believes the difference is he tells his son to obey not to avoid a ticket, but to make sure he comes home alive.
At the same time, my police officer friends, and their families, know officers' lives are on the line each day and night, not just in Dallas. We ignore these perceptions or realities at our own risk. Fortunately, we also know community police relations can be positively influenced by efforts of individual communities and departments working together.
Mike Ryan is the mayor of Sunrise and is co-chairman of the Communications Subcommittee of the Strengthening Police Community Relations Task Force