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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Community policing can be a helpful tool for law enforcement

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When I was a kid growing up in the city, my grandmother would often say, “People are always complainin’ they can’t get no help when they need it, butwhat they don’t seem to understand is you can draw more flies with honey then you can with vinegar!” Back then I didn’t fully understand that old saying until I got older and had gone through a number of those “school of hard knocks” experiences myself.  As I matured and gained some wisdom, it made perfect sense.

When I think of the concept of community policing, I often think about the times I was a superintendent of different prisons in Indiana, and as in most communities, inmate communities often go through periods of violence, threating situations, ill feelings and bad relations. And you’re right to think “Well, yeah, that’s prison life.” To be sure, you would absolutely be correct to think that. But, in life, and in large urban cities especially, as we see so often these days harsh relations between minority communities (particularly Black communities) and the police are getting worse — and with good reason.

Just as we’ve seen with the George Floyd case in Minneapolis, and in so many other major urban areas throughout the country, senseless police mistreatment, brutality and murders of Black citizens have gone on for decades with no apparent justice for victims — until the George Floyd case. Thankfully, the giant hand of justice reached out, took a firm grip on that situation, and prevailed. Many minorities have been waiting for that moment to materialize, and now there is hope for the masses. As Marvin Gaye’s renowned song once again reverberates around the country asking, “What’s going on?” Are we now beginning to get a response? Are trampled on voices now being heard and taken seriously?

But I digress for a moment and should revert to the point of this commentary, which is law enforcement building bridges with large urban minority communities and having better relations.

As I had referred to myself earlier being a superintendent of a large prison population that sometimes got irritated with certain conditions, or perceived threatening situations that could impose dangers to their safety, often I would respond by walking daily throughout various areas of the prison talking with both prisoners and staff and listening to the stories and complaints.  So too can city police officers do the same in their respective precincts, and designated “beats,” as they used to be called. Doing these tasks might not always give birth to solutions, but it does create an image of the authorities are listening, and they seem to care about our concerns. In many instances, these actions have helped to improve bad relations in certain communities.  Also, they have to be done consistently, not randomly.

Now, let’s take a moment and remember that law enforcement personnel have a tough job trying to maintain law and order because there are a lot of senseless crimes being committed by the general public-at-large. It’s not just in minority communities. Crimes are being committed everywhere in America. Therefore, it is extremely important we recognize and acknowledge they put their lives on the line every day protecting our communities. I acknowledge this from my own experiences. 

Nonetheless, it stands to reason if police officers are properly trained, given the right equipment and safeguards, with a mission of being highly visible in certain communities needing improved relations and interacting with the residents, information would probably flow between parties much easier, and with a desired purpose. In addition to this, hopefully police departments in the future will not only place emphasis on better community relations training, but in better recruitment and screening practices. Just as in any other respected professional career, it takes the right individuals to make it work. It’s the ones with bad intentions that make us all look bad.

I’d like to end this commentary by commending Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Randal Taylor in his efforts to address the community policing concept with his department and Mayor Hogsett’s support. This is no easy task and is worthy of mentioning. I wish them well.

Ron Rice is a retired criminal justice professional, local author and motivational speaker. He can be contacted at rice.ronald@sbcglobal.net.     

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