Five Ways Trump Can Change The Conversation About Police
By Ron Hosko, LELDF President
America has endured nearly eight years of bitterly divisive politics and policies regarding law enforcement. President Obama’s contentious actions and rhetoric only served to drive a wedge between three quarter million law officers and the communities they serve.
It hasn’t been impossible to see instances where a police officer acted in a manner that brought doubt and suspicion on their department.
But the misguided narrative that linked the actions of a very few to an entire profession has generated a wave of mistrust against law officers and gave a voice to hateful, anti-cop groups like Black Lives Matter.
In fact, were it to be fully and fairly reported, we would know of exponentially more acts of police bravery, sacrifice and heroism than the comparatively few questionable shootings of citizens.
Too often in the media we see a singular theme when it comes to law enforcement – that the police are racist, over-militarized Neanderthals who sign on to abuse the rights of citizens.
But even the spin of the left only goes so far. Over a year ago, the Washington Post began collecting information on every fatal shooting by police. In doing so, they undercut their own assumptions when the 2015 tally showed just a small percentage of “questionable” incidents involving unarmed citizens who may not have presented a serious threat.
With that predicate, here are five recommendations for President-elect Trump to guide him along a far different path than his predecessor:
1. Put it in perspective: Hundreds of thousands of police officers engage in tens of millions of citizen contacts every year, the vast majority of which are entirely routine and uneventful. By comparison, police use of deadly force is extraordinary and fatalities at the hands of police are anything but an epidemic.
In fact, the risk of any citizen ending up in a fatal encounter with the police starts with a decimal point followed by several zeros. Comparatively, the risk of death from homicide, falls, traffic accidents, accidental poisonings, suicide, or medical mistakes are each exponentially higher.
According to Gallup reports, 76 percent of Americans say they have “a great deal” of respect for police in their area, up 12 points from last year. That’s a pretty good start.
2. Keep your thumb off the scale: President Obama’s background in law and national platform often led him to weigh in prematurely, and inappropriately, on law enforcement matters that were nascent or where fact-finding was ongoing.
During incidents involving Cambridge police, Treyvon Martin, Ferguson, the FBI’s pending investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails; his comments came before investigators had completed their work.
The premature comments amounted to personal opinion, yet they eroded at the trust and respect for those working to complete thorough, unbiased inquiries that might, or might not, lead to criminal charges. Know what we know; exercise caution in commenting on what we don’t.
3. Data matters: The lack of comprehensive data available on crime and punishment in this country creates an opportunity for those who seek benefit from a false narrative.
Solid intelligence based in fact, whether from investigators on the ground or from validated collection and analysis systems, can guide future decisions and investments and fill the voids now filled with speculation and opinion about police motives and actions. Strengthen data collection and analysis systems that would truly inform.
4. Use your words and actions wisely: Build up rather than break down and recognize that the imagery of where you go, what you do and who you’re with has great power.
We saw this as the president aligned himself with groups that were anti-police during the height of the debate. Building enduring coalitions locally or nationally includes recognition that black lives do matter, just like blue lives, and, yes, all lives; however, groups that presume their own viewpoints are only those worthy of consideration should be rejected.
5. Invest, invest, invest: In too many places, America’s police are expected to do far too much with far too little. From Philly to Cleveland to Oakland, patrol officers start their shift with 911 calls stacked in their queue, riding from crisis to crisis with little time to invest in developing community relationships that might later flower into pockets of trust.
Too large a proportion of their encounters will come emotionally disturbed persons who defy treatment and police direction – the product of an ineffectual, fragmented mental health system.
Others will come from youth and adults who failed to attend school or learned little as a result of poor education systems and families lacking discipline.
The new administration should invest in hiring, training, equipping, and leading police officers across the country.
Community policing, crisis intervention and de-escalation training, and tools like body cameras are only beneficial if the right training and leadership is behind them.
America’s policing and criminal justice systems are at a crossroads. The president-elect should take a serious look at mistakes of the past and work to build an infrastructure that would restore trust and confidence in our law enforcement and increase faith in a system that encounters, treats, diverts, deters, and punishes appropriately.