Breaking Barriers Between Law Enforcement & Community

How one group aims to break down the false dichotomy between 'community' & 'police'

By Crawford Coates  |   Mar 18, 2016

[Publisher’s Note: Breaking Barriers United is a new group doing necessary and important work, bridging the gap between law enforcement and community. If you can make their workshop (free) in Chino, Calif., on April 16, do it. I was honored to speak with one of its founders, Ryan Tillman, to learn more about what they do and why they do it–C.C.]

What are you and Breaking Barriers United trying to accomplish?

Our goal is for community members to understand that ALL police officers are not bad! Yes, there are bad apples, but there are bad apples in any profession. And bad cops are held accountable. In fact, the vast—vast!—majority who got into this law enforcement are people like me, people who want to help the community.

We will accomplish this by continuing to host workshops that allow community members to take part in law enforcement scenarios. Putting them in our shoes goes a long way in generating support. Secondly, we will invest in the youth by partnering with local neighborhood organizations and creating mentorship programs with our police officers and our challenged youth.

I want to duplicate the Breaking Barriers United Program in cities across the nation so they can see what happens when your PD has a great working relationship with its community like we have here in the City of Chino.

What are some of the impediments to better ties between community and police? How can we improve relations?

Some of the impediments will be both community members and police officers not stepping out of comfort zones. People have become accustomed to the “norm,” which means mean unfortunately expecting the worst out of the other side. I compare it to politics. For example, most Democrats will never hear what the Republican Party has to say because they’re Democrats, and vice versa. Rather than categorizing one another, we can focus on the issues at hand. And if we do, we’ll move forward together.

Promoting transparency between the PD and the city is one of the best ways to improve relations. And it’s been said before, but PDs should get to know their communities before they need to know them.

Tell me a little bit about your background and how you perceived police officers growing up? 

I was fortunate to have two very loving parents who have been married for over 30 years. Growing up, my perception of police officers was not completely shaped until I began high school. There were a few encounters when the police officers harassed my friends and I by cursing at us repeatedly and talking down to us. There were also multiple times my uncle, who had been the president of the school board for many years, was stopped and handcuffed because he “fit the description” of someone. Situations like those gave me a negative perception toward law enforcement.

Although my police encounters were fewer than five, they weren’t pleasant.

What led you to become a police officer? How did your friends and family react to that decision?

Like many young people, after I graduated from college I wasn’t sure what to do professionally. My father’s best friend, Dexter Thomas, was a captain for Ontario (Calif.) PD. He tried to recruit me to become a police officer, saying I could become a chief one day. Due to my prior encounters with police, I had no desire. I later met Deputy Chief Derek Williams of Ontario PD (a friend of Dexter’s), and he also tried to recruit me. I started to think about it. Finally, after two years, my wife got pregnant and I told her I would pray about doing the job. From that day on God opened the door for me in many ways to become a police officer.

I am currently a police officer at one of the best police departments in the nation—Chino PD—and have met my partner in this endeavor and good friend Sgt. Rodney Lombard. From the beginning I have said I did not choose this profession, God chose it for me.

When I took on the position my friends and family were thrown off because they never pictured me as an officer. Since I made the commitment, three of my best friends who had similar experiences as I did prior to law enforcement have become officers also.

What’s the most surprising thing about being a sworn officer? The best part? The worst part?:

The most surprising thing about becoming an officer was realizing that most police officers are good-hearted people who have a life behind the badge.

The best thing about becoming a police officer was the fact that I was able to effect real change on my daily encounters with people. We’re on the front line and in a place to truly help people out when they need it most.

The worst part about becoming an officer was realizing that there’s a tremendous disconnect between us and the communities we serve. As an African-American male I hope there will soon be more minorities in our ranks and in places of leadership.

For people reading this who might be interested in getting involved, what do they need to do? 

Please visit our website BreakingBarriersUnited.com to support the program. Secondly if you live in or near Southern California, please attend our workshops in Chino, Calif. Lastly, please contact me via email if you would like to discuss the opportunity of binging BBU to your city.

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Crawford Coates

Crawford Coates

Crawford Coates is the author of Mindful Responder: The First Responder's Field Guide to Improved Resilience, Fulfillment, Presence, & Fitness--On & Off the Job and the publisher at Calibre Press.
Crawford Coates

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