We Have an Opportunity; Let’s Use It

Concrete steps anyone can take to improve relations between cops & community

By Jim Glennon  |   Jul 26, 2016
Photo courtesy St. Louis Police Foundation.

Ah, to be right! There’s an intoxicating aspect to self-righteousness: Ecstasy, exhilaration, perhaps a euphoric elation due to an endorphin release that comes with the belief that you’re the one holding the high ground—it feels terrific.

We are now experiencing quite the chasm in this country, especially when it comes to law enforcement and their supporters vs. people who believe police are at the very least part of a very broken criminal justice system and those who outright hate cops.

The Black Lives Matter group and anyone marching with them as they chant, “Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon,” need to accept something: Your hateful rage and accompanying self-righteousness is based on false premises. The idea that the profession of policing is populated with violent racists just doesn’t bear out statistically or otherwise. Are there racists in the ranks? Sadly so, but only the tiniest fraction.

The myth of racist cops is based on anecdotal events, media myths, and gross over-simplifications. And the division it creates, frankly, sells. It makes money for the networks, and is a financial windfall for many activists.

It also causes the officers to close ranks—officers of all races and creeds, by the way. As many black officers have told me over the past year, “You think it’s tough being a white cop? Try being a black one right now!”

Police officers don’t care your color when you need us. We don’t ask who you are when you’re in danger. So we get angry when called racists and disheartened when the default assumption is that we are a collection of heartless thugs.

Frustrated, we constantly say to each other: “Let them try it!” But our critics, we know, would never dare.

But There is Another View

The African-American community, statistically, doesn’t trust police.

Speaking generally and historically, police have contributed to much of the distrust. We are not a monolith, but we are a profession with a track record. Bull Connor wasn’t a cop, but he did direct the use of dogs and firehoses against African-Americans who peacefully pursued civil rights. That’s just one historical example.

In addition, there are examples of police misusing their power and authority during interactions with African-Americans. These are incredibly rare occurrences, statistically speaking, but they happen and are traumatic for those involved.

According to virtually every survey, a majority of the black community, believe that they are targeted and mistreated by the police because of the color of their skin. This is the perception, and as they say: Perception is reality. (We examine this phenomenon in depth in our new PEACE Program, which I am very proud of.)

I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of black police officers who have told me that, out of uniform, they feel the eyes of the police on them. They have experienced a level of bias when confronted by officers. (And this happens when they interact with black police officers also.)

Denying these facts get us nowhere. It slams the door on conversation. Dismissing feelings marginalizes beliefs and fears. It eliminates any chance for reconciliation.

So the chasm widens, hate flourishes, and the danger, for everyone, grows.

Who has that Moral High Ground?

Friends of mine, friends of my kids, relatives and people I meet who find out what I do for a living, have no clue what the real numbers are when it comes to “black men dying at the hands of law enforcement.” And I have found, many of them don’t want to know.

I’ve cited the stats as have many others—including Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute; Barry Latzer, author of The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America; government statistics from the FBI and the BJS; and academic research, such as that of Harvard Professor Roland G. Fryer, author of the recent An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force—that definitively show African-Americans are not disproportionately killed by police when factoring in crime patterns.

And while people who want to believe the police are just pure evil dismiss the crime pattern argument, what they fail to realize is that the cop’s policing strategy is based on patterns of crime.

A black officer recently told me: “If you could sit everyone down who believes law enforcement is populated with racists looking for the opportunity to kill black men and show them the undeniable and incontrovertible facts, stats and numbers, proving that what they believe is completely untrue, it wouldn’t matter. I believe 95% of those who believe cops are evil want—need—to continue believing that.”

And I think he’s right. For in order to hold the moral high ground someone has to be wallowing in the dirt you now find yourself standing on. In that dirt? Cops.

For the Anti-Police Cohort

To those citizens who think we are the problem—or big part of it—how about a reset? Let’s start over. Which requires you to consider and reevaluate your current paradigm when it comes to the police …

To begin, please don’t immediately think of us as a collective, a singular entity. After a video viral event please don’t have your default belief be that we are all racists or thugs. And please wait until all the facts come out before you judge the actions, and especially the moral motivations, of the officer.

We are your police officers. Reach out. Avoid the hate. Come and talk to us.  Go to a Citizen’s Police Academy. Ride-along. Know who we are as people.

Literally, take us to lunch. Sit with us. Ask us real questions about what it is like to try and make the decisions we make. If we invite you to meet us, accept if you can.

Go through scenario training as a group. Let’s sit and discuss afterwards.

If it moves the needle just a bit, would it be worth it? I say, yes.

Now, For the Police

There are many arenas for improvement—more than this article can address. But here are some broad thoughts.

Outreach: I believe we have really been doing well with this since the 90s. But like everything else in law enforcement, we are too often reactive when we should have a sustained proactive philosophy. Admit where we have our failings; don’t deny. Go to lunch with those who may not like us. Open up and let them know who you are as a person.

Establish and/or market Citizen Police Academies. Invite the loudest critics.  Listen to their thoughts and concerns (really listen!). Put them through scenarios. Show them the difficulties we face on a daily basis. Be patient. Get to know them as people.

Important: Don’t overreact to their emotions, fears, concerns and even accusations. Just listen and reflect.

Crisis & stress training: Police are often dealing with lots of stress and/or with people in crisis or with mental trouble. We need to train less myopically, broadening our scope and investing the time and money in three particular areas.

1. Stress Training: Prepare officers for the reality of life-or-death type stress. Do this and there will be fewer shootings. Teach reality—shooting from cars, under stress, hand-to-hand combat, in dynamic scenarios, and so forth—and the officers will be able to handle reality.

2. Communications: Not the canned, “say this, don’t say this” variety.  Officers need to develop true and effective, two-way communication skills that begins with an understanding of human psychology. We especially need to understand what stress does to people.

3. Bias & Proactive Policing: Proactivity is a necessity. However, officers must understand and acknowledge the role of race when it comes to making stops for reasonable suspicion. Learning to consciously recognize suspicious behavior and being able to articulate it professionally is an absolute necessity. (Again, check out our PEACE Program for more on this critical topic.)

Conclusion

This is just an article from a guy who loves law enforcement and is proud of being in the profession for over 35 years. I love my country too. But no one can say this current relationship is going in the right direction.

I’m disappointed in our leaders. Too many thrive amid ginned up controversy.

So let some of us do it. Forget the politicians and the media. We all have some influence, police and civilian. Let’s close the chasms between us as individuals and come together as a nation.

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.
Jim Glennon

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