A Needed Conversation

UnknownI follow police and the present crisis and this is what I hear from the community: “Stop the killing!” That cry is resounding across our great nation. It is a strong, agonizing cry from those who feel oppressed and dominated by an economic and justice system that they believe does not work for them.

I surely am not the only one who has heard this cry. Countless journalists and community activists from Ferguson to Baltimore over the last year have reported it. Anyone who follows the daily news knows the troubling situation in which we find ourselves.

But what I don’t hear is a response — an answer from those who can immediately answer the question — the police. Police leaders are in a position to do so and few, if any, are doing it.

Their professional organizations — the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the Major Cities Police Chiefs, or police unions like the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) essentially say nothing. Why is this? Why in the midst of this crisis in our nation do both police leaders and their professional groups remain silent?

Do they not know what to do? Are they frightened of those whom they serve? Do they fear backlash from their unions? Do city lawyers tell them not to speak because of future liability claims? It puzzles me because speaking out seems to be the right thing to do — a right response to a legitimate inquiry. Policing in a democracy cannot just work for the majority of us, it must work for everyone. And that’s not happening today.

I was a police leader for 25 years. This is what should happen: After an officer involved shooting, the city’s police chief holds a meeting in the community. The chief reports that the current system, policy, training, tactics, and leadership is being reviewed along with the department’s attitudes about the use of deadly force. The chief shares deep feelings about the importance of preserving life and what has happened is a tragedy — not what police want to have happen . The chief pledges to the community and reassures them that everything will be done to stop the killing.

The absence of this conversation with impacted communities and a pledge from police to improve the status quo is causing undo tension, grief, and anger in our nation’s cities. Let’s start talking and fix this failed system before it’s too late.