The First of Nine Exchanges About Police Uses of Force and Community Relationships
The following nine posts cover a series of email exchanges and at least two face-to-face meetings between a current police sergeant and myself. As the interchanges reveal, the two of us had a hard time understanding the other. I don’t think I convinced him of my current position on police use of deadly force and our need to lead the rebuilding of that trust which had been eroded since the events in Ferguson, but I came to understand his position.
The discussions took place over about a year in time. I sensed his frustration as he did mine. The reason I am posting these exchanges is because they are important for the development of policing in a free society. Tensions often arise in the best of communities between police and citizens as they do in any intimate relationship. But by listening to one another and seeking to understand each other’s position, we can learn to live and learn together and try to understand, if not agree with, the other’s view. The following was my first contact from him and over the course of the year we got together for coffee two or three times as well.
I am reaching out to you on my own and not at the direction of my employer… During the five years I have been in policing I have been a patrol and training officer. I am now a first-line supervisor. I write to you today to ask for your assistance for I have found myself at a crossroads of sorts…
During challenging times, I often turn to a variety of sources to gain perspective. I do this to gain understanding and to help myself refocus feelings of grief, frustration, and helplessness. On multiple occasions, I have turned to your writings to include your books and blogs. Reading your words in the media this week has been difficult. I have to be honest with you. Earlier this week, I began packaging up my signed copy of [your book] Arrested Development as I intended to mail it back to you.
An admittedly childish response to the feelings I was having. Your words, you see, are causing me to ask questions. The questions are wide-ranging and as an educator, I highly value questions. I have questions about my city, my department, my future, and where we go from here. I also have questions about you and your motivation…
Your most recent words are causing me conflict. They are causing me to challenge the beliefs I once had, of the department, of the city, and of you.
Rather than fall prey to quick responses that may feel good in the short run, I chose to unpack your book and to commit to reading it again. But I also want to reconcile some of these questions I am having and to that end, I would like to meet with you if you have the time. I am interested in hearing your ideas on policing in America and specifically how they pertain to my city and department.
How do I respond when they point to your words, and conclude that we, the current members of police department and specifically the trainers, might just be the problem?
I hope we can find time to meet…
I thought this post might be of interest and what’s on the minds of Criminal Justice students (at least those whom I spoke to recently at UW-Platteville).
Hang in there until we meet.