Cutting police violence: 'a job that is doable'
We have found that of the many impediments to a harmonious relationships between police and minority communities, one of the most serious, and clearly the most inflammatory, is the use of deadly or excessive force by police.
We have learned from experience that the number of people injured by police and the violent disruptions that often follow can be reduced if forward-looking police executives and minority leaders are willing to meet each other halfway.
Healthy change can result from dialogue and negotiation between police and minority leadership.
Unfortunately, in many communities, negotiation is not successful because it occurs in an atmosphere of acrimony -- usually coming in the wake of a tragic incident when police policies and practices are under heavy attack. At such times, issues are often misrepresented and polarized. One side is depicted as condoning murder by police; the other side as condoning criminality. In actuality, they both share the common goal of crime reduction in minority neighborhoods.
While both agree that police officers should be authorized to use firearms to defend their own or another's life, basic differences arise concerning the nature of the controls to be exercised and the degree of accountability to be required of police in the exercise of their discretion.
Because we fell that the origin of most urban disorders is closely tied to the accountability issue, CRS (Community Relations Service) three years ago formulated a program of preventive measures to hopefully reduce the incidents of unnecessary use of deadly force by police.
Our three-phase program begain first with gathering and sharing information with police groups, minority organizations, state legislators, and local government officials -- information regarding the dimensions of the problem and how various progressive police and community organizations were successful in addressing the problem.
Secondly, we initated face-to-face discussions between police executives and minority leadership at the local, state, and national level.
Finally, utilizing the experience gained from the discussions, we set up a national follow-up program in cooperation with police officials and community organizations in various communities across the country.
Among the specific objectives of the program are:
* Improving communications between police and all segments of the community.
in improving controls over excessive use of force -- including the planning and provision of training, performance models, etc.
* Helping other segments of the criminal justice process, such as state's attorneys, to develop or improve mechanisms for receiving and acting upon complaints and providing adequate remedies; and,
* Assisting in the establishment or strengthening of local conflict resolution mechanisms -- such as police-community relations units or human relations commissions.
I believe that the number of people killed by police officers, acts that have the potential for spurring community conflict, can be reduced by 50 percent within five years without any impingement on the quality of law enforcement.
The technology has been established. The state of the art is known. Improved state legislation, revised firearms policies at the local level, determined police leadership, adequate police training, police-community cooperation, sturdy prosecution of police abuses, and education of the public as to the standards of police accountability are the elements in the state of the art.
The federal government, state legislators, local political and police executives all have a job to do -- but it is a job that is doable.