Legacy of Christopher Dorner case: rekindled distrust, resentment of police
When ex-cop Christopher Dorner pursued his fatal vendetta against Los Angeles Police Department, his cause resonated with some in the black community. Why has the old rift between police and minorities been so hard to heal?
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A study of three neighborhoods in Washington – one poor and black, one middle-class black, and one affluent and majority white – found that residents of the middle-class black neighborhood held the highest perceptions of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. One older black woman even said she had a "beautiful relationship" with the force, according to the study outlined in Weitzer's 2006 book, "Race and Policing in America: Conflict and Reform."Skip to next paragraph
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Moreover, police officers themselves may behave differently in different parts of a city, reserving their toughest demeanor for high-crime neighborhoods. When middle-class black youths traveled to poorer black parts of Washington, D.C., for example, they reported having more negative encounters with police officers than they did in their own neighborhoods.
Police departments that have made strides in building successful community ties, say Hampton and others, include Urbana and Champaign, Ill., and Cincinnati. The Dallas Police Department under former Chief David Kunkle did an outstanding job addressing community concerns and problematic police officers, says Malik Aziz, national chairman of the National Black Police Association, which was created in part to improve relations between police departments and minority communities.
Strides in Atlanta
In Atlanta, the birthplace of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., the business community has for generations applied pressure on political leaders to ease racially charged social unrest.
Still, the city has on occasion grappled with incidents that resulted in what one member of the Atlanta Police Department calls a "total loss of trust" between the police department and the public.
In 2006, for example, a gung-ho vice unit raided a house occupied by elderly Kathryn Johnston, who, apparently thinking her home was being burgled, opened fire with a rusty revolver.
Police instantly shot her to death, raising howls from civil rights activists and causing the US attorney's office to investigate a "culture of misconduct" in the department, including making false statements to speed up the search warrant process. Four officers were sentenced to prison, chiefly for trying to cover up how they came to enter the wrong premises.
Atlanta Police Chief George Turner in 2011 disbanded the so-called Red Dog unit, created in the 1980s to battle high rates of violent crime and homicide. The unit was no longer needed, given that the city's 36 high-crime housing projects no longer exist, Turner said in a recent phone interview, at the same time suggesting that its tactics had become a public-relations liability.
"Don't get me wrong: When we need to be tough on crime, we do that," he says. "But there is a different way to do that as opposed to just putting people in jail. And we do it by giving communities a voice in how we do policing – a big part of the battle."
In place of the Red Dog unit is what criminologists call "cops on the dot" policing – a focus of attention and manpower on pinprick areas of high crime, and even on particular individuals in those areas who cause trouble and raise complaints from local residents.
The Atlanta police, moreover, opted not to follow New York in adopting a "stop and frisk" policy in high-crime areas – a controversial tactic that yields numerous low-level arrests but that the New York Police Department credits with bringing down the city's crime rate.