Baton Rouge funeral: How to get the 'best of humanity' from cops

Following the funeral of officers killed in Baton Rouge, La., police departments and communities consider ways to keep training cops who will put the motto to "protect and serve" at the forefront. 

(AP Photo/Max Becherer)
Police officers from Harris County, Texas gather for the funeral services for East Baton Rouge Sheriff deputy Brad Garafola at the Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, July 23, 2016.

Police, family, and the community of Baton Rouge, La., gathered Friday for the funeral of Deputy Brad Garafola, killed by a gunman Sunday in an ambush that left two other officers dead and three wounded. 

The death of East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Deputy Garafola has received particular attention, as he intentionally left cover to help another wounded officer.

"Against the worst of humanity, Garafola showed the best of humanity," wrote editors for The Advocate of Louisiana. "He had taken cover behind a dumpster during a gunfight with the attacker when he saw a wounded Baton Rouge Police Department officer making his way around the corner of a building. Garafola left his protected position to help the officer, and was killed by the gunman."

His story raises a question: How can police departments recruit, train, and support more officers like Garafola? How are officers across the country to be trained to run into gunfire to save a fellow officer, defuse suicide-by-cop scenarios, and respond to all citizens with respect and professionalism?

The answer, say analysts, lies partly in departments that build a bridge between police and "civilians" and in officers who genuinely sympathize with the humanity of those they "protect and serve." 

In situations where a suspect is threatening violence, officers are trained to back away as much as possible and then engage in discussion, says Jim Bueermann, a former police chief and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Police Foundation. The purpose is to understand what is motivating the suspect, then use that information to calm the situation.

Mr. Bueermann describes an incident where he used this strategy to gain genuine understanding of the suspect's situation, then defuse it without violence. He and another officer had answered a call that a man had a baby hostage at knifepoint, and the suspect told the officers to shoot him.

They backed away as much as possible without leaving the child and began to talk. As dialogue continued, Bueermann began to understand the man's motivation – he had committed another crime and was using the baby as a human shield, thinking it would keep him out of jail. Once they understood his thinking, the officers persuaded him to drop the knife. 

"Talking to my own officers who experience those kind of incidents, the last thing they want to do is pull the trigger because they know that person is in distress," says Bueermann in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "I can’t even begin to describe how much on edge you are . . . and you have to make that decision." 

This kind of training helps officers navigate not only the "suicide-by-cop," but also it aids everyday police work where historic tensions could highlight racial differences. In Nashville, Tenn., police have worked with the Nashville library to develop a nationally lauded training program about the Civil Rights movement, the Associated Press reported.

Police recruits born long after the city's lunch counter sit-ins and protests for racial equality learn the history through film, photos, and stories from many who were involved. The program forms a core part of the department's training and aims to create real sympathy with the community and the police.

"This interaction is going to put in the minds of everybody in that room, 'When I approach someone or someone approaches me, I need to think about where they may be coming from,'" Nashville police Chief Steve Anderson told the AP. 

As they bridge the gap with the community, officers better understand their role of protecting the rights of citizens, and they treat them "as they would like to be treated," said Bernard Lafayette, who participated in the sit-ins and now teaches non-violent activism around the world. 

"You do more than simply stop the shootings, you create a sense of community," Mr. Lafayette told the AP. "Because in my opinion, there is no separation between police and community."

Such unity is being realized in certain cities where trust has been fostered. Kansas City's police Chief Darryl Forté – the first black man to take this role in the city – has committed to developing trust through training, increasing volunteer work by minorities, and even visiting every homicide scene personally, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The work is not over, but his one-on-one approach has helped, many say, to help this large and diverse city work through its problems in a peaceful manner. 

“There used to be a hole in the community – police on the one side, the community on the other,”  Rosilyn Temple, the director of none-profit anti-crime group KC Mothers in Charge, told the Wall Street Journal. “There was no one there before him to bridge the gap.”

In Baton Rouge, the police are partnering with churches and other leaders to create such connections. Their efforts at community policing will be uphill work in a city shaken not only by the officer deaths on Sunday but also by the police shooting of Alton Sterling on July 6. A coalition of police and community leaders plan to start, The Christian Science Monitor's Ben Rosen reported, by developing understanding.

“How do you remove the fear? How do you remove the mistrust? By building relationships?” the Rev. Lee Wesley, of the Community Bible Baptist Church in Baton Rouge told the Monitor on behalf of a community-police coalition. “People have to get to know each other if trust is going to be established.”

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