FERGUSON: Foster better community-police relationships

Current attitudes are damaging to relations between police officers and city residents

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 Further avenues to improve community-police relations must be pursued.

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The Daily Progress published an article last December detailing the fractured relationship between Charlottesville residents and the city’s police department, among other issues facing local law enforcement. According to the report, police officers are leaving the department at increased rates, and its leadership is having difficulty hiring new officers to fill vacant positions. In exit interviews, former officers often cite hostility from Charlottesville residents and non-competitive pay as reasons for their departure, in addition to others factors such as the lack of affordable housing in the area. Such conditions pose a threat to public safety in Charlottesville, and city officials should work with residents and officers to address these challenges — with particular focus on fostering better relations between the the police and Charlottesville community members.

Several incidents across the United States over the past couple years concerning the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities have brought national attention to the issue of police brutality. In response, local residents across the country have increased scrutiny over their local police departments. Progressive movements like Black Lives Matter have condemned law enforcement for alleged discrimination against racial minorities, and these developments have spurred local activist organizations to address perceived discrimination.

In Charlottesville, these sentiments were apparent during the increased police presence in the city during the anniversary of the “Unite the Right rally,” which further disturbed a number of residents. Additionally, recent reports of racial profiling in stop-and-frisk procedures have increased scrutiny of Charlottesville police and caused certain community members to mistrust their local law enforcement. In response to such revelations, the city should examine its own practices to ensure equal treatment and inform the community of any progress made in addressing or disproving that accusation. 

In order to foster communication between local law enforcement and Charlottesville residents and review civilian complaints of police, City Council approved the creation of a Police Civilian Review Board. However, Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney criticized members of the initial board, calling them “vocal and biased” against police. She cited members’ activity on radio shows and at marches expressing anti-police sentiment, claiming that certain board members said officers’ days are numbered and that they’re coming after them. Such attitudes represent the lack of good faith with which such members approached their involvement with the Board and further contribute to the hostile environment in which officers operate in Charlottesville. Brackney further explained how the perception among potential recruits to the Department that the Charlottesville community will disdain them has increased difficulty in hiring. 

The difficulty in recruiting and retaining officers poses a threat to public safety in Charlottesville. Law enforcement is the bedrock of a free society. Without order, there is no freedom. Police officers elect to put themselves in danger on behalf of others and make an invaluable contribution to our communities.

Given this reality, further avenues to improve community-police relations must be pursued across the United States and in Charlottesville. One effective method would be to implement a community policing method, which encourages regular interaction between officers and residents. Such programs and methods build trust and foster understanding through service projects, youth education and other forms of outreach. Such initiatives are often coordinated with increases in foot and bike patrols and meetings with community members. Such a philosophy towards policing provides a framework around which residents and the police can break down biases and barriers — and work together to make Charlottesville safer and more just. Boston, Mass. experienced a significant reduction in crime after adopting such programs, particularly through engaging youth to deter them from turning to criminal misconduct.

In order to restore relations between the police and Charlottesville residents, both sides must come to a better understanding of each other. As public servants, police are accountable to the communities they serve and residents are right to expect fair treatment. Meanwhile Charlottesville community members, instead of threatening officers and contributing towards the already difficult environment in which they operate, should look for opportunities to make the city a better place through working with them — not against them. 

Thomas Ferguson is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at t.ferguson@cavalierdaily.com.

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