Policing the Police | Reflections & Quotes

[UPDATE, July 10. The Mayor of Newark, through the city’s Communications Director posted a statement in the comments below. I encourage all to read it as it is an important voice in the conversation in which all truth and all facts need to be brought to light.]

Policing the Police. Frontline [2016].

policing the police

— reflections—

This week was one of the most palpable for the Black Lives Matter movement and the challenge of law enforcement. It’s hard, no, impossible to put into words the various emotions that are coursing through our nations veins, adding to the already unstable mix of anger and adrenaline. My condolences to the family and friends of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Brent Thompson, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens, all who lost their lives this week. Adding to this tragedy is the heart-wrenching irony that the Dallas Police Department has been hailed as one of the models for how to reform law enforcement in ways that are truly making a difference (see Washington Post and Slate). Their adjusted policies, and increased accountability and transparency, is a model of leadership, with results. While still not perfect, the strides that have been taken are in stark contrast to what is seen in the Newark Police Department as depicted in this film.

Policing the Police is sometimes frustrating to watch, even if it is insightful. It appears at times that attempting to have a conversation is futile. Why? The quotes below help to illuminate the reason. I offer them for all of our considerations with my comments.

— quotes —

This is the key difference. Being surrounded by police is not feeling safe for someone like me. I don’t know what the agenda is, etc. The idea of complying may be your second thought. Your immediate thought is “I’m in jeopardy.” I think that fundamentally,…the difference is that if you’re surrounded by police officers, do you feel more safe or less safe?

At times it felt as if the Newark Police Department’s attitude is that you of course should feel safe merely because we are the police. This posture completely betrays the reality of relationship and trust that is far more authoritative than a badge and uniform.

I’ll admit that I have fear. Fear is sometimes your best friend. We have to run to those shots. Most people can’t understand/comprehend what that is about.

Yes, sometimes fear is a gift. But the hope is that law enforcement training helps to mitigate that fear in ways that help to preserve life, not scrutinize it for the worst possible outcome.

If I only came out just to be policing, that might be an issue. You have to be a part of the community. You have to be a stake-holder in the community.

This quote by Sgt. Rasheen Peppers is the most hopeful of the production. It is also one of the most frustrating. Why is this methodology not being more widely practiced? What are the roadblocks towards more “community-engaged” policing?

What is the biggest challenge in creating the kind of police force that [is “community-engaged”?] Changing the culture. That’s the biggest challenge. Getting officers to buy in to a new way of policing, that policing has evolved. That’s the hard part with anyone who is stuck doing something one way for 20 years. “Look, this is how it should be. We’ve done it wrong. Now we can get it right.”

Yup. Mindset, thinking, perspectives, bias…these are not mere dials that you turn. These are embedded neural pathways that must be rewired.

See also, The Problem with “Broken Windows” Policing, and Policing in America: 10 Questions With Jelani Cobb.

5 Comments

  1. Posted on behalf of Mayor Ras Baraka, by Frank Baraff, Communications Director, City of Newark:

    STATEMENT BY MAYOR RAS BARAKA ON THE FRONTLINE DOCUMENTARY “POLICING THE POLICE.”

    “The Frontline producers said that they wanted to show Newark police “in the early stages of charting new territory”… with “a host of new reforms” and to show that “change is already afoot in Newark.” They failed miserably in this mission. While the film captures the civil rights abuses, discriminatory policing, excessive use of force and severe lack of accountability that led to intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice, it fails to display the extensive ways in which Newark is working to transform public safety, a process that began the very day that I was sworn in two years ago — more than a year before the D.O.J. Consent Decree was announced

    My administration granted the Frontline crew extensive access to film a large number of events and interviews that illustrate what we are doing to change the culture of police officers and to repair a long relationship of mutual distrust between residents and the police. Many of those events and interviews were filmed but left on the producers’ cutting room floor.

    Some of the footage that Frontline chose to omit includes

    1. The police officers who walk with us in different neighborhoods each week for our Occupy the Block, a first in the nation initiative in which the police join me, clergy, neighborhood leaders, sanitation, housing and health inspectors to walk through a block, meet with residents, gather information to improve quality of life on the block while bringing city, police and community together.

    2. The Newark Street Team, an invaluable effort to increase safety at Newark schools.

    3. Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose announcing a detailed and comprehensive strategy to reduce crime and violence, including increasing citizen involvement with law enforcement as part of restoring trust, improving police/community communication and making the public a stronger source of intelligence about crime and violence. (The documentary egregiously mischaracterizes Director Ambrose as “the old guard” implying old fashioned and part of the problem when in fact the Director is a reformer who is creating sweeping changes in police culture, and his long experience in the P.D. gives him extensive knowledge of what changes are needed and who can best implement them.)

    4. A follow up interview with Director Ambrose on the changes taking place in policing Newark including targeting high crime areas with more police, reorganizing the communications center to reduce response times, appointing an independent civilian to lead internal affairs, and moving internal affairs out of a police building, holding community Comstat meetings to give residents access to how the police tracks crimes and holds police leadership accountable, surveying residents who have reported crimes to gain feedback on the behavior of individual police officers and much more.

    5. A Public Safety brainstorming retreat with myself, Director Ambrose, all of Newark’s departmental directors and the leaders of the Safer Newark Council to discuss and develop strategies to combat crime and violence and bring the police and residents closer together and footage with NFL greats Jim Brown and Ray Lewis, who led our first Public Safety Summit last September.

    By ignoring what Newark is doing to transform our police, PBS viewers across America are left with the misimpression that our strategy consists solely of the new civilian review board (the most powerful in America), a single veteran officer, Sgt. Rasheen Peppers, who has established trust with residents, and an inspirational talk by me to the newest police officers. Worse, viewers are left with vivid images of police officers behaving violently without countervailing images of the many residents and police officers who are working together to create a culture of cooperation and collaboration.

    1. Thank you for the statement and I’ll amend my original post to draw attention to the comment. I consider this statement by the Mayer to be an important voice in the conversation, in which all truth and all facts need to be brought to light. I’m sorry for the feelings of being misrepresented or misconstrued in the eyes of the public. The media has a hard job to do.

      However, to you and Mayor Baraka I ask, Does the absence of the “ways in which Newark is working to transform public safety,” in the documentary nullify the existence of negligence, overreach, and a resistant culture that is (was) extant in the Newark PD? While the documentary may not have provided the “whole truth,” did it falsify or misrepresent anything egregiously? Are the reforms that you are now undertaking happening as a result of a true culture change, or the mere pressure from the Department of Justice?

      It is important to laud any efforts by Newark PD (or any other Police Department) for making reforms. I wish never to disparage anyone or any institution who is working diligently towards those ends.

      1. You ask “Are the reforms that you are now undertaking happening as a result of a true culture change, or the mere pressure from the Department of Justice?” That betrays a misunderstanding of what is happening in Newark. From when he was a teenager, Ras Baraka was leading and mobiliuzing major demonstrations against police brutality in Newark. Fifty years ago, his father had his head beaten in while demonstrating against police brutality. Changing police culture was the highest priority from the day that Mayor Baraka was worn in two years ago. So the changes happening in Newark policing would have happened without the need for the DOJ consent decree. But we certainly welcome their intervention and help.

        The larger picture is not that Frontline mischaracterized the changes taking place in Newark policing. The issue is that people across America need to see that brutal policing can be changed and there are places where change is already taking place. In Newark, the changes are being made through total community mobilization involving community leaders, clergy, our colleges and universities, the public schools, the business community, and, of course, the police leadership and city hall. It is ironic that the recent police killings took place in Dallas, a city that, like Newark, has a mayor and police director who have made significant progress in transforming police culture. Frontline had the opportunity to show how it is possible for commu nities to unite to change their police and the Frontline producers blew that opportunity.

        The one-sided approach of the Frontline documentary is dangerous because it leaves the impression that most police in communities of color are brutal. When police officers are stereotyped as a group rather than as individuals, it leads to people, deranged or not, feeling that it is OK to kill them or at least throw stones, bottles and molotov cocktails. This group stereotyping is no different from consequences of the political leaders who stigmatize all of the Islamic faith as terrorists, all Latino immigrants as freeloaders coming here to take our jobs away, all Jews as evil because the state of Israel brutally denies Palestinians their rights, and all Blacks in poor communities as criminal. This kind of stereotyping leads to violence. It is a worldwide problem that continues to cause the killing of millions of people.

  2. Sorry for the length and delay of my reply. To Mr. Baraff, thank you for your contribution to this post, and more so to the discussion that we are now having nationally.

    A few contentions.

    a. I do not believe the Frontline documentary is “dangerous.” I also sense a slight defensiveness, even in this exchange, that was documented in the film. Frontline has always had high journalistic ethics, and Jelani Cobb has been involved in this work for decades. Nowhere, even in these comments, do you extend a sympathetic or empathetic ear to the plight of people that have suffered at the hands of the police. You seem to simply want to highlight the changes and efforts that are being done, which is implicitly admitting that change is necessary, but absence of an explicit humanitarian connection with the victims. It is THIS culture that I believe we are all attempting to change and remedy.

    b. I find your view of stereotyping police officers as a group to also be part of the problem. How can we even address “systemic problems” if we are not allowed to talk about what is generally practiced in law enforcement, for when we do, we are going to be criticized for “stereotyping.” Those are different things all together. I surmise that your admission of needed change betrays the reality that there ARE SYSTEMIC issues that need to be addressed.

    c. I completely disregard and disagree with your statement that “it leads people, deranged or not, feeling that it is OK to kill them or at least throw stones, bottles and molotov cocktails,” as that logic is philosophically and materially untenable. No doubt, people will be led to violence, and brutal actions. No doubt we will continue to have the deranged among us (I, too, unequivocally condemn the shooting in Dallas, and most recently in Baton Rouge). But not only do we have a constitutional right to keep our governmental and civic officials accountable to their service and to prophetically ask that there be soul-searching, humility, and thoughtful, but scapegoating the violence to the voice of the people is blame shifting, distracting us from true progress.

    With that, I do commend any progress, conversation, willingness to debate, and honest dialogue. I offer my contentions above in this spirit, with great hope for our future.

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