Has trust in police eroded? What does race have to do with it? What can we do about it?
Two Collin County police leaders, a college professor, an activist and a minister tackled those questions Monday night in a small auditorium at First Baptist Church McKinney, nearly five months after the pool party incident in this city that fueled a national debate about race and police relations.
That fewer people trust police is true, to an extent. That’s what McKinney Chief Greg Conley told more than 40 people at a community forum.
“There is something there that we need to deal with,” Conley said. “It’s hard for me to look back and say, is it something that’s developed in our society over time, or is it just now something that is being exposed to a greater extent?”
Plano Assistant Chief Ed Drain agreed that confidence in police has faded in some places. But it’s the spreading of information through social media that’s making it appear as if things are worse now than they were a decade ago, he said.
Antwuan Malone — head of the young adult ministry at FBC McKinney — noted that people are getting an incomplete picture from the footage of controversial police behavior that they see online.
Race was a big part of the conversation Monday, but panelists debated the extent of its role in the conflict between police and communities across the country.
Drain pointed to the clashes in Baltimore and Ferguson. The Freddie Gray case in Baltimore involved black officers and happened in a city where there is black leadership, but there is tension there like there is in Ferguson, where figures of authority are mostly white, he said.
For Malone, the problems with police have to do with officers who exert “too much power” on those who are weak.
“Nobody roots for Goliath,” he said. “Whenever Goliath beats up David, it doesn’t matter what race you are, you don’t like to see that.”
But Alonzo Tutson, a community advocate in McKinney, said race is at the root of the problem because of the history of police. He told the audience that police departments were formed to corral runaway slaves.
“When the beginning of the foundation is cracked, then the whole house is no good,” Tutson said.
Later he clarified that he was not calling all officers racist.
Drain replied that police got started to protect people and their property, whether they had slaves or not.
The Plano assistant chief, who is black, described growing up poor in a small East Texas community in the 1960s. Someone blew up the school buses when desegregation became the law, Drain recalled.
“Do you think I would willingly hire a racist in my police department, or that I would stand by and allow someone who I knew was a racist to continue to do that?” Drain said. “These scenarios are not as simple as people believe sometimes. When things happen, you have to hear the citizen out, you have to give the officer due process, you have to collect the facts and you have to make a call on it.”
But the audience wanted to know — how do you know an officer is not racist?
Applicants undergo a thorough check, which includes psychological testing, Drain said, noting however that people can change overtime.
Sometimes people abuse their power or make mistakes, Conley said.
One comment the McKinney chief kept hearing after the pool party incident was a call for police to get more diversity training. Police already get a lot of training, and the focus instead should be on building relationships, Conley said.
He talked about starting a neighborhood police officer program in McKinney and cited its success in Plano and Garland, the city where he served as assistant chief.
“While I can’t change everything in the system, what I can do as chief is work in our community, work with our folks who live here,” Conley said. “So the folks who live here say, ‘You know, the McKinney Police Department, you can trust them. If there is something wrong, you can trust the leadership to take care of it.’ That’s what I can hope to get to as a chief.”
The panelists didn’t take questions from the audience directly, though attendees had the chance to submit comments online for the moderator of the forum.
That task fell on Markus Lloyd, director of external focus at Woodcreek Church in Richardson.
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SOURCE: The Dallas Morning News – Julieta Chiquillo