U.S. House of Representatives
Our communities rely on police departments to “protect and serve,” and the police, in turn, rely on community support and cooperation. Each group has a great responsibility in creating an environment that allows each of us to take advantage of the guiding principles our nation was founded upon: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” While many communities enjoy a strong and productive relationship between police and the community, in some communities, profound fractures exist, and the relationship is not always harmonious. Members of these communities often feel embattled, and victimized and the fractured relationships that develop ultimately endanger the lives of both officers and civilians alike. At this point, for both parties, “safety” becomes rooted in “trust.” Community policing, transparency and measures of accountability provide an opportunity to build trust and create a safe environment built on mutual respect, partnership and shared interests.
Proactive community policing and engagement
Law enforcement must properly engage the communities they serve. Their purpose is not to come into the community to manage it, but rather to work with it and engage its members on a daily basis. Synchronously, it is the responsibility of the community to assist in the community policing effort; not by becoming additional police, but instead by becoming proactive members in their communities and using their skills for the community’s benefit. This relationship is to be more of a partnership, rather than an adversarial one.
It is incumbent upon both police and members of the community to interact with a cooperative spirit, to listen and act with respect and fairness, and to understand the value of fostering trust day in and day out. Law enforcement organizations must demonstrate to the public they serve – both in word and deed – the fairness and impartiality of their processes. Sustaining these conditions is critical, so that trust does not break down when there is a crisis.
Law enforcement should continue to discuss new training and technologies that help foster a sense of accountability to the communities they are charged with protecting. Accountability is ensured through transparency in all aspects of policing. Information technology has affected the practice of policing in many ways, but for the public, it has created the potential for new awareness of how departments and their officers are doing their jobs. Technological and societal forces are pushing toward more, rather than less, transparency. As a result, strategies that seek to get in front of the trend, rather than attempt to resist it, would be more sustainable over the long term. Departments moving in the direction of transparency should seek to engage their communities through social media, the release of data on police policies and practices and even officer-worn video. The fatal shooting of Jordan Edwards, thus far, demonstrates the utility of body cams, which, while not a solution, can drastically affect individual cases. Using body cameras and other technologies can enhance oversight and accountability, establish legitimacy and build public trust. Under these conditions, law enforcement can police safely and more effectively.
As a mother and grandmother to three young Black men, I cannot overstate how much this issue is of personal importance to me. Addressing and improving policing in our communities, however, does not exclusively benefit myself or only those who look like me. It benefits all of us. It builds trust, it mitigates tragedy and it provides a stronger foundation for building relationships between law enforcement and our communities.
Corinthians 12:26 teaches us, “If one member suffers, we all suffer together.” As a nation, we can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to what appears only to be to the detriment of some and not all. We must acknowledge that there is work to be done and that through an open and honest dialogue, we can create and embrace policies that will justly serve all of our communities.
U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure.