Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ideas Could Transform Police/Community Relations

In Pittsburgh, the police beating of CAPA student Jordan Miles, who hadn't done anything wrong, has seriously eroded the support of law-abiding citizens in the African American community and beyond. Two Kansas City lawmen contend that community relations should be the primary goal of law enforcement because they are essential to fighting crime. in their book "Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect: Transforming Law Enforcement and Police Training" Jack Colwell, a police veteran and trainer, and Chip Huth, who heads a SWAT team for the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department explain their ideas and practices. The interview airs on WDUQ this morning.

Chip Huth says the problems in Pittsburgh or Kansas City are not unique and arise from the challenge all people face in understanding the reality of others. He says it's common in such situations for police to "circle the wagons" and become very defensive, but he believes in taking the responsibility himself in order to have a hand in the solution. He says meetings that allow community members to express their points of view and to feel understood may open them up to understanding the police point of view.

Chip Huth says his SWAT team works in inner-city African American neighborhoods and hasn't had a citizen complaint when serving a search warrant for four years, even though they break down doors, throw flash bangs, break windows, and take "mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers" off to jail. Before that, it got more complaints than any other squad. He thinks the improvement is because he and his squad try to understand what it's like to be in the position of the people in the home--most likely terrified--and when the situation is secure, he sits down with the suspects and explains the terms of the search warrant, answers questions, advises of rights, etc.. Convicted felons heading off to jail have told him how much they respect the way his team treated their families.

Huth doesn't think race--white cops, black suspects--is the root of the problem with community relations. At the present time, all members of his SWAT team are white males, yet they are able to do a job that could arouse a great deal of resentment, no matter what they looked like, without citizen complaints. He thinks it has to do rather with seeing their "clients" as people, not objects.

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