By Terrell Carter
Terrell Carter is the Executive Director of the North Newstead Association in St. Louis, MO. Prior to that, he served as a St. Louis City Police Officer for five years. He is the author of the forthcoming book Walking the Blue Line: A Police Officer Turned Community Activist Provides Solutions to the Racial Divide. You can learn more about the book at www.terrellcarter.net.
Much of the attention related to the current conversation about police-citizen interactions focuses on what law enforcement is not doing well. Realizing that the current tensions that exist are not solely the fault of law enforcement, I offer the following suggestions for consideration by those who are concerned with how we all can work better together.
People who want to help officers do their jobs better can attend a local police department’s Citizen on Patrol Academy or Citizens Police Academy. During these academies, citizens are given a glimpse into what it is like to be an officer, how a 911 call is dispatched, and what officers are looking for when they conduct their investigations.
Citizens can also learn what laws are relevant to their particular city, as well as gain a better understanding of the rights and responsibilities of both citizens and law enforcement. If possible, I would also recommend that citizens participate in a ride along. There is nothing like seeing and hearing a situation from an officer’s point of view inside a patrol car.
On a more practical level, citizens have the opportunity to teach each other how to properly interact with law enforcement. We should remind each other that officers do have a certain level of authority at all times. When a policeman gives a person an appropriate legal command, that command should be followed, not challenged. Hopefully the reader noticed that I said “appropriate legal command”. I do not advocate or defend officers who arrive on the scene and start out by busting heads and then asking questions.
Community members can also remind each other to always keep their hands where an officer can see them. If people hide their hands, whether on purpose or accident, an officer will likely think that they are reaching for something to cause them bodily harm.
Realizing that, for various reasons, there are not enough officers patrolling neighborhoods and the officers who are on patrol can’t fix every problem in a neighborhood, citizens can participate in a local Neighborhood Ownership Model (NOM) Plan. A NOM plan is a flexible, community-based approach for creating and implementing ideas that lead to significant and lasting crime reduction in neighborhoods. It is volunteer driven and incorporates cooperation from various city departments. In summary, a NOM plan consists of the following aspects:
A Neighborhood Planning Team that leads the efforts to create and implement the plan.
Citizen Patrol Units that are made of residents who volunteer to patrol streets in order to record and report crime.
Regular Community Meetings that are organized by neighbors in order to provide education, information, and facilitate interaction between government agencies and the community.
Neighborhood Victim Support Teams made up of trained neighbors that help victims of crimes to ensure they have the support they need to manage through the legal system and the emotional experience that follows.
More information about creating and implementing a NOM plan can be found at http://www.circuitattorney.org/NeighborhoodOwnershipModel.aspx.
Finally, as much as I appreciate those who report the news and willingly put themselves in harms’ way in order to make sure the rest of the world can get a glimpse into events that affect us all, in my estimation, sometimes media outlets are more interested in pushing an agenda or a controversial opinion as it relates to police and citizens than in providing accurate information about incidents that occur.
In the rush to be the first on the scene, or to get the first sound bite, or to capture the most dramatic image, media may move with less care than usual, and instead of giving correct information, they may engage in reporting that doesn’t give the full information that is needed.
As media outlets seek to participate in the process of healing racial and societal divides, they can practice reporting information that more clearly informs the general public instead of pushing sound bites that serve to separate and pit people against one another. In practicing clearer journalistic reporting, the opportunity becomes available to cause less harm among groups that already have enough reasons to not work together.
Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the view of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.