Modifying long-established policies, practices and protocols of any system is difficult and challenging and is usually met with a good bit of opposition; law enforcement is no exception.
The distrust of our “men in blue” comes about as a result of the senseless killings that have taken place at their hands recently, especially the killings of our brown and black brothers and sisters.
There have been so many instances lately where we feel that the police are not being held accountable for their “quick” actions; meanwhile people are losing their lives.
Some very important issues in the United States and in Orange County revolve around the use of body cameras, reviews of traffic stops/search/arrest data, racial profiling and civilian involvement in police decision making. Even though there may be excellent law enforcement training and progressive folks in this area, things do happen and people die as a result of it.
The violation of one’s civil rights is a hard thing to prove as is racial profiling, but the data supports that these things are happening at an alarming rate around the country.
People’s civil rights are being violated every day, and a lot of these cases do not end up in a court of law. Holding law enforcement accountable for their actions is very important when we begin to talk about civil rights. Just because law enforcement stops you does not mean that you lose your civil rights. There should be a mutual respect when a police officer stops a civilian unless that civilian gives the police officer probable cause to treat them differently.
Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood has said he “will not implement the use of body cameras nor mandate written consents unless required by law,” even though other law enforcement agencies are already. There is documented evidence that both of these actions have resulted in positive changes between the police and civilians. Implementing both of these actions would also go a long way in showing transparency by law enforcement.
Racial profiling by law enforcement continues to be a national and a local problem. Even though policies appear to be race neutral, we believe that in practice they may even encourage biased policing based on a person’ race. UNC Professor Frank Baumgartner’s study concerning this issue clearly shows bias policing by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. We do hope that the sheriff’s department will continue to review its policies and make changes to include body cameras and written consent searches for non-probable cause traffic stops.
The sheriff’s department should not continue to deny that these types of issues exist within the department because the data clearly shows otherwise. Receiving input from citizens within the county is good; having their active participation is even better and will create processes that will encourage more citizen interest and participation with the sheriff’s department.
Providing an annually scheduled forum for the citizens of this county would be an effective way to maintain a dialogue with the communities; a citizen advisory board that meets regularly with the sheriff’s department would be a useful tool as well.
Barbara Middleton-Foushee is a member of the Orange County Bias Free Policing Coalition and submitted this commentary on the group’s behalf.