I learned a lot listening to law enforcement and government officials in North Carolina chatting openly for two hours about recent problems with police violence across the country.
It’s a discussion that needs to happen often here in the wake of questionable shootings of citizens by police and the subsequent murders of law enforcement officers.
Most of all, I learned that it’s a complex and multifaceted problem that will take cooperation between law enforcement agencies, legislators and everyday citizens to try to prevent the tragedies that have occurred elsewhere from happening here.
At the urging of the General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus, the N.C. League of Municipalities brought police chiefs, sheriffs, State Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety officials, state legislators and others together for a frank discussion about one of the nation’s most prominent societal issues.
“This is an issue that affects those of us who wear suits every day, those of us who wear casual clothing every day, and those of us who are honored to wear the uniform of a law enforcement officer every single day,” said state Rep. Ed Hanes, a Winston-Salem Democrat. “This is an issue that affects us all. We are in this together.”
He is correct.
The issue isn’t just about proper training of or conduct by police, although that’s vitally important. It’s also about everyday people acting responsibly and knowing how to react when pulled over or otherwise confronted by police. (I hope to write about the latter in a future column.)
It’s about ensuring law enforcement agencies – in large cities and small towns – are properly staffed and funded. It’s about paying police officers decent salaries and benefits to attract more and better-qualified people to the profession. It’s about recruiting more African-American and Hispanic officers so police forces better reflect the communities they serve.
This is an issue that affects us all. We are in this together.
State Rep. Ed Hanes
It’s about training a new generation of cops, young people who are more used to texting than talking, to communicate effectively with the people they encounter. It’s about weeding out candidates or cops with personal issues – either violent tendencies or racial prejudices – that could lead them to act badly on the job.
It’s about the mental health crisis we have in this state and country and the fact that police are often the first to respond to related incidents, sometimes with little or no training on how to deal with them. It’s about ensuring a quality education for kids and jobs for their parents.
It’s about strong leaders who develop the right culture in their police forces and act swiftly when problems or red flags arise in their ranks. It’s about officers doing foot patrols and getting to know the people they serve. It’s about mutual respect between officers and citizens.
And it’s about gearing law enforcement training programs to the problems of today, with a greater emphasis on issues such as use of force, deescalation tactics for tense situations, implicit bias – racial or otherwise – and care and custody of suspects.
It’s commendable that our public officials are talking about this issue, and perhaps the discussions will lead to concrete actions.
“Obviously, it’s in everyone’s interest to prevent tragedies like those we’ve seen around the country,” Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny said at the forum. “It just seems like every day there’s something in the news again that we hope we can prevent from happening in the state of North Carolina.”
Patrick Gannon is the columnist for the Capitol Press Association. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.