It’s an adage as old as time: Get ahead of your problems before they get ahead of you.
The nation has watched as police departments in places like Ferguson, Missourri and Baltimore, Maryland reaped the consequences of poor community relationships.
They are case studies for other police departments on how not to work with the communities they serve.
In Garner, the police department has tried to build relationships with disparate groups of people. It’s a process that was underway before the turmoil in Ferguson erupted. It’s a process that continues today in Garner and for it to be successful, the Garner police will have to be committed to long-term efforts at relationship-building.
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Communities put a lot of trust in their police departments to protect people and property. Along with that trust, police officers have an incredibly large amount of power. Those who find themselves subjected to that power can understandably not like it. But as long as police officers operate by the book and treat one person like any other person, they should enjoy the support of the community.
Despite that fact, the details of crimes and police interactions with people are often shrouded in a certain amount of secrecy. Most of us don’t know all the details that lead up to a confrontation between a police officer and a citizen. That lack of knowledge can spark distrust and more than enough jumping to conclusions.
But by building relationships with widely varied groups of people – from members of the Woman’s Club to at-risk teens, police get the opportunity to let those residents know the person behind the badge. Let’s face it, we tend to give our friends the benefit of the doubt if someone casts aspersions.
Through the PAAL program, Garner has gotten ahead of the curve in its effort to humanize itself. While no one ever wants to see a suspect die in a hail of gunfire or in the back of a paddywagon, we have to realize it could happen here one day – right here in little ol’ Garner.
As long as the Garner Police Department continues to develop deeper relationships with people in the community, the less likely we are to see riots like those in Ferguson or Baltimore.
None of this is to say that a Garner police officer who does wrong should go unpunished. We don’t believe that would happen. But it would help avoid a situation where the police department has to spend its time and resources reacting to the public reaction and, instead, could simply work to root out its own internal problems in a way that would prevent future problems.
So for getting ahead of the game, the Garner police department deserves a pat on the back.