By Dianne Post
The AACCC (African American clergy) hosted a “Police and Community Listening Session” on August 6, 2019 at the First Institutional Baptist Church, Phoenix. About 70 people discussed a series of questions presented by the facilitators at seven different tables. The questions asked to tell of a positive and negative interaction with a police officer, what makes a good officer, practical suggestions on what can be changed, and what does the community need to do.
In my session, I and another participant disputed the focus on the responsibility of the community. The issue here is the behavior of the police who have a higher standard to meet than does the community and one of the highest violence rates in the country. If the community breaks the law, we are punished. If the police break the law, they are not. Chief Williams has repeatedly blamed the community for the police violence even after she was explicitly told not to do so by the National Police Foundation. I told the facilitator that he was manipulating us, or trying to, by the phrasing of the questions and the focus on the responsibility of the community rather than the police. After the event, he agreed.
Predictably the results were the same old, same old. Each table was to report their one best idea but of course they didn’t and rattled on. I heard the same suggestions we have heard for the last 40 years – real community policing, recruit close to home, training, cultural competence, accountability, transparency, citizens review board with teeth, and having officers carry their own malpractice insurance. Like doctors and lawyers, police should pay for their own malpractice insurance. If they had to pay the premiums rather than the city, they might be more careful. And once they misbehaved and their premiums went up, it would be a more direct punishment. After their second killing, I would assume insurance companies would not insure them and without insurance they could not be a cop. Thus, the problems of state law, personnel rules and PLEA are avoided. But even that, while good, is not a new idea. Another idea was to mandate that all officers are college graduates to encourage education and gain some maturity. But the legislature went the other way last session and passed a law lowering the age to 18.
I was roundly criticized by my tablemates for not being optimistic but having been in this fight for 40 years and seeing no progress yet, a repeat of the last three rounds of “community sessions” does not bode well.