How to improve community, police relations
It seems every week attention is drawn to another conflict between law enforcement and the communities local police are charged with serving and protecting.
Whether it’s Ferguson, Missouri, or Hammond, Indiana, one common thread in these clashes that result in community concerns is a lack of understanding between policing agencies and the community before the event happens.
In recent years we’ve managed to generally avoid such controversy here in Metro Detroit in large part due to the existence of ALPACT (Advocates and Leaders for Police And Community Trust), created in 1996 by former U.S. Attorney Saul Green and Rev. Dan Krichbaum, then head of what is now called the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.
ALPACT meets monthly, bringing together more than 100 law enforcement officials from federal (FBI), state (Michigan State Police), county (sheriff) and local (city police) agencies with organizations representing our diverse citizenry, including the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Anti-Defamation League, Equality Michigan, the Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and many, many others.
Officials from offices of the US Attorney and local police departments routinely attend meetings and participate in discussions, too.
In recent years, the movement has expanded and there are now four other ALPACT chapters in Michigan, created with the same dynamics in mind.
The goal of these meetings is to increase trust and understanding between policing agencies and community groups to decrease tension between law enforcement and local communities. These can be contentious discussions, but are approached with the goal of educating all sides and reducing chances that a small incident can be fanned into a more serious flame.
ALPACT over the years has helped law enforcement officials better understand the issues being faced by people of color, faith groups, like Muslims who were mistreated after Sept. 11, 2001, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and the reactions that can spur the kinds of behaviors that quickly spiral out of control and lead to additional confrontations between police and citizens.
That’s why the organization has recently received the International Association of Chiefs of Police Multi-Agency Civil Rights Award, recognizing outstanding law enforcement achievements in protecting civil and human rights.
Raising awareness is a first step. Communication goes a long way in that direction.
Training is an important second.
The Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, the police training governing body for Michigan has gone out of its way to develop culture competency and bring a deeper understanding of various groups into police academies.
Then comes putting the training to test in the field. It’s important that, for instance, police have an understanding of how an immigrant might react when pulled over during a traffic stop — and why certain comments might bring a reaction that perhaps was not intended.
ALPACT discussions have also affected how local police use tasers and other weapons. A model policy for taser use was developed through the initiative and cooperation of ALPACT attendees from the ACLU and local police agencies.
None of this is to say we have a perfect understanding and communication among police and citizens in our region.
But the effort has been serious, sustained, and supported by all sides. ALPACT has been an important player in building the bridges that bring us a little more together when adversity happens.
Commander Jimmy Solomon serves in the Dearborn Police Department.
Steve Spreitzer is president and CEO of Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.