Ficano: Let’s stop police/community distrust

Robert Ficano

It is with sadness and horror that I witness polarization and distrust growing each day between police and urban communities. It is particularly personal for me having been the sheriff for 20 years of the most urban county of the state of Michigan.

Each day we hear about police officers being gunned down in cold blood, for no apparent reason, as well as incidents involving the shooting of black victims in what appears to be unprovoked actions during routine stops.

I know that 99 percent of the police officers today have the courage, strength and integrity to carry out their duty to serve and protect the public. It is a duty where their families worry daily whether they will return home after each shift. I am reminded when I was sheriff of some of the tragedies involving the loss of policemen’s lives. Whether it was the Inkster police officers at the Bungalow Motel or the loss of Sgt. William Dickerson at the Wayne County jail, I remember the sadness, bewilderment and despair in the eyes of their widows as the flags adorning the officers’ caskets were folded and presented to them in honor of their loved ones.

I also know the unrest we witness in the streets is the direct result of distrust that has built up over time, and a feeling that the odds are stacked against a person of color stopped by the police. I can only imagine that the mother of Texas resident Sandra Bland must feel the same sadness, bewilderment and despair as she deals with her imprisoned daughter’s death.

So when will this stop? It will certainly decelerate when body cameras are mandated, more training is provided and stronger accountability becomes an integral part of our criminal justice system.

More importantly however, is communication and respect. The police officers should get to know their neighborhoods, leave their scout cars, attend civic events, meet with community leaders, spend time coaching Little League teams and become visible in ways that contribute to the growth of our communities. As for police departments, they can represent their neighborhoods too, without looking like standing armies. Push for body cameras, mandate diversity training and incorporate systems that flag potential problem officers before they become real problems.

But respect is a two-way street. Plain and simple, citizens must also respect the police in the same way all of us respect the uniforms of the armed forces and the people who wear them. We may not know the name of the police officer we meet, but we know the uniform, what it stands for, and the risks involved in wearing it every day to protect the public — to protect all of us.

If we take simple steps like supporting each other, respecting and talking respectfully to one another, we can stop this polarization and bridge the gap of distrust we experience today.

Robert Ficano is former Wayne County sheriff and county executive.