Building Trust Nationwide: Lessons Learned from PERF Conference

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

PERF Director Chuck Wexler with master's candidate and Kroc IPJ intern Jessica Dockstader.PERF Director Chuck Wexler with master's candidate and Kroc IPJ intern Jessica Dockstader.
begin quoteAt the end of the day, it’s whether or not people trust us to be straight shooters.

“At the end of the day, it’s whether or not people trust us to be straight shooters,” said the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Director, Christopher Wray, as he opened up the Police Executive Research Forum’s (PERF) Joint Conference last week in Nashville, TN with the FBI, NEIA and MCCA. Throughout the conference, officers from departments nationwide discussed the importance of building trust with community members with one police superintendent sharing that her department “spent the majority of [their] time building trust." A police superintendent discussed how one high-profile shooting was just a “springboard” because the public had already lacked trust in police for decades. One commissioner shared that after riots from an officer-involved shooting, the main challenge was to restore public trust, and that could only be done by conducting a “listening campaign” and “having those hard conversations.”

Later in the day during a panel on officer-involved shootings, Roy L. Austin, Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Urban Affairs during the Obama administration, spoke about the problems created by repeated, unjustified police stops. When community members are engaged too often by police, he said, “It impacts the way you feel about police moving forward. That impacts the way the community feels about the police force.”

Working with the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice’s Building Trust Partnership, we have heard firsthand how individuals in the neighborhoods of southeastern San Diego feel overpoliced and underserved. Local religious leaders have expressed frustration with the negative interactions community members have with the San Diego Police Department’s Gang Suppression Teams, interactions which can damage an entire community’s view of police in general.

Even if the police themselves always operated in a blameless fashion, their actions are influenced by the community’s own racism. As Austin stated, “I’m not saying cops are racist. I never did. But if race plays a part in every part of the system: education, poverty levels, etc., why would policing be any different?” Community members are quick to condemn the actions of police officers, but too often it is the community members’ own racial bias which has put these officers into this position in the first place. While the officers might not intend to have more contact with individuals from minority communities, if dispatchers receive calls based on the perceived danger created by black and brown bodies, officers will be sent to the site regardless of the validity of the threat.

Police and religious leaders who have been part of the Building Trust Partnership have said repeatedly that tragedy can happen anywhere. What is important is to have the networks in place so that if and when it does, lines of communication between the community and law enforcement are open as a means to securing a just outcome. The work of repairing the damage after a wrong has been committed and restoring trust between police and the community requires hard conversations, something that I am proud to be a part of as an intern working on the Kroc IPJ’s Building Trust Partnership.

The police chiefs from major cities across the U.S. shared their anxiety about how President Trump’s rhetoric was affecting the FBI and how actions of the administration were negatively influencing how people around the country perceive law enforcement officials. Wray responded, saying that Trump’s rhetoric should not be the main concern of the chiefs because the real way their officers create a lasting impression of law enforcement is through their own direct contact with their communities. “It’s nice to have arrests, it’s nice to have convictions, but it’s the way we go about it,” he said.

Jessica Dockstader is a Master of Arts candidate at the Joan B. Kroc School for Peace Studies where she studies mental health in law enforcement and its connection to violence. She is an intern with the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice on the Building Trust Partnership, and attended the Police Executive Research Forum, Major Cities Chiefs Association and Federal Bureau of Investigation NEIA Joint Conference from May 29th to June 1, 2018.

 

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Jessica Dockstader
jdockstader@sandiego.edu
(858) 353-3933

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies

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