Throughout my career, police have always struggled with maintaining positive race relations; good relationships are important to both the community, and to law enforcement.
While there seems to be unlimited areas of contention in race relations between the police and those they serve, two seem to stay on the forefront – those being the perception that police racially profile blacks in traffic stops, and that they use force disproportionately against them as well. It is also worth mentioning here that many people of color feel that the justice system as a whole treats them differently than white people.
The Police Executive Research Forum defines Racial Profiling and Racially Biased Policing as “The inappropriate consideration by law enforcement of race or ethnicity in deciding with whom and how to intervene in an enforcement capacity.”
Racial profiling has been, and continues to be, a highly visible and important issue facing modern policing. Recent surveys done by the Pew Research Center found that 59% of black men felt they had been unfairly stopped by the police, while 31% of black women felt that way. That averages out to 44%, which contrasts profoundly to 9% of whites who believe they have been unfairly stopped to police. A 2019 Center survey found that 84% of black adults surveyed felt that they were generally treated less fairly than whites in police interactions, compared to 63% of whites surveyed.
When looking at the use of force used by police, and confidence held in the police, a 2016 survey, found that only 33% of the black people surveys felt that the police did an “excellent” or “good” job in using the right amount of force, compared with 75% of white people surveyed. Only 31% of black people felt that society holds officers accountable for misconduct, while 70% of white people felt police are held accountable for their actions.
The survey also showed about the same numbers regarding their beliefs that their community treated the two groups equally (35% black vs. 75% white). Further, 87% of black people and 61% of white people surveyed believe that black people are treated less fairly in the criminal justice system.
I’ve heard it said all of my life, “perception is reality, ” so, regardless of the validity of the feeling that racial profiling goes on, the mere belief that it exists hurts police community relations, producing a negative impact.
I have always taught and believed that,without public trust in the police, we have nothing. Doing our best to gain and keep trust is paramount in policing. This takes significant effort on our part, and, regardless of how much effort we put into it, we will never be completely free of the feelings that we single people out because of race.
Mistakes can become a high-profile incident in a split second, as live streaming of an incident to thousands is now possible from just about every person who has a social media account and a cell phone. Therefore, more than ever, we must be ahead of the curve by working for a positive reputation in our communities, one that is based on ethics and accountability. A good relationship, one built on trust and credibility, can go a long way in an agency receiving the benefit of the doubt in bad situations.
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