Police departments: A balancing act

Local law enforcement must balance safety and scrutiny in the midst of controversies.

Ronald Dixon

Perhaps the biggest story of 2014 involved the controversy surrounding police brutality, especially as it pertains to race relations. The shooting of unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., as well as the chokehold incident with a black, asthmatic man in Staten Island, show examples where there is clear tension between police departments and African-American communities.

But despite the controversy, I have noticed that police officers as a group have been viciously attacked — often by progressives — for exercising too much power, acting in a racist manner toward minority suspects and unjustifiably “shooting first” and “asking questions later.”

While I certainly do not condone outlier examples of police brutality and racism, these broad, overarching generalizations are quite troubling.

In an era of austerity measures and distrust of bureaucrats and public servants, these criticisms of police officers only add insult to injury.

Moreover, I am the step-son of a police officer who has risked his life on numerous occasions to protect the public. I know these recent attacks have had a negative impact on his ability to properly function in the best interests of the community.

With that, though, there are ways to bridge the gap between police departments and racial minorities without shaming police officers and reducing their professional effectiveness.

The Minneapolis Police Department, for example, seems to be taking steps in the right direction. While it is not on the forefront of national controversy, it has responded to relevant events by implementing reforms.

For example, late last year, the department began a body camera pilot program, which has found relative success. While officers are not currently required to activate these devices during key moments, the ones who have voluntarily utilized these cameras were comfortable with the use.

While the Minneapolis police have taken positive steps in the right direction, the neighboring city, St. Paul, has seen some controversy that, on the surface, appears akin to the aforementioned examples of negative race relations.

Most notably, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recently called for an independent investigation into the shooting death of Marcus Golden, an African-American man who allegedly drove his car toward officers before getting shot to death.

While shootings are always investigated, these probes are often done by the police department themselves, raising concerns about the partiality of the findings.

The latter example reminds us of an important reality: As police departments conform to new expectations, they must attempt to balance safety and scrutiny amid of national controversy.