In the past two weeks, I volunteered at two events (Days of Dialogue) organized by Institute of Non-Violence. The events are mainly aimed at improving police relationship with communities. The audience for the first event was a union for low-skilled school workers, the second, a muslim community. It was a pleasant experience for me: from having a cop slide a hand-written note that read Jay Jay Okocha my way when I mentioned that I grew up in Nigeria, getting an opportunity to say Salam Alekum (a greeting I learned in 2008 during my National Youth Service in Katsina, a predominantly muslim State), to learning that each stripe in the sleeve of an LAPD cop uniform represents five years of service. More important, the events provide a rare opportunity to get unfiltered views from both sides of the aisle on issues relating to police shootings of often unarmed civilians.
Below, in no particular order and sometimes contradictory, I highlight views expressed by both members of law enforcement and the community at the two events
1. If law enforcement officers try to establish rapport with, and get to know members of the community before they are called for encounters that may necessitate deadly force, then officers are more likely to know, for example, which member of the public has mental illness and what step to take when they subsequently respond to an incident involving the person. Also if officers have a rapport with a member of the community, a traffic stop is more likely to be a “Hey, buddy, looks like your brake light is off” than a series of commands to a belligerent driver who has preconceptions that officers are just out there to get people like him.
While writing this post, I did some research and found that the Los Angeles Police Department has about 9000 sworn officers serving Los Angeles’ 4 million population. So even if all these officers worked patrol, which isn’t the case, each officer will have to personally know about 444 members of the community. So while more engagement with the community will be possible in smaller cities, a city as big as LA may not afford having officers engage personally with members of the community in a way that yields the benefit proposed by this view. Events like the Days of Dialogue, targeted at groups, is more feasible and I applaud it.
2. In order for gun control laws to be effective, they should be uniform throughout the country, otherwise, a state that has strict gun laws, like stricter backgrounds checks, for example, will still have people bringing into the state guns purchased from out-of-state.
3. There is no need for tougher gun control laws. People who do not obey the law do not obey existing gun laws anyway, so they will not obey any new laws. Stricter gun laws only hurt law-abiding citizens and limit their rights to acquire arms, a situation that renders them vulnerable and defenseless in the event they are attacked.
4. Australia’s 1996 tighter gun control laws has reduced homicide rate in the country significantly. While writing this post, I did a little research and found that there are conflicting views on the effect of the 1996 laws. That said, I found this excerpt from Wikipdia:
“Since the 1996 legislation the risk of dying by gunshots was reduced by 50% in the following years and stayed on that lower level since then.
The rate of gun related suicide was greatly reduced as well. In 2010, a study reported a 59% decrease in firearm homicides in Australia between 1995 and 2006 (0.37 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.15 per 100,000 people in 2006). They also reported that the non-firearm homicides fell by the same rate. The decreasing rate for homicide with a firearm was a continuation of a pre-existing decline prior to the 1996 reforms, and several analyses of these trends have been conducted and claimed that the reforms have had a statistically insignificant effect on homicide rates with a firearm .
Suicides by firearm were already declining; however they fell significantly after controls, dropping around 50% in two years. Overall suicide rates remained steady until a slight drop in 2003, followed by stable rates since then.”
5. There is currently no law mandating any training for new gun owners.
6. There is a real need for gun owners to be responsible for where they keep their guns. Keeping guns locked away is the safest way to store them; not in plain view, however high. Even a hidden but accessible place is unsafe as the gun may get into the wrong hands in the event of a burglary. Officers at the event gave an example of their colleague who is now paralyzed because he stored his gun under his chair while riding his young child in a car. I think the young child somehow got her hand on the gun and accidentally shot his dad. As I am writing this, in the news is the story of an 11-year old South Carolina girl who killed herself with a gun. So the need for safe gun storage cannot be over emphasized.
7. LAPD has the best model in the country for dealing with people with mental illness. The unit has about seventy sworn officers who respond to cases involving people with mental health issues. This 2015 article provides more insight into the program for anyone researching on the subject.
8. In 2015, LAPD officers had over 1.5 million contacts with members of the public, including arrests and responses to 9-1-1 calls. Only .13% of those contacts resulted in any type of use of force. This represents a Use of Force rate of 1.3 per 1,000 public contacts.
The 48 Officer-Involved Shootings in 2015 represent only .03 per 1,000 contacts with members of the public or .003%. See the full report here.
9. There is need for mutual respect between the police and the public. If an officer is friendly towards a driver during a traffic stop, the driver is less likely to be hostile towards the officer. Likewise, a police officer is less likely to be violent towards a citizen who obeys instructions given by an officer. Giving an officer attitude places one in a bad position. This is true. I had previously heard an officer say that she is more likely to give a ticket to someone who is uncooperative. A family member also told me of how once he was stopped by an officer for no apparent reason. After questioning him, the officer let him go but then he asked the officer why he stopped him in the first place. The officer then issued him a ticket that contained the violation. Yep, silence is golden and officers admit they are humans after all, so don’t give them attitude.
10. Despite the training they receive re mentally challenged people, the police may nevertheless use deadly force on such persons if they pose immediate danger to others.
11. The LAPD has contemplated not pursuing fleeing felons, and withdrawing and running away from people who pose immediate harm to officers. But the downside to adopting this de-escalation technique is that it will set a dangerous precedent and lead people to commit crime with impunity.
12. A black man was walking around in Beverly Hill and a police officer stopped him and asked him, “What are you doing here?” Beverly Hills is 82% white and 2% blacks.
13. Family dynamics in U.S. is changing. Children are not held accountable for their actions at home and so they have no respect for authority. It shows in the way they talk to officers. A participant recounted an incident she witnessed. A juvenile spat on a sheriff while they were all waiting for a hearing in a courtroom, the officer remained professional throughout the incident. Moments later, the juvenile alleged that the officer had manhandled him, which was untrue. The officer’s saving grace was that there were witnesses, including lawyers, to the incident.
Young adults who have no sense that certain actions lead to certain consequences are always shocked when they end up in the justice system for actions that hitherto went unpunished.
Recently my friend started substitute teaching. Within her first two days, an 11-year old in her class told her to say please or she would not obey her order. So there’s definitely some truth to the assertion that young people have no respect for authority.
14. You can make a report against an officer for the silliest of reasons and the department will launch an investigation, no matter how improbable the allegation may be. I didn’t quite hear this part well but I think an officer gave an example of a cop that was once investigated because a woman alleged the officer stole her ovaries!
15. There is a lot of misinformation and exaggeration by the media regarding police use of deadly force.
16. Minorities experience some sort of discrimination wherever they are. A participant who is Armenian believes that Glendale police stop them more than they do others. This, despite Armenians making up about 34% of Glendale population.
17. Doing a ride-along with a police officer may help citizens see things from police perspective. See this page if you want to do a ride-along with LAPD.
18. LAPD is diverse: about 50% of sworn officers are Hispanics.
19. Illegal immigrants in Los Angeles shouldn’t worry about LAPD officers engaging in deportation activities against them. LAPD is not cooperating with the Feds in that regard.
20. A by-stander videoing officers when they are making an arrest makes the officers’ job harder as the officers now have to worry about the safety of the bystander while trying to effect an arrest.
21. Officers love that their departments now use body-cameras because it makes them more accountable, and exonerate them when they are falsely accused. However, officers say body cameras now make them harsher on citizens as they now feel impelled to punish minor crimes they would have used their discretion to pardon in the past, lest their department discipline them for being soft on crime. They also hate that the department can nit-pick on their actions recorded in the video. I agree with them. However good an employee may be, it will be suffocating to have an employer watch every move one makes.
21. Police draw their guns only when they fear an imminent threat to life.
22. One hundred and thirty-five officers lost their lives in the U.S. in 2016. This is not widely reported in the news so the public are not well informed about the danger officers face. But the officers know this figure and so are apprehensive during encounters with dangerous members of the public. Many of them have had their friends killed on the job.
23. Younger African males are more racially profiled than older African Americans.
24. Older members of the police force engage members of the community more politely than younger law enforcement officers. Experience does come with age.
25. A participant recounted how his son and his friends, all high school students, were walking to a Taco Bell for lunch. They were stopped by the police. His son greeted the officers politely and respectfully. The police detained his friends and sent him home. This reinforces the earlier point that the police reciprocate courtesy.
26. There is more tension when officers who grew up in sheltered suburbs are assigned to patrol inner cities.
27. Even blacks are biased against members of their race whose dressing and conduct in public give the impression that they can cause harm. It is recommended that people dress the way that they want to be addressed; even people who aren’t racist have implicit bias and may judge us wrongly based solely on the impression they get from our appearance.
28. Muslims don’t support ISIS. Muslim participants said ISIS actually kill more muslims than people who practice other religion. There may be some truth to that assertion. In Nigeria where Boko Haram, another Islamic extremist group that has claimed thousands of lives, operate, they bomb mostly Northern Nigeria which is the muslim region in the country.
It is hard to capture all the lessons from the events in this one post. If you want to learn more and have an unbiased opinion about police brutality in U.S. or to participate in future events, please visit Days of Dialogue website and follow them on Twitter.