Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Trust in Police Has Slipped ; after Recent Scandals in New York and L.A., Minorities Say They Are Even Warier of Police

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Trust in Police Has Slipped ; after Recent Scandals in New York and L.A., Minorities Say They Are Even Warier of Police

Article excerpt

Carlos Ortiz doesn't know what to think of the cops anymore.

"Do I trust them? No, I don't trust them," says the South Bronx teenager as if the question itself was ridiculous. "I just try not to run from them, 'cause they're shooting now."

To many, the depth of Carlos's distrust is indicative of a crumbling of the criminal-justice system in many urban areas - seen in the police's loss of credibility. From the shooting and brutality trials in New York to revelations of widespread corruption in Los Angeles, law-enforcement officials have been thrust into the spotlight as lawbreakers, undermining their legitimacy and the trust of the people they're supposed to serve, particularly in minority communities.

"The justice system requires trust to function," says Randall Kennedy of Harvard University Law School in Cambridge, Mass., and author of "Race, Crime and the Law." "All sorts of bad things happen when the guardians of law and order lose their legitimacy."

Experts say many witnesses are now less willing to cooperate, and juries are more skeptical of police testimony, making it more difficult for prosecutors to win convictions. The steady erosion of trust also undercuts police effectiveness in fighting crime.

"Put aside all of the DNA labs and all of the great police theory. There's nothing more important to effective law enforcement than the cooperation of the community," says George Kendall, staff attorney of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Criminal Justice Project. "I'm sure there are people today who are sitting by the phone who could help the police solve a crime, but who won't pick up the telephone for fear that they're not going to be treated fairly. That's an unhappy state of affairs."

The erosion of trust is probably most pronounced in places like South Central Los Angeles, where an officer now alleges police routinely planted evidence, lied, and roughed up and framed innocent suspects. In South Bronx, distrust of police is at an all- time high, more than a year after an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, was killed. But it's also not new.

A survey done just prior to the shooting a year ago found that only 11 percent of Bronx residents thought police treated people fairly, and 16 percent said they felt confident in dealing with police. Only 8 percent believed police treat people with respect.

"They always feel like they're being treated like suspects, and when that happens, it creates tremendous cynicism," says Prof. Richard Fox of Union College in Schenectady, who conducted the study.

And while the distrust may be extreme in the South Bronx, it is reflected in minority communities nationwide. A study done by DecisionQuest, a trial consulting company, found that 44 percent of African-Americans were less likely to believe police as a result of the recent scandals. That's compared with 18 percent of whites.

The trend disturbs Craig Morris, a cheerful anger-management counselor in the Bronx. …

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