Check-the-Box Training Won't Work. Communities of Color Must Drive Policing; Law Enforcement Must Not Be Managed by Policies and Procedures That Are Compromises between Agencies and Unions

By Johnson, Ron | Newsweek, July 3, 2020 | Go to article overview

Check-the-Box Training Won't Work. Communities of Color Must Drive Policing; Law Enforcement Must Not Be Managed by Policies and Procedures That Are Compromises between Agencies and Unions


Johnson, Ron, Newsweek


Byline: Ron Johnson

I am a policeman who wore the uniform and badge for over thirty years, and for twenty-six of those years still worried about police encounters with my black son.

I joined the law enforcement profession because of the good I saw in it--and also because of the inequities I saw. I am honored to have served the citizens and visitors to the state of Missouri and to have served with the brave men and women across the country that adorn the uniform. I'm proud to have served as Commander of Protest Security in Ferguson during the demonstrations in reaction to the 2014 police-involved shooting of Michael Brown Jr.

Law enforcement must not be managed by policies and procedures that are compromises between agencies and unions. Communities themselves--their voices and expectations--must drive policing in America. Some will call this unrealistic, but this is the kind of successful policing environment that has always existed in wealthy communities throughout America. Environments of shared ownership must also exist in communities of color. Just putting an African American in charge of an agency without giving voice to those they serve will not change the culture of policing in America.

We've heard a lot about providing officers with de-escalation training; I agree that's very important. The larger issue in police culture, though, is why we see de-escalation tactics being used liberally in encounters that do not involve African Americans. If de-escalation training is to truly transform law enforcement, then officers must be put through comprehensive personal-awareness training. In some cases, outside training consultants must be used instead of in-house training by peers.

In more than three decades as a trooper, I never received racial training from a person of color with relatable experience but only cookie-cutter "diversity training." For training around race to have real impact it must be taught with a credible voice. Check-the-box training does not challenge the implicit biases that exist in all of us, or systemic racism, or the racism which manifests in some situations. Law enforcement agencies must create internal departmental alert systems that track an officer's physical enforcement interactions, citizen complaints and department internal policy violation investigations.

Many police officers are not residents of the communities they patrol. In some of these communities, officers are responding to heavy call loads which do not allow for non-duty-related interactions with those they serve. In communities where officers live and work, there is an opportunity to interact with citizens through events like schools, sports, church, dining. This allows law enforcement officers to see citizens through positive experiences.

A young man I once worked with, who later became a friend, and I were riding together. He pulled over a vehicle occupied by two African American teens and began harshly questioning them. Because of their attire and the expensive vehicle they were driving--it belonged to a parent--the trooper assumed they were gang members. He began questioning them in a way that I had never heard him do to any other violator. I asked about it, and he told me his actions were based on the indicators associated with their hoodies, matching pants, expensive tennis shoes and jewelry. …

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