Bridging the gap

Our nation has had an ongoing history of problems with the relationship between law enforcement and the public. We can no longer ignore it. There is nothing new about the stories we are hearing in the news today about innocent citizens being killed or seriously injured by law enforcement officers, with the majority of the people being targeted by law enforcement being African Americans. There also is nothing new about retaliation from the public towards law enforcement after an incident occurs in which law enforcement is accused of injuring or killing an innocent person. There needs to be a bridge between the public and law enforcement. There needs to be communication and understanding. The public needs a voice when it comes to law enforcement, and law enforcement needs a voice to the local community in which it works.

The only way to ensure fairness and justice between law enforcement and the public is by adding new legislation. My recommendation is for states to adopt Law Enforcement Boards. These law enforcement boards would operate much like school boards, which reside in their communities. What do we know about school board members?

According to the National School Boards Association website, “School board members are as diverse as the democracy they serve. School board members, especially those in large districts, are more representative of the communities they serve than state legislators and members of Congress. Boards include women (44 percent are female) at more than twice the rate of the U.S. House of Representatives (about 17 percent) and the U.S. Senate (About 20 percent). In large districts, 21.8 percent of school board members surveyed were African-American and six percent were Latino,”

A Law Enforcement Board could operate in much the same way, reflecting the views, opinions and needs of the actual people within the district in which it would operate.  States could then establish policies and regulations for districts to follow and enforce. Some of these policies could also include having members of the public on the panel responsible for interviewing and screening potential law enforcement applicants, annually reviewing law enforcement officers’ status, which could include whether officers had any civil rights complaints filed against them, whether the result of any psychological testing revealed an officer’s being unfit for duty, etc. Law Enforcement Boards can also require an officer to attend anger management classes, sensitivity training, etc., at the recommendation of a licensed psychologist. If a law enforcement officer fails to improve, the Board/Council can recommend the officer be removed from duty.

At the same time Law Enforcement officers need to be given the tools to help them do their jobs well without hesitation, without discrimination. I do not feel that certain classes at police stations or within a law enforcement setting will provide the necessary skills to help law enforcement officers learn to bridge the gap between themselves and the local community. They have to be out in the community in which they work or with people of that community. Therefore, the Law Enforcement Board should be the entity that oversees and recommends training and workshops that are operated by local nonprofit organizations to help law enforcement learn things like dealing with stress, working in high-poverty areas, etc.

The public also would have a duty to the community and law enforcement to attend the Law Enforcement Board meetings so that their voices can be heard.  I feel that if law enforcement boards are successful, other states may adopt a similar model. 

Allowing the public to be more involved in the hiring, training, evaluation and firing of law enforcement within their own communities would provide the public with a voice when it comes to law enforcement and it would also provide law enforcement with the necessary tools to understand and work with the community which it is given responsibility to protect. Bringing the public and law enforcement together in this way would be bridging the gap between law enforcement and the public.

Holly Madison
M.A., Humanities