Taking new steps to repair community relations
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Police departments around the country are coming up with innovative ways to repair and rebuild community relations. One police department in Mississippi, for instance, has started issuing vouchers instead of tickets for minor traffic infractions.
In Oxford, local residents won’t get a ticket if they are stopped for a busted tail light or headlight. Instead, they are handed a voucher to get it fixed. As a result, police in the town have teamed up with local businesses for free car light repairs. Called the "We Care Program," it is the police department’s initiative to build better relations with the community that it serves.
When officers stop a vehicle for either a broken tail light or headlight, they check to see if the driver’s license, registration, and insurance are all in good standing. If they are, then he/she writes up a $25 voucher for the driver instead of a traffic ticket.
The $12,500 program is supported by four local car repair shops who will accept the voucher and replace the bulb for free. Local police have already given out 30 vouchers since the start of the program and the response has been overwhelming. Residents love the idea and are very appreciative of what their finest are doing for them.
While other states may not be offering anything as unique as having repairs over citations, new initiatives to repair police and community relations are underway. The Paterson, New Jersey, Police Department is still reeling after the public outrage it faced after the death of a 27-year-old. An investigation into the case is looking at probable causes, which could range from alleged police brute force to bacterial meningitis suffered by the victim.
The mayor of Paterson acknowledged that the city is facing such outrage, but the public had lost trust in the Paterson’s police department long before that. Continuous allegations of excessive force and corruption have eroded that trust, and it will take a long time to repair it.
The city is working hand in hand with clergy to roll out new initiatives in this regard. These initiatives will include an audit of the department, both in terms of personnel and technology. The creation of a citizen advisory board will offer much-needed oversight. New police body cameras will also be bought.
The Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Police Department has formed a group that also involves seeking external guidance to work on police-community relations. This external input will come from church leaders, community leaders and even a representative from the U.S. Department of Justice that works with the city and police officials to address issues related to diversity, equity, transparency, and inclusion.
Last summer’s controversial stun gun incident in the city further strained the relations, and residents vehemently called for changes at a city council meeting. There have been significant developments since then and all in the right direction. The police have adopted a revised use-of-force policy along with the implementation of a new body-camera program.
San Diego is also looking at improving police-community relations. Charity begins at home, and in this case, the department is looking to prove that adage with a comprehensive officer recruitment and retention plan.
A committee will be set up to review use of force policies and establish more stringent civilian oversight of police misconduct investigations. Along with strategic changes, the police wo;; actively work on behavioral changes, such as being more courteous in their interactions with residents.
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