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Bridging the Gap Between the Community and Law Enforcement

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Baltimore Police Officers at Camden Yards

With today’s racial climate, many communities and families have fostered discussions on race relations and how to move forward. One prevalent topic is how one should handle themselves in the presence of law enforcement. What is it like from the police perspective? On Another View, Barbara Hamm Lee discusses this vital topic with Black and White Law Enforcement officers for “The Talk: A Police Perspective.”

To get personal insight and perspectives, Barbara Hamm Lee speaks with Chief Michael Goldsmith, Norfolk Police Department, Chief Kelvin Wright, Chesapeake Police Department, Chief Cedric Alexander, President, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and Lieutenant Daniel Edwards, Durham, NC Police Department.

On this broadcast, the law enforcement officers have a frank discussion about the root of tension between communities and law enforcement, how their departments are personally effected by the uproars with other police departments around the country, and their opinions on how to combat this problem and bring law enforcement and communities together after years of discourse and aggression.

Interview Highlights

Dr. Alexander, President of National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives, on how accurate the media is when reporting violence between law enforcement and Black communities.

“In terms of what we’re seeing in Ferguson and some of the other events that have not been really positive between the communities of color and the police, yes it is a serious issue. I’m not in any way going to try to minimize that. But I also have to put it into perspective. What we have in this country is a long history of disrupt between police and particularly communities of color. But we also have to think that over the last couple of years, we’ve seen tremendous relationship building across this country with police and communities and we have to acknowledge that as well. There are a lot of Police Departments out there that do a fantastic job, and are good at sitting down and discussing their issues when problems arise. But we also still have in this country a lot of agencies and communities that are not on the same page and when things go bad, they find themselves trying to communicate with a community that has a great deal of emotion, confusion, and unanswered questions. So it creates hostility. I think that’s a lot of what you see. Their relationships clearly have been strained for a long time which has created this discontent.”

Durham North Carolina Police Department Lieutenant Daniel Edwards on Durham Police and community relations.

“Currently, from my perspective, we are doing very well. We are on the edge of balance when it comes to Black/White issues. But within Law Enforcement [around the nation], we are so linked that if one officer does something in one part of the country, and the way we’re portrayed in the media - we all get linked. We all get that stamp. What we do here, we try very hard to be up front and connect with the people on a daily basis.”


Chesapeake Police Department Chief Wright on how his officers respond to incidents when they arise.

We live in a world that is very visually stimulated. In other words, something could happen anywhere across this country involving law enforcement. Let’s be honest, no one really shows the good things that we do in the media. But things that we do that are wrong or bad get mass distribution. So with our officers, we are into the relationship building mindset. We have to have relationships with people in the community and be faithful and cognizant of the people that we serve. We serve at their pleasure. We’re here to serve them. And I think that when you see something like in Ferguson or in another town where a police officer does something tragic or just not good. I think it affects officers’ morale, because they know that we will all probably be lumped together despite their best efforts to show that we are not all the same.


Norfolk Police Chief Goldsmith (Current City Manager) on the communities’ efforts to end the tension between law enforcement and their communities and the difference between the kind of conversation he has with his son as a white father and that African-American parents have with their children.

“The community has reached out. I can tell you that I have been asked to come to a number of forums to talk to folks and answer questions. And I will go wherever we can do something that will connect us so we can do what we need to do. The community is doing their part to try and reach out to get some understanding. As far as my son goes. I’ve had a talk with him about being respectful to authority… But I’ve not had the same talk that African-American parents have with their sons. That's a different talk.”


From your perspective, what’s the difference?

“Well the difference is, based on things that have gone on in the past and the history of this country, I never had to tell my son, ‘Make sure the police officer sees your hands all the time.’ I never had to tell my son that ‘before you make a move in a car, make sure you tell the police officer what you’re doing.’ That’s a different type of talk that’s being had in African-American households than are being had in Caucasian households.”

Chief Goldsmith on how to find African-Americans who want to be police officers in today’s racial climate

“That is one of the things that we’re working on tremendously. One of the things that came out of Ferguson was the idea that police departments, a lot of times, don't represent the demographics in the communities they’re trying to please. What we’ve done in Norfolk is put together a diversity recruiting team made up of African-American officers from the rank of Assistant Chief all the way down to officer. And we’ve given them the direction to go out into the places where we think we can find great candidates to come into our department. A lot of this mistrust comes from not knowing the community and the community not seeing people that look like them. So the idea is, we want to bring in that perspective to the police department, bring people who are representatives of that community… When you bring all of those perspectives in, you lose your blind spots on making decisions.”

Dr. Alexander on ways that both sides can help to make the police and community relationship better.

“Both sides have to open up to each other. The police department who works for the community and is in public service, has a responsibility to reach out to the community, and for the community to have effective and strong support. The community has to support the police. That is so important.”