The events that followed CMPD’s Sept. 20 shooting of an armed man who repeatedly refused to drop his weapon have been among the most challenging I’ve faced during my 25-plus-year law enforcement career.
For the first time in my career, I was very much conflicted by what I was seeing. I understand distrusting police, a profession with a checkered, and honestly, racist past. We have come a long way. But I am fully aware that we still have a long way to go. I am a chief of police, and yet, I still get that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when an officer pulls behind me in traffic.
I understand the instinct to be skeptical of police and even flat out distrust those in the uniform. But I can’t understand those who created a totally false story line based solely on emotion and then continued to push that false story, knowing the damage it was causing to our community and to the reputation of our police department. Out of more than 600,000 encounters with the public in 2016, CMPD had 12 officer-involved shootings. Five of those were fatal and in each case the subject was armed.
A year ago, I signed a very public commitment, pledging that CMPD would double-down on its efforts to strengthen our community.
Some who took to the street in protest have become among our strongest collaborators. They are helping us recognize our shortcomings and helping us communicate quickly and effectively with segments of our community we’ve never been able to reach before. I appreciate their help making our police department and our community stronger. And I think they are seeing for themselves – and telling others – that we realize we aren’t perfect and we want to be better.
We listened. First, we listened in the streets as angry individuals in crowds of protesters shouted racial slurs and hateful accusations. Then, we listened at neighborhood forums, where individuals expressed distrust and frustration. We also heard a significant amount of support from the community for those in uniform. Finally, we went into middle and high schools and asked youth to share their thoughts.
We responded. We put body-worn cameras on the majority of our officers. We made the release of video as timely as the law allows. We opened our doors to give the community more ways to get to know us, to provide feedback, and to learn more about our responsibilities and expectations.
We took action. Thanks to many community partnerships, we contributed to economic mobility by employing 190 teenagers, including 40 charged with a felony. We supported hundreds of at-risk youth through at least a dozen other CMPD-initiated programs.
The time for talking about what needs to be done has passed. The work is nowhere near complete. Today, I invite you to join us. Attend a community safety forum, participate in one of our workshops. Volunteer for a program that empowers or educates those looking for a better future, or simply make a donation to a reputable nonprofit.
Obviously, it’s going to take some time to fix issues that have been around longer than any of us. While we do this work, we need the community to meet us half way. If you are approached by a police officer, it’s important that you cooperate and communicate – so that we can de-escalate the situation. These steps ensure the safety of both you and the officers you encounter.
As this city’s police chief, I am dedicated to making real progress. I will continue to work to better our police department and its relationship with the community, and I promise to do my very best to leave both better off tomorrow than they are today.
For this effort to be successful, every one of us must get involved.