Do You Trust Your Local Police?
Many law enforcement agencies work to build trust in their communities. Tactics included anti-bias training, and just getting together for coffee; trust can be shaken by high profile tragedies involving police
It’s a busy, cramped morning inside Mission Grounds Coffee shop at Washington Square Mall in Evansville.
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies outnumber members of public, who are mostly engaged in lively conversation over various barista-crafted drinks.
Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Rasure is speaking with Ashley Brendel’s children — Gabbie, 12 and Cadence 7 at the National Coffee with a Cop Day in early October.
The girls had just started jiu-jitsu training.
“How long have you been doing it? So you just have a white belt your belt,” Rasure asked.
These interactions and connections are a big part of the Coffee with a Cop movement, but the main thing is building trust between police and the communities they serve, something that can be shaken by high profile cases involving police.
Chief John Letteney, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), said trust is usually “good” at the community level.
“When you look at the national narrative, or the reaction by people, it's not what it should be. And trust has degraded over the years …”
In 2022, the IACP created the “Trust Building Campaign”to get as many police agencies in the US and around the world on the same level.
The campaign seeks to “enhance trust between the community and their police agency to promote safe, effective interactions, and ensure police agencies and communities have the collective capacity to prevent and reduce crime, and to improve the overall well being and quality of life for all.”
Agencies commit to a series of six focus areas: bias-free policing, use of force, leadership and culture, recruitment, hiring and retention, victim services and community relations.
“Within those six focus areas, there are about 25 action steps that we ask agencies to commit over a period of 24 to 36 months, to implement key policies and adopt promising practices and those areas that we believe are essential to enhancing trust and collaboration,” Letteney said.
Ten organizations, including one in Belgium, have completed the pledge. Fifteen have pledged recently. There are none in Indiana, nor the tri-state area.
Letteney said in recent polls, trust is consistently fairly high, but can dip with national events. This happened in early 2023 with the beating death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.
In ABC News and Washington Post polls, only about 39-percent of Americans had confidence in how police are trained, and 41-percent had confidence that police could treat black people fairly.
According to NPR, The five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were charged with one count each of excessive force and deliberate indifference, and two counts of witness tampering.
Evansville Police Chief Billy Bolin said communication is important to build trust.
“I tell our officers this all the time, 'we need to listen more,'" Bolin said. "Let people share their side of story, let them vent if they're upset about something. To the public, what I'd say if you don't like us, come out to events like this, share share your concerns, share what we did to upset you.”
Bolin is an early adopter of the Coffee with a Cop event format.
EPD Assistant Chief Philip Smith urges citizens to learn the details of these high profile events.
“… delve into it and get some information and show up at your city council meetings,” he said. “These are the bodies that hire and ultimately terminate police officers. Have a say in what goes on at your community police department.”
Vanderburgh County Sheriff Noah Robinson said trust can also be about hiring the right person with the right temperament — but that has been difficult lately.
“When you have a lot of, I guess, police negativity in terms of folks' perceptions of law enforcement, (it) drives down the applicant numbers. If you see a cop on TV doing something really stupid, then that damages the reputation of the law enforcement as a whole.”
Jason Callahan is an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Southern Indiana. He said he has to talk about high profile cases such as George Floyd or Breonna Taylor — cases that damage trust in police at a national level.
“I'd be doing a disservice to say, ‘well, these are isolated things.’ I think we should also dig a little deeper so that way, we can make sure that the next one doesn't happen or that If we can prevent any types of abuse of power or anything like that.”
Themes such as ‘bias-free policing’ come up during class and such aforementioned tragedies can be a springboard for discussion.
News headlines containing the words ‘officer involved shooting’ can be attention grabbing.
The EPD had several this year, and in all cases the person shot was allegedly threateningly wielding a weapon.
There was a shooting just this Saturday. A knife wielding individual was allegedly threatening airport employees and slashing furniture. The details of which were shared to the media by EPD Public Information officer Sgt. Anna Gray.
She said their number-one goal after an officer involved shooting is to be transparent — and consistent.
“If we're consistent, and consistency is key, we have built trust with our community. And we want to keep that. And the only way to do that is to consistently be transparent. And have that trust worthiness between the community and the police department.
Again, (the shooting) doesn't just affect the officer involved or officers involved and the individual involved, but it affects the family members, it affects our community. And so again, getting out in front of it, being transparent, answering questions when we can and explaining when we can't, is very important.”
Ashley Brendel, mother of three, said most people she’s around trust the police “pretty well,” she said. “But I know that you know, it's a hot topic.”
“I want my kids to know that police are the good guys, and that they're not just because they have authority doesn't mean there's something to be afraid of.”
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