One positive outcome of the heightened police scrutiny brought about by the events in Ferguson, Missouri, New York and other places is that we are now having a conversation about much-needed police reform.
Local agencies in Boone are even making efforts. Appalachian State University Police hosted a “Coffee with a Cop” event Feb. 5. Police Chief Gunther Doerr said he was pleased with the turnout and added that the department plans to hold similar events every month, with the next falling on March 4.
Certainly, part of the reason for the event is to build trust with the university community after the recent deaths. Still, Doerr said another objective is to dispel the idea that police officers are unapproachable.
The separation between police and the communities they serve became apparent last year with the events in Ferguson and elsewhere. The police action in Ferguson seemed more akin to a military occupation than community service.
Real, meaningful police reform should be a priority. The arena of policing and criminal justice is a place in which our societal promises of equality, freedom and justice are most tested. If we do not ensure that our police operate properly, we are defaulting on these important promises.
The danger with reform is the tendency for those in power to opt for empty public relations gestures and superficial solutions rather than addressing core problems.
Take the example of cameras on police officers. Many departments across the country have decided to start having their officers wear cameras, including the Boone Police Department, according to The Watauga Democrat.
Cameras can certainly be a part of a larger initiative, but they alone will not fix the real problems, as the death of Eric Garner illustrates all too well.
Frank Serpico, the former New York police officer known for exposing departmental corruption, wrote an essay in Politico last October detailing some elements of meaningful reform.
His recommendations included independent review boards to handle police misconduct, equal enforcement of laws against police officers and the requirement that officers be involved in their own communities.
Community involvement is a particularly crucial issue. Doerr himself spoke of what he called a “cruiser mentality” among police which separates them from communities.
In many areas, there is mutual distrust between police and their communities. This interferes greatly with the need for law enforcement to serve communities justly and equitably.
How exactly we go about reforming the police system is a difficult question. The answer will not involve just one change, but many. As with most things, we must resist simplistic explanations and solutions.
Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.
STORY: Kevin Griffin, Opinion Writer