Ways to Improve Police-Community Relations, When Tensions are Rising Nationwide.

By Cody DallaValle

Unsolicited Op-Ed

Why is it that police and the communities that they are assigned to protect sometimes have sour relationships? Obviously this question doesn’t have just one universal answer; the answer depends upon myriad variables such as quality and intelligence of officers, the mood of citizens, current events, distrust on both sides, and the laws in the region. I’ve decided to compile a brief list of things that police and the citizens can do to slow or reverse the anti-police sentiment in our country.

Police:

Know the law, there are thousands of local and federal laws on the books so expecting you to know every single one perfectly is silly. However, you all should have a strong understanding of many of these laws and be briefed regularly on supreme court rulings and new bills, which have been passed. When an officer is ignorant of the law during a stop, it drives the community to view the department poorly.

Don’t intimidate or lie, some officers will knowingly lie to citizens in an attempt to have them forfeit their rights. For example, in many occasions police will tell citizens that they cannot film the officers while they’re working or that they need permission. This is entirely untrue and the police get away with telling this lie because there’s no laws against lying to citizens.

Stop protecting each other from justice, good cops are only good because they always do what’s right. It is not right or legal to knowingly shield another officer from facing accountability. In fact, this gang-style protection only ensures the hatred citizens feel for cops. How can citizens respect law enforcement if the law isn’t universally and justly applied?

Don’t escalate violence, in many police videos we see how dangerous it is for police to interact with some citizens. It is entirely reasonable to meet violence with violence, but to escalate violence on otherwise peaceful or weaker people is immoral. Police brutality is viewed very differently by many citizens. Some think of it as just poor decision making on the citizens side, whereas others see it as always the officers fault. In reality it differs by instance, and it’s not always easy to decide who’s at fault. The best case scenario is both the citizen and the officer attempt to de-escalate any violence or feelings of danger through communication and non-action. The worst case scenario is both officer and citizen begin the interaction disgruntled and looking for trouble.

Don’t shoot until your life is threatened, many people cannot agree on this simple premise: it is a knee-jerk reaction to kill somebody who’s armed and hasn’t drawn their weapon, regardless of what kind of weapon it may be. If the assailant has a knife or a screw-driver, it would be appropriate to draw your gun. However, to shoot somebody who is not an immediate threat to your life is bad decision making. Unless they’ve drawn a gun or are charging you with a weapon, what warrants a death penalty? Luckily, most cops aren’t as trigger happy as the ones we see in videos online, but more training should be required for cops who are involved in these unfortunate situations.

Innocent until proven guilty, some cops like to use the excuse that they don’t know who you are or what crimes you may have committed as a way of forcing you to identify yourself. This is fallacious: if the cop is unaware of any crimes being committed then you should be free to go, not detained. The burden of proof is upon the officers to demonstrate a citizen has broken the law, not upon the citizen to prove that he is innocent.

Liability insurance, sometimes when an unjustifiable police-involved shooting happens the family will file a lawsuit and usually the city or department settles before court. In almost all cases the taxpayer has to foot the settlement bill because of the poor judgement of one bad cop. For this reason I believe police should be required to purchase liability insurance such that the taxpayers don’t have to be liable for the actions of bad cops.

Easier complaints system, many communities have expressed anger at the complaint system in place at police departments across the country. Stories and videos of people being turned away or even arrested for attempting to file a complaint are worrisome. Most internal affairs offices work to protect their officers rather than protecting the rights of citizens. Police should support making the complaint filing process easier and making sure they are processed in a timely manner. One problem that adds to the difficulty of filing a complaint is that some cops refuse to identify themselves, which most are required to do under their department policy. Information like name, rank, and badge number should always be given to citizens at their request.

Citizens:

Know your rights, exercising your constitutional rights is always a good idea so long as you’re being polite to the officer. Study your local, state, and federal laws to have a better understanding of what is and what is not illegal. It does not take a defense attorney to know the requirements for an officer to demand identification: either you must be operating a motor vehicle, or the officer must articulate reasonable suspicion or probable cause that you’ve committed a crime. You have the right to remain silent even when you’re not being detained or arrested and sometimes keeping quiet will be in your best interests.

Stay calm, the worst possible thing you can do is escalate the situation to yelling and screaming, because then the cop might feel threatened or endangered. Even if a police officer is raising his voice or using a condescending tone; you should remain calm and respectful during the entirety of the encounter. If you and the officer disagree on something fundamental, for example, the law: ask for a supervisor. Sometimes, lower ranked officers will make mistakes or maybe you’ve misunderstood something. Regardless, it’s nice to have a higher ranked officer clear up any misconceptions.

Film the police, the supreme court has upheld that it is the first amendment right of every citizen to film police officers both on public and private property. Some police departments still do not have the funding or hindsight to install body cameras. Even a low-quality phone camera video can save you and/or the officer from getting into trouble, and people tend to act differently when they’re being filmed. Don’t forget that any video you film is your property and can only be confiscated as evidence, if the recording device was used to commit a crime. There are a few states that have wiretapping laws which require you to notify anybody involved if you begin audio recording.

Report unlawful detainment and harassment, if a police officer is giving you a hard time even though you’ve not broken any laws, try only to resist verbally. Even resisting unlawful arrest can lead to further charges which are complicated to argue against in court.If you have been arrested without committing a crime, ask to speak with your lawyer and try to fill out a complaint.

Keep your hands visible, whenever dealing with police it is a good idea to keep your hands where the officer can see them. This will ensure that the officer doesn’t fear for his life or get frustrated with you. If you have to reach into your pockets or elsewhere, verbally announce your actions and do it very slowly.

Cody DallaValla is a resident of Torrington, and a CCSU Student.