Recommendations for Reducing Friction Between Blacks and the Police

By Clarence Edwards
Photo by Matt Popovich

Racial profiling by the police of people of African descent and other minorities is a fact of life in the United States. For politicians, the media and others to continue asserting that these almost daily incidents of questionable and unjustifiable uses of excessive force are simply aberrations and that race plays no role in them is incredulous. Racism has been a systemic feature of this nation’s culture since its inception. Continuing to send white police officers into minority communities with minimalist knowledge about this segment of the nation’s populace and inadequate de-escalation skills is a recipe for disaster.

As a black man and retired law enforcement CEO, I am outraged at the fact that some police officers across this nation continue to act like it is open season on black men, women and children during traffic stops and other field contacts.

National leaders in law enforcement, political and religious leaders need to adopt a more definite proactive approach in addressing this issue before it escalates into widespread violence similar to the 1968 violence that erupted following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Despite the historic tensions that exist between segments of the African American population and the police and the fact that the majority of police officers in the United States are white, police recruit training in many police departments places initial emphasis on the following:

  • Constitutional law
  • Criminal law
  • Ethics and integrity
  • Community policing
  • Understanding the department’s policy prohibiting bias based profiling in traffic and field contacts
  • Self-defense techniques
  • Firearms proficiency skills
  • Basic first-aid/CPR
  • Problem solving techniques
  • Effective report writing
  • Emergency vehicle operations

There is little doubt that a mastery of each of the aforementioned skills is important in the development of an efficient and effective police officer. However, many white and other non-black police officers are recruited from communities with few or no African Americans and a significant number of these officers have little or no understanding of the cultural values, hopes, fears, mores, and concerns about racial inequality, poverty and the vulnerability of this segment of America’s population when they become police officers. In my opinion, a paradigm shift in curriculum content and training priorities is necessary to diminish these frictions. A careful analysis of the order of police recruit training and initial assignments upon completion of this training is urgently needed.

Frequently, police recruits are initially assigned to patrol service areas with the highest incidences of crime and dysfunctional behavior in their jurisdictions after completing recruit training to immediately introduce them to life in racial minority neighborhoods. Over the years I have come to realize that a careful re-evaluation of all police training, supervision, discipline and police labor agreements is needed if society is to have any hope of bringing about the transformative changes needed in police cultures. Early interactive police/citizen training for police recruits can diminish recruit fears of the unknown and increase their understanding of people living and working in the communities where they will be providing public safety and other services.

Chiefs of police in communities where significant minority populations live or work may want to consider the following recommendations:

  • Direct the development of a psychological screening tool capable of detecting racial, ethnic, religious or gender biases that may interfere with a police applicant’s ability to treat everyone fairly and can assist in eliminating such applicants from further consideration for employment.
  • Develop an assessment center interview process for police applicants to determine the applicant’s current ability to recognize and understand racially bias based profiling by police officers.
  • Work jointly with their state’s police training commission to develop a comprehensive structured 40 hour minimum block of instructions to facilitate interactive discussions between community leaders and activists within a jurisdiction’s minority community and police recruits before other skills training begins.

Police recruit/citizen interactions of this type will allow recruits to hear first hand the reasons for black and other minority distrust of the police. Applicants attending this course should be issued an approved book or provided specific websites that accurately document the history of African slavery in the United States and the Jim Crow racial discriminatory policies that ensued once slavery was abolished. Recruits should be given daily mandatory reading assignments during this training and encouraged to ask whatever questions they may have about this particular block of training. Recruit candor should not be the basis for negative performance evaluations of a recruit’s responses during this interactive training.

Simply providing police officers with body cameras and equipping police vehicle with in-car camera recording systems will not significantly diminish questionable police use of excessive or deadly force. Police recruitment should focus on hiring applicants whose responses during their psychological bias evaluations and assessment center recruitment processes indicate they can cast aside any bias behavioral traits they may have developed in their homes, communities, schools or churches and enforce the law fairly. Throughout a police career, skills re-training should emphasize the importance of being impartial in all police/citizen and co-worker interactions. Chiefs of police should be held strictly accountable for the proper supervision; prompt and thorough investigation of all complaints alleging the use of excessive or deadly force and initiating timely and appropriate disciplinary action when evidence of such complaints is substantiated. Society must never forget that law enforcement is not the solution to this nation’s economic, education, housing and employment concerns or to working class white fears of demographic changes. In my opinion, the aforementioned actions are critical to diminishing frictions between the police and minorities.

Clarence Edwards currently is a self-employed domestic and international Senior Law Enforcement and Security Consultant. He is a retired Assistant Commissioner who directed the law enforcement and security operations of the Federal Protective Service; former chief of police for Montgomery County, MD and Maryland’s first African American county police chief; retired officer in charge of the Montgomery County Maryland-National Capital Park Police; and retired United States Park Police major. Edwards holds a Master of Science from Johns Hopkins University; and a Bachelor of Science from American University. He is a graduate of the Federal Executive Institute; graduate of the FBI National Executive Institute; graduate of Pennsylvania State University’s Justice and Safety Institute; graduate of the FBI National Academy; and former national president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). Edwards is an experienced CEO with extensive experience directing critical law enforcement, security and contingency management operations at the county, bi-county and federal levels of government. He has also taught law enforcement, security and anti-terrorism courses in a number of foreign countries.