Ferguson, Mo., has ignited with intense civil unrest and is now in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
The chaos began after an unarmed man was shot dead by a police officer. This incident is now the flashpoint challenging the dynamics of time-tested police–community relations based on Sir Robert Peel’s principles.
Peel’s nine principles define the heart of effective policing as a mutual and respectful cooperation between the people and the police. These two principles are essential to events unfolding in Ferguson:
- Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.
- Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police.
Ferguson must be a warning to communities throughout America of the criticality of forged people–police partnerships. The civil unrest there can easily recur in other communities especially when there are misunderstandings, tensions, or distrust between people and the police.
America must exercise leadership, vigilance, and collaboration to prevent additional, senseless turmoil and suffering.
Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager was shot and killed on Aug. 9 by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson. Conflicting accounts of the incident are in dispute and under investigation.
A preliminary private autopsy report requested by the family shows Brown was shot six times.
Protests have included peaceful demonstrators but also looting, firebombs, gunfire, and vandalism. Authorities have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, arrests, militarized vehicles, and a curfew.
Gov. Jay Nixon has deployed the National Guard to assist with restoring peace and maintaining law and order.
Ferguson’s leadership and police department are predominately white. There are 53 commissioned officers on the police force; three are black.
According to the 2010 census information on the official Ferguson website, there are 21,203 residents, of which 14,297 are black, 6,206 are white, and 260 are Hispanic or Latino.
There is a high unemployment rate in the city with an alarming number of residents living in poverty.
Cooperation between the people and police must be enhanced in Ferguson to restore the community. Mechanisms for cooperation include the following:
- Speedy release of accurate, unbiased, and pertinent information by a law enforcement spokesperson respected by the people. A measured intervention based on competent, verifiable, and authorized investigative findings must also swiftly take place.
- Partnerships with civic, religious, and educational leaders
- Collaboration of the numerous law enforcement agencies and the National Guard with one another and the community
- Assessment of the appropriateness and effectiveness of military-style vehicles into the community
- Transparent communication between the authorities and the people with assurances of commitment to enhance community relations by assessing police and community affairs
- Channels for the people to safely exercise their constitutional rights to peaceably assemble
- Apprehension and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law of criminals and gang members who seek to exploit the tragedy
- Responsibility of the media covering events that assists to quell the unrest and not sensationalize the violence
- Review of law enforcement hiring, training, and certification programs including collaborative policing as well as body camera and dash cam policies
- Review of all interagency emergency preparedness initiatives on the city, county, state, and federal levels
- Assessment of the police department’s community relations, diversity, and school resource officer initiatives
- Assessment of all gang awareness, prevention, and intervention programs
- Review of the commitment to character education initiatives throughout all city schools
America must be fully dedicated to reawakening the nation by working together to enhance and forge partnerships between the people and the police.
We must also commit ourselves to revitalizing economic issues as the financial decay that compounded the crisis in Ferguson is also a concern in communities throughout the country.
Vincent J. Bove, CPP, is a national speaker and author on issues critical to America. Bove is a recipient of the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award for combating crime and violence and is a former confidant of the New York Yankees. His newest book is “Listen To Their Cries.” For more information, see www.vincentbove.com