LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Divide Between Police, Communities Persists

By Michael Hill
Correspondent

It could be the future of policing — officers patrolling in pairs and multiple numbers as they confront the uncomfortable truth.

“Kill the cops! Kill them all!”

A handful of protesters at a recent Newark demonstration openly advocated the killing of police officers. Sheila Reid did after Bridgeton Police killed her son Jerame Reid two years ago in a traffic stop. She endorsed the Dallas shooter who killed five officers.

“And he’s not the only one that’s going to be getting rid of these officers. Until they do something and bring justice for us them officers better watch they back, too,” she said.

“I heard that,” said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontura.

Fontura and his deputies stood and protected Reid’s and others’ right to free speech. But, he said, “The veiled threat that she put out there doesn’t sit well with the officers standing around there. But, again, it just points out, listen folks, someone like this could inspire.”

The root of some of the resentment and targeting of police: the belief that too many officers keep getting away with killing African-Americans.

“All the grand jury is is an avenue of escape for these killer cops,” said People’s Organization for Progress Chair Larry Hamm.

Sheriff Fontoura says some officers give the profession a bad reputation.

“Some of the actions that some of our officers take kind of justifies anger in some folks. We get human beings who come to us with all their hangups, you know. Some are racists, some are, we try to weed them out,” he said.

To drive home the point of practicing safety on the street, the sheriff himself has been conducting role calls and assigning officers to patrol in pairs.

“And we urge them and encourage them to put their bulletproof vests on and to stay alert and keep an eye out on things instead of just sitting in the car and be vigilant. Don’t get complacent. This is not a good time to be complacent,” he said.

State police say they’re not doing much more than normal, except offering refreshers about tactics out on the street. But they’ve slightly altered their deployment in places like Newark and Trenton, but nothing major they say. They do say the most important thing they can impress upon state troopers is, remember your training.

At one road safety check, Newark Police officers had on their bulletproof vests, a good idea says the president of the Bronze Shields which represents the city’s 300-plus African-American officers.

“We tell them that threats have no particular look. There’s no particular face. To be attentive each and every day they’re on the streets because they never know when danger is going to strike and they need to be ready and prepared at all times,” said Newark Bronze Shields President Levi Holmes.

At the request of the Justice Department, two years ago local police departments began holding “Coffee with a Cop” at diners and restaurants. Fair Lawn does that and “Sushi with a Cop”.

“We’ve always had a pretty good relationship. I think that we open up those barriers and have a better relationship with the community now than we did before,” said Fair Lawn Police Department Community Policing Supervisor Sgt. Brian Metzler.

The former president of the New Jersey Police Chiefs Association, Chris Wagner, told NJTV News, “Every police officer will have their head on a swivel and will be concerned for their safety while on patrol. As a result, we will be more stringent and rigid with the public, which neither the public or the police really want. We, the entire U.S. community, must come together, honestly, and deal with these problems. It cannot be one sided and cannot be vengeful. We will get nowhere, only to see more violence.”

It’s a statement ringing true, but Richard Brown who works in Newark says it’s a statement that needs a better outcome.

“We don’t need any more anger in the streets. We need real positive solutions,” he said.