LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Summit Aims to Build Trust and Strengthen Relationships Between Communities and Police

By Michael Hill
Correspondent

Rutgers Associate Dean of Criminal Justice, Kenya Tyson, came to this law enforcement event seeking solutions.

“I would like to take back a number of ideas that I can share with our faculty and staff around ways that we can continue to engage the community as well as law enforcement around these types of issues,” she said.

The issues — building trust and strengthening relations between communities and police. A summit organized by NJ Acting Attorney General John Hoffman and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

“We are here today, all of us are here today, because we understand the responsibility lies with us. We have a collective responsibility to fix it,” said Fishman.

Hoffman says diversity is part of the solution. He says the last graduating class of state police was the most diverse in history.

“Law enforcement is at its best when it reflects the character and composition of the community that it serves,” said Hoffman.

To improve transparency, Hoffman has directed the state’s county prosecutors to explain in detail their investigations when a grand jury declines to indict police in shootings. That’s what Atlantic County did this week with a long written statement in the contentious and deadly shooting of Shawn Brown, even releasing still images of Brown toting a gun before police responded to reports of gunfire.

One of the points of contention here was the number of excessive force complaints the state attorney general’s office has handled over the recent years — 50 — versus the number of cases that have been substantiated and prosecuted — two.

“I am not going to go in this with a predetermined notion that we need to meet some quota of excessive force cases because that’s the right number,” Hoffman said.

Newark’s Deputy Police Director says the issues the Justice Department found with his department last year are directly related to a breakdown in police community relations:

“For a long time we have become so disconnected from the community that we’re sworn to protect and serve and it’s been a situation where the community does not trust the police and we definitely have to get their trust back in order for us to do our job and be effective,” said Newark Deputy Police Director John Arnold.

Ryan Haygood of the NJ Institute for Social Justice moderated one panel on building trust. He says giving officers incentives to live where they serve would go a long way.

“And they join together to make sure those communities are safer through law enforcement but also there are opportunities that flow to residents educationally, through employment better health care conditions and public safety is a part of a broader strategy for healthy urban communities,” he said.

These law enforcers know the challenges that lie ahead and the cost of accepting the status quo.