Friday, January 23, 2015

to Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations

519 Evergreen Cir.

Worthington, OH 43085-3667

January 23, 2015


   Ohio Task Force on Community and Police Relations

Senator Nina Turner and Ohio Public Safety Director John Born—co-chairs

Senator Sandra Williams and Representative Alicia Reese


Dear Task Force Members,

             I am sorry to have missed your forum in Columbus.  I only heard about it as it was already happening.  I am writing to propose to you that the key to improving police-community relations, particularly in “high-crime” communities of color, is for police to get to know the people they are policing/serving personally, not just on patrol in uniform, but informally, preferably in the community itself at the invitation of community groups, for discussions of what community members want and need, for participation in community projects and other youth activities.  Ideally, this process would begin as a component of police training, at a point where cadets would already know people in the districts to which they would be assigned before they took the oath.

             Since I rode for 500 hours with police in one of the Justice Department’s “Model Cities” (Minneapolis) in 1971 for my dissertation, police administration has become increasingly bureaucratized, notably today by COMPSTAT, the system for monitoring police performance first introduced twenty years ago for the New York Police Department, which has discouraged police from reporting Justice Department “index offenses,” while pushing them to make petty public order arrests and street drug arrests.  The general effect of informal COMPSTAT reporting quotas is that police become less responsive (if they respond at all) to citizen calls for service, and profile people they know only by appearance on the street.  Reciprocally, community members expect to be hassled, if not shot, for being black or brown, especially when young and male.  Tragically, at the margins of distrust and mutual suspicion, harmless people of color keep getting mistakenly shot by police whose fear is fed by stereotypes of people they don’t know.  The tragedies are a symptom of how little police these days know the people they are assigned to police.  They also produce a false stereotype of police, many of whom never draw guns in their career, many of whom seldom if ever find force necessary.

             I am known for co-founding a specialty in criminology called “peacemaking.”  When I retired back home to Worthington in 2009 after teaching criminal justice at Indiana University in Bloomington for 33 years, I started a “peacemaking” blog.  Several of my recent posts there sound this theme.  By way of further introduction, I’m attaching a copy of an article I was asked to write for criminologists long ago, on “peacemaking criminology.” In the case of policing, more surveillance and outside accountability are Band-Aids at best, and imply greater trust than already exists between police and communities at worst.  Bottom line: Violence by and to police will go down the more opportunities for police and their communities to get to know each other as full human beings rather than as roles and profiles.

             Thanks for the work you are doing.  Feel free to be in touch if I can expand on what I have said or otherwise be of assistance.                      Sincerely, Hal Pepinsky

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