Andrew Mills - Chief of Police - Santa Cruz

Cops, Credibility and Crisis: Restoring Trust

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Policing needs a shot of credibility and so do a lot of other groups. As a profession and individuals, cops must take a stand on racism, hatred, and police violence to rebuild our credibility. When we lack credibility, we risk losing community support.

The Police need credibility to be effective. Credibility yields believability in court, confidence in the public square, influence in the making of policy and law, and the privilege of benefit of the doubt. To rebuild credibility, the Police, must focus on the following. (So should the media, social media mavens, justice advocates and elected officials.)

Objectivity. America is chalked full of battlefield trenches, filled with people poised to wage war over all issues. The plateau between the front-line trenches brings vulnerability, insecurity, and risk of criticism to those who brave exposure. But it’s the open space where one finds reasonableness that rings true. That plateau of neutrality is where we put aside bias, listen to one another, and use reason to look past our blind spots. 

When Dereck Chauvin killed George Floyd, some in law enforcement decried the arrest of Chauvin as persecution of the Police. They posted online and spoke about how Chauvin did nothing wrong. They castigated cops who called for justice. Anyone with common sense knew Chauvin’s actions were anything but reasonable. Some police apologists blamed everything but Chauvin. In doing so they lost credibility. They also damaged the credibility of policing. 

The question is not – why did some police officers take a knee? Its why didn’t all police officers acknowledge the death of Floyd as wrong and avoidable.

Lost credibility also affects the bias and distortion by the news media. The shooting in Columbus, Ohio, of Ma’ Khia Bryant, had media pundits scurrying to condemn law enforcement. Headlines touted, “Police shoot and kill the teenage black girl.” The young woman about to be stabbed was given no consideration by those in the media intent in diminishing the value of the police. They seem to push an narrative lacking in objectivity. A rush to judgment sabotages credibility because it lacks objectivity. With each incident of distortion, their voices become faint, and their trustworthiness is diminished.  

Reasonableness. Two essential components foster reasonableness: Seeking the best for others and ensuring our demands are rational.

When trained and directed to de-escalate incidents of people in crisis, some cops cried – it’s unsafe. We will get killed! Now, cops all over the country are successfully de-escalating one critical incident after another. If properly trained, they are safer. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) recently conducted a study on de-escalation in Louisville. The study confirms de-escalation works. It saves lives, reduces the use of force and complaints. The bonus-a 36% decrease in officer injuries. The panic was a short sighted false narrative.

When making demands of others, the Police, government, or our community, must be sensible and pragmatic. Prioritizing our desires above the needs of others is tempting. One’s outlook must not be of self-interest but community benefit. We cannot demand that our police officers solve humanity’s social problems. It’s unreasonable and leads to unneeded conflict.  Irrational demands to abolish the police destroys the credibility of those who promulgate the idea.

Honesty. Honesty is the bedrock of credibility. Hyperbole and exaggeration chip away at the underpinning of credibility. Fomenting speculative anxiety weakens one’s standing. Irrational fear-mongering demonstrates a lack of character. Unreasonable fear ruins the message and weakens the messenger. Do you trust those who consistently overreact? Think about it. Do you trust those who scream the world is coming to an end and it’s never been worse? They diminish the value of our community and ruin their credibility.

Education. Correctly understand the issues one seeks to influence. On social media, everyone thinks they are an expert. Even when genuine experts give an informed opinion, armchair experts continue to deny the truth. Q-Anon ring a bell?    

Know the facts. A 2019 survey published by Skeptic.com revealed that most Americans thought Police killed more than 1,000 unarmed black men per year. According to National Public Radio (NPR), 135 unarmed black men and women were shot by Police since 2015. Far too many African American’s were killed by Police, but the narrative that thousands of unarmed black men have been shot and killed by Police is factually incorrect. Educate oneself on all perspectives and then have an informed discussion that gets to real solutions. We can implement better policies to protect the public through good policing and protect individuals from bad cops.

The Police, the media, and those isolated in their trenches need to re-establish their credibility. Credibility comes with objectivity, reasonableness, honesty, and being informed. 

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