NYTimes | How do we keep people safe? How do we ensure that laws are enforced clearly and impartially?
I helped lead President Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing and have dedicated my career to thinking about these questions. One answer I keep returning to is a greater commitment to partnering with community groups. The police must not be seen by residents as quasi-military occupiers, but rather as allies and partners.
This will require significant efforts by police departments around the country to develop training that goes far beyond learning the criminal code, filling out an incident report or firing a gun.
It’s not an abstract notion. I have seen it in action in educational programs, like the ones offered by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, that help officers better understand their role in a democracy and the dire consequences a society faces when the police fail to live up to their role as guardians of freedom.
Police officers carry a lot of baggage. They have not always been on the right side of justice as we define justice today. In some cases, they were enforcing unjust laws of a different era. When I went into the Chicago Police Department in the late 1960s, it wasn’t the most popular thing a young black kid could do.
There are consequences to that difficult history that will take time to repair. But this challenging moment is also a tremendous opportunity to make real improvements. I hope none of us squander it.