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Can technology and training strengthen community policing after Ferguson?

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    The fallout from Ferguson took center stage at the White House today, with President Obama calling for some $260 million in federal response funds. It includes buying 50,000 body cameras to record police actions.

    Ferguson officer Darren Wilson wasn’t wearing a camera when he shot and killed Michael Brown. He’s now resigned after a grand jury voted not to charge him.

    Today, the president met with civil rights and community leaders and with police officials. He said it’s vital to restore trust between police and minorities.


    When any part of the American family doesn’t feel like it is being treated fairly, that’s a problem for all of us. It’s not just a problem for some. It’s not just a problem for a particular community or a particular demographic. It means that we are not as strong a country as we can be.


    The president also called for better training for police, including in using military equipment.

    The meetings amid continuing protests, including five Saint Louis Rams players who made a “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture before their football game Sunday. Mr. Obama said the racial divide today seen in Ferguson is nationwide. And he promised that a new task force is going to be more than just talk.

    For some perspective on today’s announcements and police practices and training in the aftermath of Ferguson, we turn to Malik Aziz. He’s national chairman of the National Black Police Association and a former commander in the Dallas police force. And Raymond Kelly, he’s former police commissioner of New York City. He’s now president of Risk Management Services at Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm.

    We welcome you both to the program.

    Raymond Kelly, to you first. What are your thoughts, before I ask you about police practices in general, about what the president was saying today and the need for more community policing, that they are going to put money forward for 50,000 body cameras, they want to put restrictions on military-style equipment? How does all this come across to you?

  • RAYMOND KELLY, President of Risk Management Services, Cushman & Wakefield:

    Well, I generally support the president’s position.

    I would only say about body cameras that I think they should be tested a little more. I think we need some pilot programs; 50,000 is a big number. It’s clear that cameras are meant to have police officers hesitate. If they hesitate from doing things that they shouldn’t be doing, that’s a good thing. If they hesitate from doing things that they should be doing, that obviously is not good.

    So I think we need more examination in the area of body cameras, but I support that — the testing going forward. As far as the demilitarization of the police, I think that’s a good idea. I think it’s an idea whose time has come and gone. This was a result of a good-faith effort on the part of Congress to help the fight against crime in the ’90s.

    It was well-intended, but I think the optics of seeing heavy military equipment on the streets of America is just not something that America will any longer accept. So I would like to see that sort of reduced, perhaps not eliminated. And I think the president’s proposal is to do just that.


    Malik Aziz, what is your sense of today’s announcements, and in particular the body cameras, which you just heard Ray Kelly say may need some more testing and examination before they’re used widely?

  • MALIK AZIZ, National Black Police Association:

    Well, first, I would say I appreciate the president and applaud his efforts today.

    I wish that the National Black Police Association would have been at the table or would have been invited to the table to discuss our views since we have been discussing these issues since 1972 and pressing community issues. And we were absent today or not invited.

    So I would think that he would invite us in the future if he wanted to have a task force that was about action. But I do believe what the former commissioner just said. The cameras, I think they have already been tested, though, well enough across the nation. And I do echo his sentiments on doing more testing.

    I think we do need more body cameras. We need more in-car cameras. We also — we need to be more accountable and transparent in those — in those areas. I think the better departments, the most promising departments who outfit their police with cameras have been able to find a few that they have seen more benefits in it, that that hesitation that the police commissioner just spoke of, it takes place, therefore saving an officer from doing something that he may not had any real intentions to do, just out of a real quick response.

    So, I agree with him. I think we more body cameras, more in-car cameras, more technology, but it has to be accountable. And the resources have to be deployed responsibly.


    Ray Kelly, I want to broaden this out just a little just to ask you, both of you, how adequate do you believe the training is today that most police officers receive when it comes to the use of deadly force?


    Well, I think it is reasonably adequate.

    Obviously, you know, it’s not totally consistent across the country, but in big police departments, I think it’s pretty well done. Technology is used. We have what we call firearms training, simulators, where they will show some pretty realistic scenarios and officers have to make decisions as to whether or not to draw their weapon, to fire, and those things are pretty well done.

    You can really drill down and get some very specific situations. So I think the training is good. I would have to characterize it as good. You have a lot of regional training now. For instance, in Ferguson, those offices went to the Saint Louis County Police Academy, and technology is being used across the country.


    Malik Aziz, how do you see the training that most police officers today receive when it comes to deadly — use of deadly force?


    Well, I think that the training could be much better. I think it’s been handicapped by time and resources, meaning funds, and how do you get — in some departments, how do you train people when you need them on the street to answer calls, everyday calls from the citizens?

    But, overall, some of the use of force, reality-based simulated training that’s been done to offer reasonable alternatives, not every department has those. And I think the training that involves reasonable alternatives or can you do something else, which could have been the case in Ferguson, or the options for mace or Taser training or training, or how do you simulate certain situations that may call for deadly force or just may call for you to take another option — so I think 80 percent of the departments really are in need of more training.

    I think the 20 percent of departments that are major and medium-type cities, they do it rather well, just as the commissioner just said. But there are a few departments that could use more training in technology use or equipment use, as well as diversity training and sensitivity training. All those things go together with the deployment of vital resources.


    And, Ray Kelly, what about that? What about training when it comes to police officers? How are they trained to think about race, to think about working in a diverse community?


    Well, there is an awful lot of focus on working in different communities.

    The police officer training in the NYPD, for instance, is six months in the police academy and then another field training session after that. That’s a significant period of time, and a good portion of the six months of training is focused on the very diverse communities in New York.

    We believe New York is the most diverse city perhaps in the world. And we now have in the New York City Police Department police officers born in 106 countries. So the department is reflecting the population of the city, certainly more than any other city agency is concerned, and we’re proud of that.

    But I think the focus on diversity is important, and I believe it goes on certainly in most major police departments.


    Malik Aziz, how much — do you think there needs to be a change in the way police officers today are trained to think about race, to think about working with individuals who are of a different background than they are?


    I think once you — it’s another tool in the chest. I think once you add that to their options, that they tend to look at things a little bit different. Some officers come from places that they haven’t had a great interaction with communities of great diversity, unless they’re in some — New York City, but, even then, it’s coming from neighborhood perspectives.

    When you look inside of cultures, I think once officers are exposed to one another’s cultures, it can’t do anything but help. It’s another tool in the chest to help for a different outlook. And I will tell you, as an example, you know, black people talking loud doesn’t scare me. That may scare some other people, but I get used to that. And it’s cultural.

    It doesn’t mean that some aggression will happen. Most people should worry about when we stop talking. It’s some of those things that you would look at in training that will help people say, this is part of the culture, this is how we act. And it’s not a means of aggression. It’s not a means of passiveness. It’s just our culture. And we need cultural training. We need it. Police officers need it.


    Well, this is just one part of a conversation we very much want to continue. We thank you both, Malik Aziz and Raymond Kelly.


    Thank you so much.

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