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Will events in Ferguson help define the future of American policing?

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Late today, Saint Louis County police told the NewsHour that county and state police will take over security at any Ferguson protests tonight.

    Now for a look at what this moment means for law enforcement officers in Ferguson and around the country, I'm joined by Cincinnati police chief Jeffrey Blackwell, who is in Atlanta for a law enforcement conference, by Chuck Wexler. He's the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. And Darrel Stephens, he's the executive director of the Major Cities' Chiefs Association.

    Welcome to all three of you.

    Darrel Stephens, let me start with you. You do represent tens of thousands of police officers across the country. What is your reaction to what happened last night in Ferguson?

  • DARREL STEPHENS, Executive Director, Major Cities Chiefs Association:

    Well, unfortunately, it's another one of those tragic situations where police officers have been ambushed. Police officers that were at a peaceful protest that were completely unaware that someone was waiting in the background to take a shot at them.

    So it's — it puts the police officers not only in the Saint Louis County area in a situation of being fearful when they hit the streets. It has an impact throughout the country. It's something that they're used to, something that they're trained to respond to, but, nevertheless, it's an increasing challenge for them to go out, do their job, police, and police effectively when they have this on their mind all the time.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Chief Blackwell, what were your thoughts when you heard about what happened? And do you agree with Mr. Stephens that this kind of thing has an impact everywhere?

  • JEFFREY BLACKWELL, Chief, Cincinnati Police Department:

    It absolutely does. I agree with him wholeheartedly.

    I think anything like this, what affects — I say it all the time — what affects us anywhere affects us everywhere in American policing. And so this act of cowardly injustice committed against these police officers has those officers more on edge now today, at a time when we're trying to increase collaboration and mend the fracture that is existing in that community.

    It makes it hard to move forward when you have these type of activities taking place.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, Chuck Wexler, let's talk about moving forward.

    You work with police departments across the country who have been cited for different kinds of mismanagement, some accused of abuse, departments like Ferguson and others. What are you saying in these circumstances, not just because of what happened last night, but throughout the last year? What are you saying to police departments, to police officials about how they should be thinking, not only about interacting with the community, but about the work they do?

  • CHUCK WEXLER, Executive Director, Police Executive Research Forum:

    Well, it's complicated.

    And, certainly, thank God those two officers are OK last night. And you see how complicated their job is from the one day they're de-escalating a situation, one day, they're dealing with a homeless person, the next day, they're being fired upon.

    But I think the report that came out from the Justice Department was a very significant report, and in some ways, the police chief leaving, the city manager leaving gives them an opportunity to move forward.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This in Ferguson.

  • CHUCK WEXLER:

    This is in Ferguson.

    But, you know, this is a defining moment for policing. So, as difficult as it is, there can be some good things that can come out of it. I think there's a way to move forward. In Cincinnati, certainly, where the chief is from, they had this experience, in other cities, in Pittsburgh and so forth. There can be some opportunities to learn.

    The Ferguson situation was particularly problematic because of the revenue aspect of it. You don't usually see that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Where they were trying to raise a lot of money by giving out many tickets.

  • CHUCK WEXLER:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And it appeared to be racially slanted.

  • CHUCK WEXLER:

    Right.

    And the interesting thing about Ferguson, too, is its size. It's a city of 22,000. It's 50 officers. Most of these incidents that we have had been in larger jurisdictions. But most of the police departments in this country are more like Ferguson; 85 percent, 90 percent are 50 officers or less. So that's a challenge. How do you get these smaller agencies to come up to professional standards?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, whether it's a small or larger agency, Darrel Stephens, what are some examples of the kinds of things police are doing or should be doing as they walk this line between respecting the community on the one hand and on the other hand keeping safe themselves?

  • DARREL STEPHENS:

    Well, I think we have seen for a number of years policing implementing community policing, problem-solving, engaging the community in a partnership to help make their neighborhoods safer.

    We're revisiting all of those policies and approaches that we have seen be effective in our larger cities and elsewhere throughout the country. And I think since Ferguson and over — actually over the past couple of years, there's been a re-engagement.

    And I think the other thing that we're seeing is…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What — excuse me. Let me just interrupt. What do you mean by re-engagement?

  • DARREL STEPHENS:

    We lost touch with our communities in many cities.

    The economic downturn through 2008, we saw a lot of our cities lose 300, 400, 500 police officers from their force, and they had to emphasize responding to calls for service. So their ability to spend the time that's required to develop those relationships was impacted heavily.

    Now, they continued to try to do that, as well as they can. And I think through that process, we did lose a little bit of touch, and so we're now trying to re-engage and work through those relationships. We're also investing a lot in procedural justice training, in bias training, so that officers have a lot better understanding about some of the issues that they face on the street.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Chief Blackwell, chief of the police in Cincinnati, we know you're in Atlanta for the conference of black chief — police chief — police executives.

    What would you add to what he just said, and what's the conversation? I know you just arrived there today, but what is the conversation among black police officials about all this?

  • JEFFREY BLACKWELL:

    Well, I agree with Darrel and Chuck. You know, they get us together, the major city chiefs, four or five times a year, and we talk about, you know, constitutional policing, bias-free policing, and community engagement.

    And Darrel is right when he said that when we lost officers due to an economic downturn, a lot of chiefs responded back to archaic police models, traditional policing, where officers simply respond to 911 calls and put fires out and move around and never take the time to engage the community.

    And unless you have authentic relationships with people in your city, you are doomed, because there will always be a fracture that exists between cops and community unless you include the community in problem-solving policing.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Chuck Wexler, what would you to do that? And I would like to you just add to it, what should people know about the work of the police officer? Because I think sometimes it becomes a stereotype.

  • CHUCK WEXLER:

    Sure.

    Oh, first, an interesting point, which is crime is actually at its lowest point since the 1960s. That's the irony of this whole situation is that, you know, there was a time 20 years ago there were 2,200 homicides in New York City. Today, there's around 300. So at the same time that crime has decreased, we have this issue of community trust.

    So they don't — they're not connected. And so that's where we have to reinvest in the communities, engage with the communities, and maybe we lost a little bit of that. I think that the job of a police officer is incredibly complicated, incredibly. One minute, as I said before, they're trying to deal with someone in crisis. Next minute, they're calming them down. One minute, it's very calm. The next minute, they're being shot at. One minute, they have to make split-second decisions on use of force.

    And in Ferguson, you see that. In other cities, you see that, so we want people to be really well-trained, well-selected. We want diverse work forces, all of those things. It's a really important job and a difficult one.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we appreciate all of you talking with us. It's a difficult subject.

    Chuck Wexler, Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, Darrel Stephens, we thank you, all three.

  • CHUCK WEXLER:

    Thank you.

  • JEFFREY BLACKWELL:

    Thank you.

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