When teammates trust each other and anticipate each other’s every pass and dribble, they win an NBA championship, reverse a 52-year professional sports losing streak, and help a city believe in itself again. When the public, private and nonprofit sectors trust each other and leverage their resources, they can transform a tired downtown block into a vibrant public square in the heart of the city.
When legislators in Washington, D.C., can’t agree on whether to prohibit those on the no-fly list created by the U.S. Terrorist Screening Center to buy a gun, we lose trust in our elected officials who too often put allegiance to narrow special interests over common sense. When too many citizens and police instinctively distrust each other, the police shootings of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray tear communities apart.
As we struggle to understand the police shootings of citizens and murders of law enforcement officers throughout the country, we face a perfect storm of anguish and anger. There were 491 fatal shootings by officers in the first six months of this year, according to an ongoing two-year study by The Washington Post. This year has also seen more officers shot and killed in the line of duty than in recent previous years.
Policing is not just about implementing tested crime control approaches. It also is about effectively achieving fair and impartial policing. The Cleveland Community Police Commission recently issued our 108-page report of recommendations for “bias-free policing” to the Cleveland Police Department. Bias-free policing is policing that is free of discriminatory effect as well as discriminatory intent. We noted that the Cleveland Police Department should be committed to protecting civil rights and maintaining the public’s trust through the fair, ethical and impartial enforcement of laws and employment of bias-free policing principles and equal protection in its hiring, unit assignment, promotion and performance assessment processes.
We also noted that unequal treatment of citizens involving stops, arrests and use of force may be the result of intentional bias, but it also can be the result of unintentional or implicit bias.
When I served as Ohio attorney general, I had the privilege of working closely with many brave, honest law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day. I also learned that even the most well-intentioned officers may be influenced by the unconscious operation of implicit bias, which is why Ohio was the first state in the nation in 1993 to initiate the requirement that all new police officers undergo 24 hours of cultural and racial sensitivity training. It was a good first step. All police personnel should receive ongoing training that conveys the message that the protection of human and civil rights is a central part of the police mission, not an obstacle to it.
Every city goes through challenging times and unexpected crises. Working with cities throughout the country looking for ways to economically succeed and listening to the concerns of citizens in neighborhood town halls held by the Cleveland Community Police Commission, I’ve found a common thread.
That thread is trust. When a city establishes a strong foundation of trust with its citizens — most notably its neighborhoods — it can withstand those forces trying to tear it apart. Great schools, accessible public transit, talent retention and attraction, and a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship are essential ingredients for a great city. But what is most important is its ability to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks and tragedies it endures and the bond of trust it builds with its citizens.
One of my law school professors said, “a fence at the top of the cliff is better than an ambulance below.” Not a day goes by when we don’t hear the siren of the ambulance or the police car rushing to the scene. While better police training and clearer guidelines on the use of force and bias-free policing are much needed, the best solution to our crisis of trust is building the fence at the top of the cliff.
We must find new and creative ways for citizens and police to walk in each other’s shoes. If we begin to better understand and respect our common humanity, we will better understand why we need each other. I know we can fix this. But only when we forge a sustainable bond of trust. If forged the right way, it will not break.
Change happens at the speed of trust.