Law Enforcement, Race, and Reconciliation
Ivy Murphy, Weed and Seed Coordinator, City of Lakewood
The Weed and Seed community of Springbrook celebrates Cinco de Mayo.
In August 2002, then-King County Sheriff Dave Reichert, the Reverend Donovan Rivers, and leadership from the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) met to plan a summit that would focus on improving communication between law enforcement and the many diverse communities within Washington State. Today, the Lakewood Weed and Seed site is still reaping the benefits of that summit, which was held in November 2002, and continuing to see improvements between the police and minority communities.
Before planning participants met that August, nine officers had been involved in the shootings of minorities in King County in as many years. Although each shooting was ruled as justified, the results exacerbated an already tense and explosive situation between law enforcement and the African-American community in particular. NCPC designed the 2-day summit to address bias within law enforcement, institutional racism, and the ways in which law enforcement authorities interact with people and communities of color.
Minority participants in the summit said the police were at fault on a number of issues and that their actions were fueling enmity and mistrust on both sides. These participants charged that police did not provide accurate information, did not communicate with community groups, and did not establish relationships with different minority groups. Their top recommendation was to increase the recruitment, hiring, and retention of bicultural and bilingual law enforcement officers in underrepresented communities.
The city of Lakewood made a commitment to meet the recruitment recommendation. Although the city is predominantly white, as is its Weed and Seed site, it also is highly diverse with sizable African-American, Asian, Latino, and multiethnic communities. The commitment included aggressive outreach to recruit and build a multicultural police department with an enhanced ability to successfully interact with the city's diverse population. In addition to traditional recruitment methods, the police met with community members, faith-based groups, and city employees for assistance in attaining the department's goal.
So far, the city's commitment has borne fruit. The outreach resulted in increased numbers of minority and female applicants, increased numbers of ethnic and female officers on the force, more bilingual officers, more officers with college degrees, an African-American police commission member, and minority community participation in hiring.
A “COPS/Come Out and Play Softball” game helps build positive relationships between the police and African-American youth.
Over the past 2 years, other counties throughout the state
have replicated the summit. Other signs of the summit's success
include an assessment of the cultural competency components
of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission
and the use of the commission's DVD on cultural competency
in police in service activities and roll calls. Partnerships
also are starting with Washington's Association of Sheriffs
and Police Chiefs to share and distribute emerging information
and practices to improve cross-cultural interaction.
A Washington State Working Group consisting of summit participants, law enforcement officials, Weed and Seed staff, community members, faith-based representatives, and political representatives has continued to work with leaders from NCPC, such as Monica Palacio, and former NCPC Chief Operating Officer James E. Copple, now a principal with a consulting group, Strategic Applications International. The group has implemented various strategies to promote cultural and racial understanding.
A recommendation to build relationships between the police and community groups before crises occur led to the formation of three advisory committees for different ethnic groups. The committees consist of retired military and law enforcement officials, education officials, and representatives from faith groups, nonprofit organizations, the Department of Corrections, and the community. Committee members participate in ride-alongs, community outreach efforts, and police trainings about cultural perceptions.
Lakewood acknowledges, in practice and policy, the need for reconciliation and for establishing vehicles of communication that promote trust. Strategies involving cultural inclusion and recruitment of specialized populations remain a priority as Lakewood's police department continues to respond to changing community needs and emerging issues.
For more information, see Law Enforcement, Race, and Reconciliation, the NCPC document about the summit, or contact:
Weed and Seed Coordinator