TRUTH and SU host discussion on community policing
Teaching Racial Understanding Through Honesty and Student Union held a discussion on community policing with police leaders from the Washington University Policy Department, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and Washington University faculty and administration in Umrath Lounge Oct. 17.
According to junior and Teaching Racial Understanding Through Honesty (TRUTH) member Amy Mora, TRUTH decided to host the event in response to the IHOP incident in Clayton this summer.
TRUTH facilitated the panel discussion on student safety, bias and racial profiling with WUPD Chief of Police Mark Glenn, St. Louis City Colonel John W. Hayden, African Studies Professor Geoff Ward, Sociology Professor David Cunningham and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White. Clayton Police Chief Kevin Murphy was unable to attend the panel due to health reasons.
One of the main topics addressed during the panel discussion was the divide between police agencies and their communities. Glenn pointed to the institution of the war on drugs during the 1980s as when he believes a division between police and civilians was established.
“What we created was a generation of police officers that considered themselves warriors. That it was a fight between ‘us’ and ‘them,’” Glenn said. “We see that still today it carries onward, that there are still a lot of police officers who consider themselves warriors. I don’t believe in that, and I’ve worked with my department, the officers, to engage in our community as guardians.”
Ward said that he believes that divide stems from an older history of racial conflict.
“We have to go back even further to the history of imperialism, the history of slavery, the Jim Crow era,” Ward said. “All of this background…is implicated in what some scholars have called the legal estrangement between police agencies and certain communities, particularly poor and non-white communities.”
Ward believes it’s important to consider the context of race relations when approaching subjects of policing communities.
“I think it’s important…to not only be mindful of the importance of training of individual officers and the accountability of individual officers in the aftermath of these events, but thinking about how we might, as a country, essentially retool an institution that is rooted deeply in history of white supremacists,” Ward said. “How do we escape that history and create a new model of law enforcement in this country?”
In addition to these considerations, Hayden said that he is working to build trusting relationships between officers and the community in the city of St. Louis.
“I do a lot of community engagement on the part of rebuilding trust. Coming out of the fall is about getting people to trust the police again, I’ve created our mobile office concept,” Hayden said. “I’ve been talking to neighbors telling them we need them to trust us; we need their assistance in prosecuting crimes. I’m encouraging our commanders to keep track of their community engagement measures.”
Glenn emphasized the importance of listening to community complaints and increasing education for his officers.
“If someone comes to you with a complaint, don’t look at it through your eyes; try and look at it through their lens and see how it affected them. What we’re trying to do is encourage [our officers] to look through that person’s eyes,” Glenn said. “It really comes down to listening and not assuming that you understand what happened or even the impact that the incident happened had on the person is; we have to be open to that.”
In an effort to open communication with students, Glenn plans to form an advisory board for undergraduates and graduate students.
“I didn’t have a formal contact with students…so, I started working with faculty and staff to develop a police chief’s advisory board for students to hear some of their concerns,” Glenn said. “We’d have an open forum [so that] I have a core group of students I can reach out to and say ‘This is what I’m hearing; what are you hearing?’”
Near the closing of the panel, White emphasized the importance of voting to enact productive change.
“Since we are in election season, we are residents, many of us, of Clayton,” White said. “Our students who live on the South 40 are residents of Clayton, and other folks are residents of University City or St. Louis; and so, you have to use the power of the ballot to choose votes to represent our interests, not to have other people choose those elected officials for us.”
Senior and TRUTH member Jasmine Pickens believes the panel discussion made the police chiefs more accessible.
“It makes people more accessible, and also I think…going back to the idea of trust, it does start building trust,” Pickens said. “I can say that personally, for myself, at least the police chiefs are more humanized now that we’ve had this conversation, and I think that that kind of achieved the goal that we wanted to.”