How Should We Begin to Rethink Policing?
COMMENTARY

October 2, 2020 by Mary Sanchez
(Victor Moussa/Dreamstime/TNS)

The nation is screaming Black Lives Matter.

The president keeps communicating that they do not.

Among the latest evidence of the disconnect is the fact that a federal judge halted President Donald Trump’s version of how policing will reform.

The reason is damning. In this moment of upheaval with the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement literally being televised on social media, Trump’s Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice excluded those who must be present; civil rights leaders, criminal justice experts, and generally the critics.

Instead, the commission was stacked with those who might be inclined to dismiss dissent, federal, state and municipal law enforcement.

Senior U.S. District Judge John D. Bates answered a lawsuit by the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund by ordering the 18-member commission to comply with federal law ensuring diversity in its members and to practice greater transparency, especially in regards to open meetings.

The legal decision came two days after the childish verbal food fight that was the first presidential debate.

All of this underscores why I logged onto a half-day webinar recently to hear a contemplative, non-confrontational yet critically relevant discussion on policing.

It’s doubtful that many people have heard of The Arbinger Institute, nor is it likely that they are familiar with the law enforcement experts who detailed the crucial ways that policing must change. That’s part of the problem.

The helpers, those who are quietly pressing for reforms within law enforcement, don’t generally receive the attention.

During the debate more than 73 million people tuned in to hear the president thunder inaccurately about cities being taken over by Antifa and some nebulous forces of “the left,” claiming that only federal law enforcement under him can restore peace.

They watched as former Vice President Joe Biden was reeled in by the bluster and suckered into nipping back at Trump by snarking about “yapping,” and then deploying a dismissive grin instead of calmly calling out the president for daft statements that high school debaters could have hit out of the park.

No wonder people check out from politics. And the media, which often reports BLM as protesters versus police, deserve blame as well.

It was refreshing, the following day, to hear honest dialogue that admits problems, but also actively offers and seeks solutions.

A telling aspect of Arbinger is that it strives to avoid creating personalities among its subject experts. White papers are published under the Arbinger name, not a particular person. Collaboration is emphasized.

Arbinger works in various industries, but its theories are based on shifting cultures and resolving conflict by changing people’s approach, what it terms an outward mindset. It seems simple at a cursory glance. For policing, it asks officers to see the humanity of individuals first in any interaction. Unconditional respect is another term that is used.

Admittedly, that can sound “soft” to some officers, which was discussed during a session.

The pushback, a fear, is that an officer might be less safe. It’s often misconstrued as letting their protective training down.

Rather, an open mindset might make that force unnecessary. This is the essence of the de-escalation that people fervently wish to see from law enforcement. Because once anger sets in, actions and reactions take off and too often, that results in people being harmed.

The itch to lecture within policing, as opposed to listening, got a shakedown too. The point was made that a key to better policing would be to train officers to be phenomenal communicators along with more traditional training; honoring the need for active listening, emotional intelligence, self-awareness and the ability to calmly hear criticism. Too often, those skills aren’t valued, a problem that is perpetuated by who is then selected to lead recruits at academy.

I have to wonder if some of those grizzled, less reflective mindsets are on the presidential commission, which now has to reset before making recommendations.

Decisions being made now in law enforcement, including what comes out of the Justice Department, will affect generations to come. On that point, the Arbinger speakers, like the thousands who have taken to the streets in protest in recent months all agree.

This president or the next one, can either be a helpful part of that discussion, or not. But changes are underway.

© 2020, MARY SANCHEZ

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