Indy hosts national forum outlining police-community relations

Full Article

Indy Star on 03/09/2016 by Jill Disis

The police are the community, and the community are the police.

That mantra was repeated throughout a national public safety forum Wednesday at the Indianapolis Central Library Downtown.

The event, officials said, was intended to foster discussion about trends and challenges facing police and community relations across the country. Experts from Michigan, Colorado and elsewhere attended.

Headlining the event was David Carter, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University and a former Missouri police officer who authored a report examining the police response to the community outrage after the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The shooting led to an ongoing national discussion about race, policing and use of force.

“I think Ferguson can happen anywhere,” Carter said. “What can we do right now to establish lines of communication and establish, if you will, fire lines to stop that from happening?”

Speaking about his findings, Carter said departments across the country can learn much from the unrest in Ferguson.

“If (the department) had been more open with the community, and had told the community what was going on, there still would have been demonstrations, but I think there’d have been less conflict,” Carter said. “The lack of knowledge, first of all, made people think, ‘What are you hiding from me?’

“But secondly, built in distrust.”

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Troy Riggs, whose department was one of the event’s sponsors, said he thought it was important for Indianapolis to be a leader in such discussions.

“We need to talk about this as a city, and we need to talk about best practices,” he said. “Having citizens willing to work with police is how we solve crimes in our community and communities around the nation.”

During the event, Riggs led a discussion with Robert C. White, chief of the Denver Police Department. White said there is a disconnect between police and the public when it comes to understanding whether an officer’s use of force is necessary, even if the action is legal.

“Policing has changed, but the police haven’t changed,” White said, adding that administrators and supervisors need “to have police officers get in sync and meet the expectations of the community.”

Wednesday’s forum is not the first time police and community members have explored such issues in Indianapolis.

In late 2014, community leaders held multiple forums exploring whether police-community relations in Indianapolis were as fractured as those in Ferguson. Opinions on that question were divided, with some people distancing Indianapolis from the St. Louis suburb, and others arguing that the city has evidence of a deep-rooted mistrust in police.

Police-community tension has been attributed to some issues in the city. A recent IndyStar analysis of homicide data found Indianapolis has difficulty solving killings involving black victims, a disparity many attributed to a pervasive “no snitch” culture and mistrust of law enforcement in predominantly minority communities.

Other sponsors of Wednesday’s forum included the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the IU Public Policy Institute. Officials say they hope to plan additional forums throughout the year.