Community Involvement in policing

Community Involvement In Policing

There are several ways that the community can participate in police departments.  Produced by Evan Lynn.

Police Training: The Unrest Won’t End Until Those Who Are Affected Most Are Heard

By Evan Lynn

Recent events like the killing of Breonna Taylor where a no-knock warrant went bad and the well-publicized death of George Floyd are reasons for the recent protests in this country. As police departments have recently come under greater scrutiny from the public, the question becomes: What makes for a good police department? 

According to Radnor Township Superintendent Christopher Flanagan of the Radnor Township Police Department, a well-functioning police department is one that gathers community feedback and keeps the safety of the community and its officers at the forefront. “We need people to feel safe with the police and have interaction and common ability in how we do things,” Flanagan said. When it comes to training as a whole, Superintendent Flanagan has community in mind. “Our goals are to involve the community in the Radnor Police Department. It doesn’t always have to be an accident or criminal response,” Flanagan said.

Officer Brady McHale of the Radnor Police Department shared a similar testament, stressing the importance of positive interaction with the community.

“We have several opportunities for the community to get involved,” McHale said. Some of the ways people can build a good rapport with the police is asking everyday questions and committing acts of kindness. “Stopping one of our officers at Wawa, say "Hi!", and if you have questions about the neighborhood,” McHale said. 

McHale explains the different programs the department has, one of which is to involve community members in rehabilitating young offenders in Radnor Township who are under the age of 18. This program is called the Youth Aid Panel (YAP). “You go in and explain what happened. They will have a copy of the police report and they will see the officer’s observation from that evening,”  McHale explained. The outcome of these panels is typically to ask young people to write papers on topics like underage drinking or drunk driving.

According to a Pew Research study, “About four-in-ten (41%) officers say that ‘requiring officers to be responsive to community concerns and work in close partnership with the community to solve problems is very useful.” Despite giving departments the option to implement a community policing approach, just a little over three-in-ten (32%) support this type of strategy. 

That isn’t so for police in Camden, NJ. According to a Washington Post article about the Camden Police Department, officers changed from ones who left crime scenes undetected to ones where they’re building relationships with the community by throwing block parties and deploying ice cream trucks to restore citizens’ trust and faith in them. This is all thanks to former police chief J. Scott Thomson restructured how the police force was run. This approach had almost immediate success in Camden once it was implemented. According to the article, homicides “were down 63% in 2019” as a result of this new approach. 

In November 2019, District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer was elected to investigate, charge, and prosecute those who are accused of wrongdoing in Delaware County.  He serves as an advocate for the victims in a courtroom. One of the key aspects he mentioned is police training, and he wants to make sure the officers have the expertise and skills to better serve the community.

“We also want to make sure the police officers are properly trained, they’re accredited, and following best practices,” he said. 

Cabrini University alumna, Michelle Mazzanti, explained a negative experience she had with the police which took place 10 years ago at the age of 21. “I was going through a pretty rough patch in my life,” she said. Mazzanti was seeing a therapist who recommended she go to the hospital, and when the police showed up, one of them made a bad situation worse. “He started telling me that I was pathetic, I was a child, what was wrong with me, and what was my problem?” she said. The unpleasant encounter didn’t end there as the police used extreme force to apprehend her before taking her into custody. “After I did not comply to leave with them, the officers dragged me out onto a stretcher.” 

She feels like they abused their power. “You would hope that they would be supportive and there to assist you, but they did the exact opposite,” she said. Mazzanti feels that police officer should answer for their own wrongdoing and should have a better understanding of topics like mental health. “There needs to be disciplinary action taken for abuse of power, and I also think there needs to be more training, especially when it comes to sensitive topics like mental health,” she said. 

Daniel Guy is the Executive Assistant of the Police Advisory Commission. The PAC promotes good policing by providing independent oversight of the Philadelphia Police Department. Citizens can file a complaint with the PAC to report alleged wrongdoing by the police. 

“One of the issues the organization faces in Philadelphia, especially up until probably before the pandemic, is sort of a lack of awareness by citizens that we exist,” Guy said. The one thing Guy wishes people knew about the Police Advisory Commission is that it’s a place where people’s voices can be heard and it is his hope that the PAC receives more attention. 

Despite the lack of awareness, Guy said, the online attendance for the organization's community meeting has shown how involved people are in reform compared to the same meetings before the pandemic. “Our community meetings used to be in-person, and they weren’t particularly well-attended,” Guy said. As the pandemic has progressed, citizens have become more proactive by attending their virtual meetings. 

“Due to people’s engagement in oversight, we had 65 people online, which is awesome to know people are engaged,” Guy said. He stresses the importances of reading and educating yourself on the issues and becoming informed in oversight and how policing is done. “If you just have police doing what they think is right and no one is holding them accountable for their actions, then we are not really policing in the best of manners,” Guy said.  

Oversight Makes for Better Policing

This podcast features Daniel Guy is the Executive Assistant of the Police Advisory Commission in Philadelphia which is a non-profit in Philadelphia who help victims who have had negative encounters with law enforcement.

Produced by Evan Lynn. 

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