John R. Hawkins III

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “policing in our community?” I admit the term “…our communities” is a nebulous term in that African American communities vary from the most affluent to the absolute least affluent and under-served. Given the diversity of our communities, one issue of importance and concern to all, is the policing of them.

Does the policing of your community include a good number or an insufficient number of uniformed police presence? Is it how the police in your community treat you and maybe those less fortunate than you with respect or in ways that are disrespectful? Is it that you feel less safe today in your communities? Is it that you believe those in our communities that become involved in an arrest will be treated with the care due all people; or, that mistreatment by police is to be expected? Well, from my foxhole, I think all of the above thoughts are true.

The community weariness of current policing seems to be couched in trust. Last year, during the uprising, I went to Baltimore in an effort to ease the turmoil but also to learn the underlying reason for the outburst (assuming the death of Freddie Gray in police custody was not everything contributing to the unrest).  Every Brother and Sister I talked to on the streets said that they did not trust the police to be public servants with their best interest in mind. That reminded me of some of the reasons given to me in Afghanistan when talking to Afghan nationals about why many of them (not all) had a disdain for the U.S. military. It was then that I realized that both of these scenarios are made better given less violence and more efforts aimed at changing hearts and minds, and more transparency; however, this could take place only if the transparency would reveal judicious reasons for actions taken by authorities.

Meeting this past week with some retired African American police chiefs from major American cities, it was brought to my attention by all of them that the police are trained on ways to lock people up, not to prevent crime. Given that, it is not surprising there are few funds provided to the police prevent crime while the vast majority is for locking people up. One of the most important variables in determining promotions has to do with the number of people arrested by a given police officer.

Recently African American senior police officers in urban settings have proffered the need for a method to quantify the accomplishments of officers preventing crime as a variable in determining proficiency and used in promotion determinations.

Policing our communities is no easy task and it is very expensive. In fact, next to public education it usually is the second most expensive proposition for a community if not the most expensive. For example, Chicago allocates $1.1 billion for policing, none of which is earmarked for prevention. Most cities have the similar allocations.

Moreover, it is widely accepted by most governmental, community and clergy officials that we cannot arrest our way out violent crime, drug trafficking and use.

So, what can we do about this? I suggest first we find out the underlying reasons for why our youth and those who are disenfranchised have a propensity to commit violent acts against each other and all of us for no apparent reason. Is it a willingness to do anything no matter how atrocious to belong to a group or stand out as an individual of recognition, no matter how terrible? Is it because of economic and financial insufficiency and empowerment? Is it because some have not been taught any other way to live? We must find out and then act.

Next, we must be willing to police ourselves and those in our communities. I don’t mean we should take the place of law enforcement; however, we must not be afraid to engage the disenfranchised and misguided for their sake and ours. We must come up with new ways of providing hope to those who see no way to live but through violence.

That means creating new and better ways to show our concern for those on the edge or for those who have fallen over the edge. Let us not be doomed by winning a battle through repeated arrests but loose the war because arrests do not sustain progress against crime (look at the statistics and do the math).    

Maj Gen US Army (ret) John R. Hawkins III, JD, MPA is President and CEO of Hawkins Solutions Intl., a government relations and lobby company. His last military assignment as a “two star” was Dir., Human Resources Directorate for the Army world-wide and prior to that Deputy Chief Public Affairs for the Army, world-wide.