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Black Sheriffs Lay Out How To Solve Mistrust Between Cops And Citizens

REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

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Amber Randall Civil Rights Reporter
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A group of black sheriffs urged transparency and accountability Friday as ways to solve the mistrust between law enforcement officers and the citizens they serve.

The five panelists, speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, proposed the best ways to better the relationship between officers and the public in light of tense relations over the past couple of years.

Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens, the first black female sheriff elected in Texas, said police departments need to focus on making sure the people they hire are professional, compassionate and willing to listen to the people they serve.

“If we’re going to change law enforcement and the way law enforcement is perceived, we have to hire professionals. We have to make people accountable as administrators,” Stephens said to the crowd. “It’s not okay if I have an officer who is complained on consistently and we don’t make those people accountable. One thing I tell my command staff on a regular basis is that everybody who wants to be a police officer should not be a police officer.”

Fulton County, Ga. Sheriff Ted Jackson proposed hearing concerns from the public and educating them on some of the dangers police officers may face while on the job.

“In addition, we meet with the chaplains and they have large congregations. Any message we want passed on they do it for us. We also created a citizen’s academy and that was one of the greatest things we did. This year we had our sixth citizen’s academy classes and we take them through firearm stimulation because it’s very difficult because you have to make quick judgements. When you understand the judgements police officers  go through and you go through it … you got to understand what that’s about,” Jackson said.

One sheriff called for understanding from the public when it came to dealing with bad cops and warned people from painting all officers as the same.

“One of the main things I talk about when I talk to communities is when you say ‘the police’, you’re talking about me,” he said. “You never met me before, you’ve never dealt with me and you’re talking about ‘the police.’ So you can’t paint everybody with that brush. Most police officers hate bad police officers more than the citizens. Our job is hard enough to do without bad police officers out there tainting it even more.”

The CBCFALC’s theme this year was “And Still I Rise” and many of the panels focused on activism in the age of President Donald Trump, health in the black community and criminal justice reform, among other topics. Guests included activist Linda Sarsour, Women’s March co-chair Tamika D. Mallory and Alicia Garza, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter.

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