NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)- Law enforcement professionals are condemning the shootings in Ferguson, MO as cowardly acts against innocent people, but they also say there is work to be done to try improve underlying relations between police officers and communities of color. A former Branford Police Chief who is now an author and top criminal justice professor in New York City believes that years from now, when his students are on the beat, there will be a fundamental change in how policing is done.
The latest gunshots on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, mark another low point in police-community relations, or maybe worse, according to former Branford Police Chief John DeCarlo.
“What we witnessed last night in Ferguson was a hostile, cowardly act of assault on innocent police officers,” DeCarlo said.
Before the shooting, police in riot gear were arresting people gathered to celebrate the resignation of Ferguson’s police chief. Witnesses described police tackling people, putting several of them in handcuffs, then the shots rang out. Ferguson’s Chief had been criticized for the military-style handling of protestors after the shooting of Michael Brown, but Ferguson was not alone in its police becoming more like an army.
“After 9/11, we saw police very much turn towards militarization,” remembers DeCarlo. “At the behest, very often, of the government to become hunters of terrorism.”
DeCarlo says the answer is for police to build a better relationship with the community. We saw officers from five departments training how to do that on Monday with a specialist from the Department of Justice who was in Ferguson last year.
“If you develop a relationship and you have assets in those communities, those communities will support you when you have to do a law enforcement action,” Azekah Jennings told 100 officers at Hamden Town Hall Monday. He will be back for more training sessions with local law enforcement next week.
“How you do it is to re-engineer, re-architect the way police interact with communities,” former Chief DeCarlo said. “But the way you don’t do it, I might add, is by violence.”
We used to hear about community policing a lot more before 9-11. The violence we’ve seen in the past year could swing things back in that direction, but it will take time.