Skip to content
Topics
Stories

After Ferguson, building police-community trust

A photo of a police officer watching a community protest.

Amy Far­rell, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in the School of Crim­i­nology and Crim­inal Jus­tice, offered recommendations on how police can build community trust during her lecture last week in the latest install­ment of the “Minds Over Mat­ters: NUterm Fac­ulty Speaker Series.”

In the wake of last year’s deadly shooting of Michael Brown in Fer­guson, Mis­souri, as well as other events in which the police’s use of force has been ques­tioned, is policing in America facing a legit­i­macy crisis? And if so, what do we do about it?

Amy Far­rell, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in the School of Crim­i­nology and Crim­inal Jus­tice, offered these ques­tions to kick off her lec­ture and dis­cus­sion last week in the latest install­ment of the “Minds Over Mat­ters: NUterm Fac­ulty Speaker Series.”

The series fea­tures weekly pre­sen­ta­tions from top fac­ulty scholars who dis­cuss their research and examine timely topics of global impor­tance. Farrell’s research focuses on the admin­is­tra­tion of jus­tice, with par­tic­ular emphasis on under­standing the impact of race and gender on police, pros­e­cu­tion, and sen­tencing practices.

When people lose trust in police, Far­rell said, research has shown that they are less likely to follow laws, assist police, come for­ward as wit­nesses, and obey police com­mands in sit­u­a­tions where offi­cers are attempting to use coer­cive force.

I think what you see res­onating across our country today is a wide­spread fear of the police,” she told stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff in atten­dance, “a fear of the police that may have long been held in com­mu­ni­ties of color that’s now being rec­og­nized by com­mu­ni­ties that have the priv­i­lege not to have feared the police in the past.”

In response to these legit­i­macy con­cerns, police nation­wide have done some “col­lec­tive soul searching,” she said, and imple­mented sys­tems of trans­parency, like the Boston Police Department’s releasing of video footage fol­lowing inci­dents. Yet, Far­rell noted, “restoring that public con­fi­dence is a fun­da­men­tally dif­fi­cult task.”

Of the handful of issues that have at times threat­ened police legit­i­macy over the past 100 years in America, she said two are present in the wake of recent events: dis­crim­i­na­tion and inap­pro­priate use of coer­cive force.

Far­rell pointed to four prob­lems that have con­tributed to this sit­u­a­tion:

1) The move­ment away from com­mu­nity policing over the past 20 years—“Community policing never had a heyday, but it was a little plant that was starting to grow.”

2) The increased reliance on tech­nology to solve problems—the idea that police can col­lect data on “hot spots” for crime but aren’t mea­suring things like fair­ness and pro­ce­dural justice

3) The mil­i­ta­riza­tion of police—she pointed to a 2014 ACLU study that exam­ined the increasing number of law enforce­ment agen­cies that have SWATteams. “They are being deployed for rou­tine policing,” she said. “SWAT teams’ reliance on mil­i­ta­riza­tion and tech­nology increases the social dis­tance between police and community.”

4) Implicit bias—Farrell said this has been lurking under the country’s racial progress of the past half cen­tury. “These are not prej­u­dices that we are born with, but we live in a racial­ized society,” she said.

Solu­tions to these prob­lems won’t be easy, as his­tory has shown, Far­rell said. But she offered a few ideas, among them bringing com­mu­nity part­ner­ship back to policing and shrinking the social dis­tance between police and com­mu­nity by having police forces that are not only diverse but that also learn from and share in each other’s per­sonal experiences.

Far­rell also echoed her ear­lier calls for devel­oping account­ability sys­tems for police that go beyond crime sta­tis­tics and inte­grate a wider range of values beyond crime like fair­ness, equality, and pro­ce­dural jus­tice measures.

Oth­er­wise, these are just ideals without action,” she said.

-By Greg St. Martin

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

01.04.2018
Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

11.08.2017
Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish

05.29.20
Uncategorized