New cases of officer-involved shootings of black men capture the struggle in trying to change a deeply ingrained culture of policing in the U.S., police executives and law enforcement analysts tell the Christian Science Monitor. Three days after a police officer fatally shot Terence Crutcher in Tulsa this month, the police department released footage of the shooting and invited the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate. Within a week, officer Betty Shelby was charged with manslaughter. In Charlotte, a similar shooting took place Sept. 20. The police chief held off on releasing dashcam footage, saying “transparency is in the eye of the beholder.” He relented four days later. By then riots had erupted, forcing the governor to declare a state of emergency and call in the National Guard. Each case provides insight into the progress toward two things: bridging the gap between police and their communities, and developing a culture of policing that merges the public’s and police interests. Those needs were underscored Tuesday, when police in El Cajon, Ca., fatally shot a black man in an incident with parallels to Tulsa.
The fact that such shootings continue to take place suggests that major challenges remain in transforming a culture that has long rewarded officers for using force against criminals. “We still have to build those bridges, establish those relationships, and develop and create policy that is supportive of public safety but also [considers] the needs of police,” says Cedric Alexander, director of public safety for Dekalb County in Georgia and a member of President Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing. “That’s where we are today and it’s going to be an uphill battle.” One example of change is in Seattle, which trains officers to redirect low-level offenders away from the criminal justice system. Individuals caught for petty drug offenses and prostitution are referred to case-management programs and community-based services. LEAD has launched in many other cities and counties. Ingraining that sort of mind-set into every police chief, sheriff, and officer in the 18,000 police agencies would require time, commitment, and a great deal of money. “It’s not inexpensive to do this,” says James Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation. Until recently, he adds, “there’s not been political will.”