January 16th, 2021

Awareness training would help officers

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on June 12, 2020.

The police play a crucial role in our society in ensuring public safety and arresting those who commit crimes. With the drug crisis facing our city, one may argue that enforcement role has never been more important. Our local officers risk themselves every day to ensure others in society do not have to face that burden, and residents of our city overwhelmingly appreciate their service.

But there is also no doubt Indigenous people and other peoples, particularly those who are Black, have a very different and negative experience with the local police at times. Not just those who have committed crimes, but in general.

Acknowledging this fact in a letter released to the public last week, Chief Scott Woods stated: “Sometimes, individual police officers will fail in their duties, but that is a function of the frailties of human nature – it does not reflect the values and duty of the police service to the community. If such failures do occur, the important thing then becomes making sure the offending officers are held to account. That is how respect for the community is maintained, even in the face of failure.”

It is not surprising unconscious racism or even conscious racism may exist sometimes within the local police force, because among the residents of our city those same impulses exist. The key thing is, as Woods states in another paragraph of the same letter, “Living up to the standards of charactered, principled policing does not happen by accident. It requires deliberate action. The honour and integrity of the police service must be fought for and protected over time, and never taken for granted.”

Woods announced this week he was open to the idea of accelerating the process of having body cameras installed as part of local officers’ standard equipment to help improve training and accountability. That is an institutionalized response, but a much better one would hope individual officers who struggle with anger would be open to examining their own biases and seeking out guidance, in their own time, from local Indigenous Elders.

No report to the higher ups. No top-down requirement to do awareness training. Just an honest, personal engagement to reflect on where things stand within. That’s a start anyway, which would hopefully be followed by specific actions to move forward as an individual.

Police are in a unique and, in many ways, unenviable position in society. They are asked to catch criminals, but they are also expected to have the sensitivity of social workers as they go about their duties. That complex expectation does not in any way justify instances of police brutality or the fact officers who have sometimes repeatedly abused their privileges still remain in police uniform. With the death of George Floyd, and the overwhelming social response, hopefully that will begin to change.

Real change, however, does not happen by hoping; it happens by taking action and doing.

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