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Indiana officials testify on need to improve police image

Oct 6, 2015
In The News

WASHINGTON – Incidents like the police-shooting death of a teenager in Ferguson, Mo., and the death of an unarmed man put in a choke hold by a New York officer affect the public's relationship with law enforcement even in far-away communities like Richmond, Ind., Wayne County Sheriff Jeff Cappa told members of Congress on Tuesday.

"I've seen it firsthand where, just in routine traffic stops, the general attitude towards law enforcement is different after high-profile events," Cappa said.

He spoke at a hearing convened by a Republican task force on law enforcement created this summer by Reps. Luke Messer of Indiana and Dave Reichert of Washington state to examine tensions between police officers and the communities they serve.

"The problem is getting worse, not better. And that's not good for anybody," Messer said. "Police officers can't do their jobs safety and effectively without the support and cooperation of the communities in which they live and work. And that won't happen unless citizens feel safe, protected and respected. Unfortunately, the relationship between police and people is broken in too many communities."

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said a $20 million program created by the state Legislature in 2013 to put officers in schools is investing in future relationships with the "citizenry of tomorrow."

"It's seen as a way of securing the building," he said. "But it's more than just a gun at the door."

Officers build relationships with students who might otherwise only have seen police when there's a shooting or a relative is being arrested, Zoeller said.

"It's something that has really worked well in Indiana," he said.

W. Craig Hartley Jr., executive director of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, said school resource officer programs only work if there's a good understanding between police and the school about what role the officer will play. Otherwise, he said, children can be brought into the criminal justice system sooner than intended.

"When I was a kid, if I got in a fight in the hallway or something, it usually ended up that a teacher jerked me up by the collar and set me on my way," Hartley said. "When the police offer is there, sometimes it can create an environment where they're making an arrest, which is something different than what you may or may not want to occur."

Brian Jackson, director of the RAND Safety and Justice Program, told the task force the way to combat the cellphone video showing a bad interaction between police and the public is to make available more information about all kinds of interactions.

"Yes, some will look better than others," Jackson said. "But we have had examples of positive police reactions go viral in the same way that we've had negative examples of cellphone videos of negative police interventions go viral."

A Muncie man's Facebook page exploded last month after he posted a selfie he took with a state police officer who arrested him for speeding. He posted the photo to show that a black man and a white officer could interact without violence.

The photo and description of the encounter was shared a half-million times, the Star Press reported.

Jackson told lawmakers that in an age where everyone is carrying a camera, police need to make sure more information about their practices is shared so "there's more context."

"To provide the public more information to draw their own conclusions … is the path to getting towards the future," he said.

114th Congress