Reimann: Psychology may be key to solving police problems
As a person and a police professional, I am pained by the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
It is our job to protect life and increase public safety within our communities. The incident in Minneapolis does not reflect my value of the sanctity of life or the code of ethics I, as a police officer, have sworn to uphold.
Mr. Floyd's death is a violation of all that is good in our profession. What we have seen is beyond debate.
During this past year, policing has been the focus of more public attention than in any other time in recent history. Mr. Floyd's death has further sparked a national discussion about police legitimacy and community relations, where I believe it is important to engage in constructive conversations about race, humanity and equality. However, we also must start having serious discussions about the overall health of our police organizations.
As I look at the many recommendations that are being proposed across the country, I find that they fall into several common themes: community policing, racial profiling, use of force, police misconduct and police accountability. I see nothing that is earth-shattering in the recommendations, in either a good or bad way.
We are very fortunate to work in the Northwest — most of the recommendations being made are things that police agencies in Oregon are currently already doing or mandated to do.
Yes, we can do more and should continue to scrutinize our service strategies and training. Police chiefs should also continue to meet with community organizations/members in order to help them see blind spots in how their departments operate.
Unfortunately, I feel that the recommendations being made fall short and do not address the other variables that impact policing.
Policing has changed drastically during my career, and so have the mandates put on police officers. Each community needs to decide who and what they want in their police officers.
Can we chat about what competencies we want to measure in our hiring processes and figure out how to develop the appropriate methods to measure these competencies? Besides behavioral competencies, can we also test for emotional intelligence, implicit bias, and the ability to deal with adversity?
We are still using the same basic battery of psychological tests that I took when I first got into law enforcement 30-plus years ago. We know that the MMPI-2 — the primary psychological test officers take — is still not an accurate rating of psychopathology or behavior. Nor does it measure implicit bias or racist attitudes/behaviors. But we still use it.
Law enforcement agencies also need to get a better understanding of how post-traumatic stress disorder affects a police officer during his/her career. Does PTSD impact an officer's use of force and/or social attitudes? After seeing death in the form of homicides, accidents, suicides; working with children who have been abused physically and sexually; working with women who have been abused; it all takes a toll on one's humanity. It changes you and your outlook on life. With this said, can we mandate resiliency training and regular psychological reviews throughout an officer's career?
We also need to understand how policing service models impact systemic racism. Do our current policing strategies create or contribute to racial discrimination even when the individual police officers are not themselves consciously racist?
Reorienting the way we think about public safety, as well as the roles of communities and police departments in promoting it, will take time, effort, and a shared understanding. Completely disbanding or downsizing police agencies is not the answer. This is not a time to shoot from the political hip.
As we move forward with these discussions, we will question what to believe.
I hope we can follow the Ten Commandments of rational debate. We only change our beliefs when there is reasoned argument and discussion.
Even with all of our faults, America is still a great country. It's one of the few places on this planet where we get to challenge political ideology, change the status quo and move into political positions regardless of race, ethnicity or gender identification.
As a nation, we are more ethnically and racially diverse than we have ever been. Our children are more accepting and open-minded than past generations.
I do understand that we still have a long journey in order for us to become a nation that lives up to our founding principles and ushers in a just and lasting peace. But I am still hopeful.
As you fight for social justice, please continue to do so in a safe and peaceful manner. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." However, scrutiny and activism cannot be used as excuses to become violent.
Peaceful assembly is not only lawful, it can convey a strong message, and by remaining peaceful, the message is not lost to violence. I know that the Forest Grove Police Department will ensure you have that right.
Henry Reimann is interim chief of the Forest Grove Police Department.
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