This month’s bloodshed and protests in Ferguson, Mo., have created a lesson plan for those that want none of what that city has reaped. The guidelines aren’t optional.
Police departments must be transparent and trustworthy.
Communication between the community and the men and women in blue is vital.
And, as best they can, police departments should resemble the communities they serve.
On Monday, the Anniston City Council may vote to create a citizen advisory committee for its Police Department. We hope the council green-lights this project. Consider it low-hanging fruit — it’s cheap, it’s not difficult to administer, and it makes perfect sense.
To hear City Manager Brian Johnson tell it, he began work on this committee idea more than two months ago — before the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson. In other words, the idea isn’t in response to what’s happening in Missouri.
Consider it this way: Local NAACP President David Baker told The Star that “I think our Police Department is doing somewhat of a fine job, as long as they keep their doors open and talk and listen.”
Communication and trust are key.
For Anniston, at least, the rest of the Ferguson lesson plan isn’t implemented so simply. Like Ferguson, Anniston is a majority black city whose police force is overwhelmingly white. Of the city’s 88 officers, about eight are minorities, Chief Shane Denham said. That’s not a healthy ratio. Ferguson proves that.
In a story in Thursday’s Star, Denham re-told what chiefs in Calhoun County have said for some time: it’s difficult to hire minorities because few apply for open positions. What’s more, applicants of any race often don’t make the cut because they don’t meet the qualifications.
It’s unfair, but the tough-love message for Denham would be, bluntly, tough. Increase minority recruiting efforts. Partner with universities that have quality criminal-justice programs to identify minority candidates. And, for the council, increase officers’ wages so that coveted minority candidates will consider joining the force — and stay a while before moving on to larger cities that offer bigger salaries.
All of that is easier said than done, of course. The task is immense.
Denham didn’t create this problem; it’s existed in Anniston for some time. For now, opening consistent communication lines between residents and officers seems wholly doable. Each side, people and police, have much to gain.