Trying to Build Trust Between NJ Cops, Communites
In a day-long event Wednesday at the War Memorial in Trenton, federal, state, county and local law enforcement officials gathered to talk about strategies for building trust between police officers and the people they serve.
Panelists examined ideas for improving community confidence in police, increasing transparency, investigating police misconduct and constitutional policing among other things.
“There can be little doubt that across the U.S. and here in New Jersey that it’s a trying time for police/community relations,” said acting Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri. “In many towns the community has lost faith in the police. The community sees the police as the problem and not part of the solution. In many communities there’s a distrust and a total breakdown of community/police communication.”
The overwhelming majority of police officers go to work every day and embody the police motto to protect and serve even as the face the very real possibility of being the target of violence just because they wear a badge, Onofri explained.
“The public has the right to expect that the people who swear to uphold the law, to protect their neighborhoods and to keep them safe are people they can trust. When officers don’t follow the rules they undermine the confidence that community members should have in their police and that makes the job so much harder for the rest of the well-intentioned cops,” said Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
Genuine, long-term community outreach, public information sessions, more body cameras and ensuring police departments at every level are as diverse as the communities they serve were just a few of the strategies suggested. The state’s top law enforcement official was particularly adamant about making sure community members were involved.
“True, real, lasting community engagement is not easy and it has a price; accountability and ownership,” said acting State Attorney General John Hoffman. “It is easy to sit in the cheap seats and throw complaints and criticisms across the table. It is hard to sit across from one another, to walk in one another's shoes, to collaborate, to coordinate and to compromise on critical issues.”