Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Attorney General Koster's Roundtable on Representative Policing: My Remarks

I’d like to thank Attorney General Chris Koster for bringing us together to talk about this important topic. The past 50-plus days will be transformative in law enforcement, not just here in St. Louis, but around the world.

Ferguson is emblematic of a problem. Decades and generations of social and economic disparity, years of profound underemployment, lack of educational opportunities, increases in black-on-black crime, a lack of access to affordable healthcare and real mental health services. These are problems that impact large segments of our community, as others have already said this morning.

The narrative Ferguson is writing for our nation and the world is still being written and will continue being written over the next months, but today we have a chance to impact that narrative in a meaningful way.

Discussing race will forever be a difficult conversation in our world and it is especially difficult for a white police chief in a community that is approaching 50 percent African American. However, it is exactly the reason why we should have this conversation, and why we are having it here today.

Communities most impacted by crime need law enforcement the most, but those communities also have come to fear police as an occupying force. In some communities, police have become the face of government because government has failed to provide even some of the most basic needs. This creates a cycle of mistrust and if we want to talk about the cycle, we must first understand symptoms.

Mistrust of the police comes from a very basic level and sometimes occurs because of where someone is standing when they look at the problem. Implicit bias is real and we are working to address it. We all have beliefs and biases that we allow to reach from our subconscious into our daily interactions and create hurdles.

I'll give you an example of “not in my backyard”. I firmly believe economics is key to our region’s growth. With growth and investment comes better infrastructure and better accessibility to all the things we know curb crime: jobs, education, affordable healthcare, etc.

Today, we come together as a region, as a community and as one city to talk about the challenges that we face. We know that linking Downtown through the central corridor to North County to the airport with Metrolink needs to continue to St. Charles and Chesterfield; yet many people say, “not in my backyard”.

Today, we are here to talk about representative policing, however, really limiting the conversation to policing doesn't do the conversation justice.  

The criminal justice system needs to be representative of the community that we live in. When I say live in, I don't mean just where we lay our heads at night. I mean the entire community; where we go to sporting events, where we dine and where we vacation.

Law enforcement agencies must look for qualified applicants; ones that understand their implicit biases, and ones that are reflective of the communities they serve. I think we all agree that qualified applicants are the key. 

We have to be serious about recruitment. For qualified candidates, governments compete with Emerson, Anheuser-Busch, Centene and all the major corporations who pay much, much better.

Two-thirds of the applicants that apply to the Metropolitan Police Department are white and about 30 percent of applicants are black, even though we service a community that's approaching 50% African American.

We look for opportunities to keep our community safer. Opportunities as simple as an armed offender docket, which asks the courts to have specific paths to monitor individuals that hold our communities hostage. Representative policing is not just about the uniform; it’s about justice, safety and the rights we all share.

So while the word ‘police’ has become generic in some conversations, the conversation is not just about civilian oversight or body cameras. It's about having a justice system and a process that works for all…including black, white, male, female, gay, lesbian, disenfranchised, rich or poor. Representative policing is about having a system that works for us; for St. Louisans, for Missourians, and for Americans.

Let’s have a real conversation today, not just about the symptoms that manifest themselves but about solutions to the causes of the symptoms. Ferguson has started a dialogue that has been significantly unremarkable since the end of the 1960's. Let’s really have the conversation.

Thank you, again, Attorney General Koster for bringing us together to make this conversation happen. 

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