With the recent shootings involving law enforcement, President Obama took to the press Thursday to address the death of two men by police gunfire. He then returned to the press to express his sadness over the death of five officers in Dallas.
A concept the president continued to reiterate during his press conferences was his Task Force on 21st Century Policing. In 2015, the Task Force released recommendations to provide meaningful solutions to help law enforcement agencies and communities strengthen trust and collaboration, while ushering the nation into the next phase of community-focused policing.
In a county where police are actively seen, the Bolivar Commercial went to local law enforcement to find out their thoughts on recent events and why they believe situations are different in our area.
Cleveland Police Chief Buster Bingham not only shared his condolences but also had some thoughts on what makes the city different. "Most of these incidents that happen appear to be in larger cities or suburbs of larger cities. Those officers don’t have the one on one relationship with the citizens in the community like we do here in Cleveland. Our officers know a lot of people and people know us. We go to church and out to eat and people see us off duty as much as they see us on duty.
"That relationship has a lot to do it with it and there's not so much the unknown factor. Most of the time when we deal with someone we know them and have relationships and it helps us with those situations."
Bingham said while officers have a closer relationship with citizens, there is also no way of knowing what will happen in any given situation and officers must be trained to handle anything.
"Every situation is different. Our officers are trained through the academy and we go through a lot of training around here. We are about to do a lot more hands-on training. You never know what will happen. The elements of each situation dictate what will happen," he said. While Bingham said training for officers is importance, one element stands out.
"Training is important but the most important thing is the value of human life. You’ve got to understand that a human life is sacred and valuable. We don’t want our officers hurt, we want them to do their shift, go home, and be safe with their families. We must value the lives of those around us.
"There are many that think officers go out and look to hurt or shoot but what we are here to do is to help people and calm situations down. At the same token, if our officers have to shoot it's in the defense of us and in the defense of others," he said.
Bingham said that while officers in the area are diligent with training, they have families and emotions.
He said officers are aware and prepared to deal with stops that involve people with guns due to Mississippi gun laws, and that is where proper training is also important.
"Police officers are people too and we have emotions and think about our families. We're going to try to go home. No one wants to get hurt. We aren't out there looking. We run up on people with guns every day because of our Mississippi laws. People wear them, conceal them, and it falls back on that community aspect," he said. An element of trust and friendship comes strongly into play when it comes to the officers in the Bolivar County and Cleveland area.
"Our officers know our people here in town and we've got the benefit of having that small town atmosphere. That has a lot to do with it. Our officers are interacting in the ball systems, like park and recreation, our officers in schools, and our officers in the street interacting with people. Community policing is about reacting and interacting with the public," he said.
"I can't emphasize enough that none of our training tells us to react to hurt someone just to hurt someone. All of our training for self-defense is in reaction of immediate threat to life of ourselves or to others," said Bingham.
Bolivar County Sheriff Kelvin Williams agreed and said training plays a large role in a deputy's day-to-day activities.
"Training is the key element to all law enforcement. Your training is a technique of survival and a technique on how to deal with the public and people around you. You can never have enough training," he said.
Williams also said one of the most important aspects of being a deputy is building a level of trust with the community.
"Another key element to bridging the gap between the community and the department is accessibility and being transparent. We've got to build a trust and allow the community to trust the local law enforcement.
"If there is no transparency between the community and the department that tends to cause tension. What we try to do is build a relationship with the community and gain their trust. We want them to trust us and doing what we believe is right as far as the law is concerned," he said.
Williams commented on the diversity of the department and how that affects the community.
"I've been a part of a lot of major police departments. When your department represents your community that tends to help. No officer can predict what's going to happen. The makeup of a community and the makeup of the department is a key element but regardless of who serves no matter what race, the community has to trust them to assist and protect them.
"It doesn’t matter who comes to assist you, you want assistance and someone you know will help. We are grateful to have a diverse makeup in our department that represents our community," said Williams. Williams said being a deputy could be difficult today because the concept of law enforcement is changing.
"In these times, that (getting new deputies and interest) can be hard to do because a lot of interest in law enforcements is not what is used to be. You used to have kids that say they wanted to be a police officer and you just aren't hearing that anymore.
“We have to be sensitive at this time because things are at an all time high. Regardless of who you are, when you need assistance we want you to know that we are there to help," said Williams.
There are six pillars that make up the recommendations of the President's Task Force.
Building trust and legitimacy allows officers to promote trust and ensure legitimacy through procedural justice, transparency, accountability, and honest recognition of past and present obstacles.
Second is policy and oversight, which encouraged developing comprehensive and responsive policies on key topics while also implementing formal checks and balances and data collection and analysis.
Third is balancing the embrace of technology and digital communications with local needs, privacy, assessments, and monitoring.
Fourth is encouraging the implementation of policies that support community-based partnerships in the reduction of crime.
Fifth is emphasizing the importance of high quality and effective training and education through partnerships with local and national training facilities.
Sixth is endorsing practices that support officer wellness and safety through the re-evaluation of officer shift hours and data collection and analysis to help prevent officer injuries.
Many, if not all, of these pillars are constantly addressed within Bolivar County through training, police involvement, and the use of Crimestoppers. For more information about the Task Force and resources about how to make your community safer for all people, visit www.cops.usdoj.gov/policingtaskforce and www.ric-zai-inc.com.