EDITORIAL: Building trust between police and communities

York Dispatch

It's a good picture.

Two police chiefs and four ministers, a mix of races, standing in front of the Department of Justice emblem.

Everyone looks friendly and open, like they were having a good discussion with colleagues when someone decided to get a photo to commemorate the event.

And that was the whole idea.

A six-man contingent from York County attended a recent DOJ conference in Washington D.C. about building community trust and relationships.
From left: Northern Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel; the Rev. Aaron Anderson; the Rev. William Kerney; Pastor Paul Atkinson; Springettsbury Twp. Police Chief Dan Stump; and Bishop Carl Scott.
(Photo courtesy of Springettsbury Twp. Police)

These leaders from around York County were attending a DOJ conference, Building Community Trust: Justice. Bias and Reconciliation, on Dec. 1 in Washington, D.C.

Springettsbury Township Police Chief Dan Stump was invited to the meeting as part of a DOJ review of his department, and he invited Northern Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel to join him. Along with police, ministers, doctors and national experts on community policing were among the 70 people at the conference.

Police departments around the country are struggling with trust issues in their communities, and York County police are no exception. Springettsbury requested a DOJ review after facing several lawsuits alleging misconduct by officers, and a major part of that review is working on rebuilding the relationship between the police and the people they serve.

That theme was carried over in the conference, Stump said, with discussions focused on the "four pillars" of procedural justice training. Community members want to:

  • Know their local police departments are listening to their opinions and concerns.
  • Know their officers haven't prejudged them and have no biases.
  • Know their officers are concerned about citizens' civil rights.
  • Feel confident their police departments are transparent to the community.

"What it's really about is building relationships within the community, and certainly the faith-based portion of our community is a big part of that," Bentzel said. "It's about understanding the need to build these relationships before something critical occurs."

And that's the test.

Two police chiefs focus on building community trust

Eventually, that "something critical" will occur, and the police and their community will have to deal with it. Even a simple traffic stop can quickly become a critical situation if there is no trust built between officers and the members of the community they serve.

After the Black Lives Matter movement, after last summer's nationwide protests of police shootings, after last summer's attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, trust needs to be rebuilt on both sides of the police-civilian divide.

And that means police need to reach out and let people know they can be trusted, that they won't make assumptions about people — that they will make sure justice is served. And the people in the community need to be receptive to that and believe that they can trust their officers to do the right thing.

When that trust is rebuilt, we hope to see more of these pictures of police and the people they're working for and with, relaxed, having a good conversation, making our communities better, safer places to live.