PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - U.S. police need to recapture the lost trust of minority communities, a problem vividly illustrated by protests after the police killings of two unarmed black men, said a veteran police chief tapped by President Barack Obama to address community relations.
The large demonstrations in New York and sometimes violent protests around the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, have underlined just how broad that trust gap is, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said in an interview on Thursday.
“There is a tension, there are real issues,” Ramsey said. “They feel that the police service they are getting is not fair and not impartial. They lost faith in us to a large extent, and we’ve got to restore that.”
Obama this week asked Ramsey and George Mason University Professor Laurie Robinson to come up with concrete recommendations to help rebuild trust, part of his response to the public outcry over the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island.
Ramsey, a 46-year veteran of three police departments, is known in police management circles as a strong advocate of community-focused police work. He began his career in Chicago, where he rose through the ranks to become deputy superintendent before taking the top police job in Washington D.C.
In Washington, Ramsey became one of the first police executives to invite a Justice Department review of the department’s policies on use of force, which he says “fundamentally changed” the department.
But he also drew criticism for mass arrests of protesters during 2002 meetings in the capital of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
In Philadelphia, Ramsey has ordered that all police officers begin their careers on foot patrol, commenting on Thursday, “trust starts with relationships and relationships lead to trust.”
Mary Catherine Roper, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, praised Ramsey for his reaction to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began in New York City in fall 2011 and rapidly spread to other cities, where encampments took over major public spaces.
Roper said he had clearly demanded that protesters be given a lot of leeway. But she criticized his support for stop-and-frisk policies in Philadelphia, a practice that critics say unfairly targets members of racial minorities.
“He clearly believes in community policing,” Roper said, “but his definition of stop-and-frisk also includes an incredibly intensified stop and frisk regime.”
Ramsey did not tip his hand as to what he will recommend in his final report, which is due in 90 days. But he said he admired the Boston Police Department’s use of social media after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
A report by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government detailed how the Boston police gained trust – and hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers – by disseminating timely and accurate information.
“There’s a lot a ways to touch people now,” Ramsey said. “It’s not just about having meetings in church basements anymore.”
Editing by Scott Malone and Frances Kerry