To the editor:
“We have to teach each other not to fear one another.” Truth was spoken by the youngest community member of the Columbia County Police Reform Panel Tismark Bohan, a 17-year-old black high school student, at the final Community Members Panel session. Many panelists spoke about root causes of mistrust between police and the community — militarization of police departments, a mindset of community as a warzone, use of bullying tactics instead of de-escalation, racial bias, and lack of accountability, from their professional knowledge and insight. Few spoke of these problems through their own lived experiences. More voices of those most impacted by bias and disproportionate policing, including youth and immigrant populations have been missing. They need to be heard when the upcoming Lawmakers Panel begins its work on Dec. 2. Identifying the problem should be the first step in reform.
When asked, Sheriff Bartlett spoke of the thousands of hours of training, including workplace violence, ethics in the workplace, implicit bias, anti-bullying, anti-bias policing and mental health overview and awareness for officers, and a new program that includes hands on and face-to-face training that meets accreditation requirements. Determining whether these programs had efficacy, or changed officer behavior requires a commitment to reimagining and reforming policing to protect people not institutions. Again, Tismark Bohan’s prescient words summed it up best — “We should do what we can to get these police reform initiatives through the system, but also focus on what we’re doing as individuals to fix policing for the future.”