Bad Guys Win if the Police Reject Protests

Thursday night in Dallas, a calm and peaceful protest was shattered by a brutal precision attack against officers at the scene. Just moments before, some of those same officers had been amiably chatting with young families and others in the diverse group of demonstrators.

As the news spread that five officers had been slain and seven others, along with two civilians, wounded, my colleagues in departments around Dallas responded as if family members had been shot.

“My neighbor asked me, ‘Why are you crying? You said you didn’t know any of those guys,’” one friend who recently retired said to me. “I don’t even know how to explain to him how hard this hits me”.

Along with palpable grief, the most common reaction I heard was pride. Those of us who couldn’t be there were glued to the television, watching officers charge toward the gunfire, engage the gunman and protect civilians. We heard a radio call for plainclothes officers to suit up in their body armor — many didn’t want to waste the time.

For me, though, the pride was over more than just those acts of bravery; it was over the commitment to professionalism, trust and respect by the Dallas police that will allow the department to be as levelheaded in the aftermath of the massacre as it was in the midst of it.

Friday morning, after our brothers were assassinated for being white and for being officers, the word was sent out: more protests are expected, and we must not interfere with them. And that is the way it should be.

Some might ask why there are no tanks or National Guard troops in the streets of Dallas. One reason is the relationship that Chief David O. Brown has built with the community. Since taking over the department in 2010, Chief Brown has worked to get officers to reduce the tension when they confront suspects or other civilians. Even as budget cuts have trimmed the ranks and increased stress on the police, complaints about officers’ use of force have gone down, along with assaults on officers and the crime rate.

The department has also been more open. Even as his officers fought terror in the streets — the worst loss of life for law enforcement since Sept. 11, 2001 — Chief Brown maintained his commitment to transparency, briefing reporters while the bullets were still flying.

Last year, when a rifle-wielding gunman in an armored vehicle attacked the Dallas Police Headquarters, officers live-tweeted the attack.

The department has also thoroughly reported all shootings involving its officers and detailed how its officers have used force.

Such a ready release of information is an important way for police agencies to make a deposit in the bank of community good will.

Demonstrators on Thursday night were protesting shootings by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. Much is made of the body count of police shootings. Far fewer people follow through to learn that, by the count of The Washington Post, 90 percent of the times when police officers shot someone, that person had had a gun or knife, or had posed another threat.

Police officers and protesters are less far apart in their goals than we might think, watching the local news.

The Dallas police and other departments in the area are being clear in our internal conversations: We’re here to protect and serve. When we make mistakes, we try to fix them. When we explain what we do to the public, the public rewards us with trust.

And while Chief Brown has called for an end to “this divisiveness between our police and our citizens”, let’s let the protesters have their say; let’s hear it all. And maybe, if both sides listen, we can get somewhere.

Nick Selby is a police detective in the Dallas area and an author of In Context: Understanding Police Killings of Unarmed Civilians.

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