There are two very important things newsrooms should do in every community to document the relationship between the police and the community.
Analyze the data and policies of your law enforcement agencies
- What’s the racial breakdown of the force?
- Do officers have to live in the city or county where they work?
- How many excessive force complaints were filed over the last five years and what is their disposition? Have lawsuits been filed over excessive force?
- Are there patterns in the excessive force complaints?
- How many people are stopped for minor violations like expired tags, trespassing, broken tail lights or riding a bike without a light? Are there patterns in those stops? What percent of the government’s budget comes from these stops?
- How many times do officers detain people without making an arrest?
The second part of this equation is to create space for voices to be heard. Then invite them in and listen. Seattle Times does a good job on this around education. Here is one of its recent events. So does WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show with its Kojo in Your Community series. News organization should be convening conversations on important issues.
In journalism, our job is to hold the powerful accountable. Law enforcement hold incredible power over individuals. And in many communities there is a perception that cops are abusing that power. Give those communities real information that confirms or alters those perceptions. Make the time and space for citizens to bring about change before a crisis.