Lack of trust between police and their communities — particularly communities of color — is a serious issue. And after a series of police killings of unarmed black men got national media attention over the past several months, people have started raising their voices about excessive-force cases in their own backyards. But that doesn't mean it's impossible for individual good cops to earn the respect of the people on their beats.
To demonstrate this, Fusion's Geneva Sands, Serena Marshall and Drew Chesnutt shadowed longtime Los Angeles police officer Deon Joseph as he walked through his beat in LA's Skid Row neighborhood:
In the video, Joseph said that when he first got to Skid Row he was a typical police officer: "All I did was pull up, arrest people, fill up the back of my car. Didn't explain myself." That attitude earned him the nickname "Robocop."
Now he takes a cooperative approach to keeping the neighborhood safe — handing out missing-person flyers every week, for example, and considering whether a mentally ill person needs to get social services instead of going to jail. As a result, as Sands and Marshall wrote, "he cannot make it more than a block without hearing his name called out."
But has Joseph actually succeeded as an ambassador for the LAPD, or for police as a whole? Or has he just managed to prove that he's "one of the good ones," without changing residents' opinion about the police more generally?
That's a much harder question to answer. And a postscript to the Fusion video is a pretty bad sign. It acknowledges that after the creators filmed Joseph among the residents of Skid Row, another officer was caught on video in the neighborhood shooting a homeless man. The shooting sparked protests; while it's currently being investigated by the LAPD and the Los Angeles County prosecutor, residents wanted an independent investigation — which isn't a sign that they have much trust in the LAPD as a department.
This doesn't mean the work Joseph and officers like him do is useless. They're helping residents get the help they need, and making it possible for victims and witnesses of crimes to go to a police officer they can trust. But it's an important reminder that rebuilding police-community trust is too big an issue to be fixed by individual officers, no matter how good the "good cops" are.
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