One Path to Follow After the Stephon Clark Decision

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

In the wake of the announcement this weekend that no charges would be brought against the police officers that shot and killed unarmed Stephon Clark, Governor Gavin Newsom spoke of the need for increased community policing to build trust between residents and policing agencies. He should look at the success of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Safety Partnership (CSP).

CSP began almost a decade ago in the pubic housing projects in the Watts section of Los Angeles. The goal was to involve officers in the housing developments not to make arrests but to create partnerships and relationships with community members. Officers selected for the CSP Unit pledged to work five years to build relationships.

CSP is only one small solution in building trust and improving the relationship between police and the people they serve. It is neither an immediate salve for Clark’s family nor the officers entangled in the situation surrounding Clark’s death. Yet, small, successful steps are important and Newsom said he is looking for solutions.

The Urban Peace Institute described the success of the CSP program this way:

Less than a decade ago in L.A.’s Watts neighborhood, residents were unlikely to interact with police in a positive way and rarely ventured outside of their homes due to lack of safety.

But today we hear stories about neighborhood children chasing police officers to hug them, and grandmothers, who are finally enjoying their front steps for the first time, waving and blowing kisses at police officers like they are part of their family.

For residents of Watts’ public housing developments, this ongoing transformation towards a safer community has been successful in large part due to the unique and historic collaboration known as the Community Safety Partnership.

Guiding the Community Safety Partnership was LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Connie Rice, civil rights activist and lawyer and former NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorney. Rice was selected to lead the Blue Ribbon Rampart Review Panel, which investigated the largest police corruption scandal in Los Angeles Police Department history. She went from suing the department to working with the department to try and bridge the gap between police and community members.

Rice was the only Californian who served on President Obama’s President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which included a recommendation for the Community Safety Partnership in its final report.

As I reported on this site previously, Rice told me, “When the African-American community sees itself on videos of shootings that are questionable and it looks like murder and there is never any kind of response, because if you’re talking about prosecuting cops you’ve already lost the battle. You have to fix it on the front end.”

Fixing it on the front-end means building community trust.

The plan for the Community Safety Partnership was to reverse the long held traditions of policing—don’t give credit for an arrest, see an arrest as failure. Rice said the officers involved in the CSP were told: You are in the trust business. Earn the trust of the community through service to the community.

According to Rice, after nearly ten years,  CSP in partnership with local residents achieved zero murders in two Watts housing projects, and had the highest case clearance rates and has had no officer involved shootings.

Resolving the issues around the Stephon Clark shooting deals with more than community trust. But if the governor’s goal is to find “systemic reforms” in the criminal justice system, the Community Safety Partnership may be a good place to start.

 

 

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