The way to achieve police reform is to have the rank-and-file officer core buy into reforms. That was the message during a panel discussion at Cal State LA’s Pat Brown Institute’s annual conference looking post-election, “Where do we go from here?” But it will take not only the police to accept reforms but for the communities to also accept changes like community policing and give the reforms a chance to work.

Civil Rights attorney Connie Rice who has both sued and worked with the Los Angeles Police Department to improve policing relationships with the community said attitudes of police chiefs have changed. Police chiefs understand that changes are needed and policing attitudes have come a long way since the 1990s, she said.

However, Rice said there is turmoil in the ranks, much of it promoted by recent protests and a youth movement of those who back Black Lives Matter, gun control and other reforms. She said the turmoil is caused by the pushback from advocacy groups that promote Blue Lives Matter and set up obstacles to reforms. 

Rice said that while advancements have been achieved in eliminating choke holds and no-knock warrants and other changes to weapons and tactics, the major transformation will occur with cultural changes within the ranks from a warrior mentality to a guardian mentality.

UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky agreed saying that some of the changes to policing must be forced on police departments by government. He pointed to advancements within the LAPD after the federal government issued a consent decree on the department monitoring reforms.

Rice said she learned from her experience suing the LAPD that change can’t come from the outside. That’s why she teamed up with LAPD chiefs Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck to work within the police department. They created the Community Safety Partnership, which promotes better relations between the police and the communities they serve.

Rice said working with the police was essential because the first civil right is safety and to achieve that goal the police have to be engaged as protectors in all communities.

As I have written before, community policing seems to be the right solution for this time when so much tension between police and minority communities has erupted in the wake of the George Floyd killing. But it won’t be an easy sell do either side of the policing divide.

Police must be sincere in pushing community policing and community members have to show trust in the program. It’s not a one-way street. Both sides of the divide have to engage.

Community policing would seem to satisfy members of the minority community who have indicated they don’t want fewer police, as the defund the police advocates demand, but a police force in which they can trust to achieve justice.