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Two years after Ferguson, what’s changed for police, activists?

July 12, 2016 | Virginia News

By ROBERT ZULLO | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Experts in police training and policy debate the merits of “warrior” vs. “guardian” mindsets in shaping how officers should approach their jobs.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates that difficult dichotomy than the situation Dallas police faced Thursday, caught in a planned attack that killed five officers and wounded seven others as they worked to ensure that a protest ignited by police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota this week remained peaceful.

“Police officers were there protecting and making sure the protests were peaceful, and they were getting shot at,” said Chernoh Wurie, a 35-year-old former Prince William County police officer and a professor of criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“It was sickening. I was saddened for the victims, I was saddened for the police officers. We’ve got to start looking for solutions. We have to find a mediator for the community and the police. Who’s going to build that trust again?”

Wurie, who grew up in Sierra Leone and came to the U.S. as a teenager, said the officer-involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota and subsequent calculated massacre of police in Dallas left him battling “a lot of mixed emotions and feelings” as a black man and former police officer.

“I’m definitely hurt and praying for all sides,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

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Two years since the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., social media, news cycles and political reactions have lurched from one controversial police encounter to the next. But what has changed?

In Virginia, law enforcement agencies are keenly aware of fissures between police departments and the communities they serve and are exploring ways to improve how officers work and relate to the public, said Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

The nonprofit group issued a statement Friday, even as it mourned the deaths of officers in Dallas, committing to “enhancing both basic and in-service training to address proper use of force, crisis de-escalation, racial bias and police-community relations, and in examining our hiring and disciplinary procedures.”

“It takes a lot of good, sophisticated training, which is expensive,” Schrad said. “Budgets continue to decline, while expectations of the public continue to increase. ... In this environment, it’s hard to get people to want to come into policing as a career choice.”

Schrad said the association is working with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Safety to add new training curriculum involving the use of force, defusing crisis situations, and improving the integrity of internal affairs investigations. Those subjects have come to the fore as the result of high-profile police shootings.

“It is a complex conundrum, being good community police while being strong enough to handle crisis,” she said. “That takes a mindset that very few people really ever master well.” ...

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