August 9, 2014 began what was one of the most publicized incidences involving the interaction between police and citizens in recent years, Edwin Meese III, the 75th attorney general of the United States, said at a lecture yesterday.
Meese, who served under former President Ronald Reagan, described the altercation between Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and black teenager Michael Brown, that left Brown dead after he was shot six times.
Meese focused his lecture, titled The Post-Ferguson World: The Challenges of Police and Community, on the importance of building trust and legitimacy on both sides of the police-citizen divide to develop a peaceful and constructive community.
Meese said there was no topic as important in the leadership field right now than what was going on with law enforcement after the events in Ferguson.
“It is time to ask what has gone wrong and what can be done to restore confidence in our public safety agencies and the justice system more generally,” Meese said. “It is a restoration in which everyone has an interest.”
Meese served under President Ronald Reagan from February 1985 to August 1988, and for this time period was the country’s chief law enforcement officer. Currently, he holds the Ronald Reagan Chair in Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, a public policy education and research institution.
However, Meese found himself wrapped up in controversy while serving as attorney general. Although Meese never faced charges, an investigation into improper actions in his political past led to his resignation in 1988.
Meese’s lecture was held in the Jepson Alumni Center as part of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies’ Leadership-in-Residence program. This year, the Jepson faculty invited Meese to be its Leader-in-Residence so that he could share valuable and timely lessons from his time as attorney general, Sharon Best, manager of Jepson Community Programs, said.
As riots and protests continue in Ferguson, Meese said this was a good opportunity to learn and improve police operations. A critical aspect of this would be the development of community policing, he said.
Community policing involves developing community partnerships and engaging in active problem solving, according to discoverpolicing.org. Police officers need to be able to hear the opinions of the community they serve and communicate with them in order for this tactic to work, Meese said.
A lot of media coverage aimed at what went on in Ferguson, which was a topic that delivered an atmosphere of very high emotion, led to the violent crimes and protesting that followed the shooting, Meese said. The first step to addressing these crimes is recognizing that there is an issue.
Because most of the contact that people have with the police is negative, Meese said he thought it was important for the public to recognize their responsibility to treat the police with dignity and respect in the same way that police are expected to treat citizens. In order to do this, people must be able to express informed opinions, as well as be able to listen to the opinions of officers.
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In addition to citizen involvement, those in law enforcement must redouble their efforts in recent months to negate negative reactions from the community, Meese said. A culture of officer-citizen understanding must be built in every community, not just those with recognized racial tensions between law enforcement and citizens.
“Our goal from all of this has to be to bring police and the community together to benefit our people collectively,” Meese said.
Jepson’s Leader-in-Residence program allows students to interact with local, state and national leaders to enhance their learning and ability to understand the real lives of today’s leaders. Past leaders have included Major General Gina Farrisee, commander of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, and Dr. Eugene Hickok, U.S. deputy secretary of education.
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