“So much of what goes into policing in terms of community reaction, is a direct result of whether the community has confidence in the police, do they trust the police, do they feel that they are open, transparent and accountable, do they feel they have a voice in terms of policing,” Bueermann said. “When the police department does not reflect the ethnic makeup of the community it serves, and that disparity is as significant as … has been reported in Ferguson, then, in my opinion, the question is not ‘is there going to be a problem between the community and police,’ the question is ‘when is that problem going to occur?'”
Bueermann was interviewed on the “Here and Now” program produced by public radio station WBUR in Boston and broadcast to more the 475 National Public Radio stations nationwide. The interview was one of many that the Police Foundation president has conducted in the wake of the problems in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed African-American youth was shot during a confrontation with a white police officer. The program is available online by clicking here.
Law enforcement agencies should inform the community on how they will face problems and resolve them, and if possible give the community a voice in the process, Bueermann said. Police should inform community leaders of plans to acquire military-style gear, and explain why it is needed, he said.
The police in Ferguson increased tension unnecessarily by confronting peaceful protesters during daytime marches with military-style weaponry, he said. They should have been working with the protesters to facilitate their First Amendment rights to speak out, he said. By raising tensions during the day, police faced an angry mob when tensions rose after dark.
Police departments facing that kind of outrage must also make every effort to be transparent in how they are conducting the investigation and release findings as soon as possible, Bueermann said. “Part of the problem with this incident is there has been very little transparency in the policing side of this story. People will naturally fill that void with their own perceptions, their own mental model of how the world works that is informed by their experiences with the police. And if they have not been good, positive experiences… they are likely to fill that void with negative perceptions and assumptions and conclusions because nothing is countering that.”