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Across the nation, communities are waging a broad-based movement for a dramatic change in police relationships. Activists and experts argue that a range of community-oriented approaches to policing will lead to fewer confrontations, better public safety, and stronger communities.

The inequitable treatment of people of color by police has a long history, rooted in slavery and systemic racism. It violates the ideals of our democratic society, which are rooted in equality and liberty for all.

Representation in the Criminal Justice System

In the United States, black and Latino people are incarcerated at a higher rate than whites. It is a severe problem because it can negatively impact their lives, such as being unable to get a job or obtaining federal benefits.

The criminal justice system also has a long history of discrimination against certain groups of people based on their race or ethnicity. It includes racial profiling, denial of rights, and the failure to investigate the alleged crime.

It can harm the communities in which they live, including increasing the likelihood of police encounters that lead to violence or arrests and leaving residents feeling unsafe. In New York, for example, 58 percent of low-income black and Latino people who had a police encounter over the past year said that it made them feel unsafe or worried about what would happen to them.

Representation in the criminal justice system is crucial for communities of color because they have a strong voice and can play an essential role in developing police reform. It is why Penn State’s Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color was initially organized in 2015. It is now reconvened, with representation from Penn State administrators, faculty, students, and staff; SCPD; University Police and Public Safety (UPPS); Bellefonte Police Department; Ferguson Township Police Department; Patton Township Police Department; Spring Township Police Department; and other community partners.

The Role of the Police

Police are a vital part of our society, tasked with protecting citizens, deterring and investigating crime, and enforcing laws. Their long hours and low pay can make their work challenging, but it is a career that gives them an important responsibility and a sense of purpose.

Police departments need resources and support to carry out their duties. However, they also need to avoid using tactics that generate animosity. It can lead to violence and even killings.

In communities of color, police may have difficulty finding suspects and solving crimes. It erodes confidence in the police department and makes it difficult to trust that they will protect their community.

Ultimately, people’s perception of law enforcement is influenced by what happens daily. For example, if residents repeatedly complain to the police about a neighborhood nuisance or an issue with policy or practice, officers will likely focus on it.

But if someone is committing a crime, has an outstanding arrest warrant, or is acting erratic, a police officer may be more likely to escalate the situation. It can include summoning or arresting them and searching them for weapons or drug paraphernalia.

These actions can be dangerous and often leave victims and witnesses resenting the police. These feelings are particularly acute in over-policed, disadvantaged communities, especially in communities of color. It is why police reform is becoming an essential topic of discussion.

The Impact of Social Media

Recent high-profile videos and allegations of Black and brown people being killed or brutally attacked by police have sparked a national outcry and prompted calls for police reform. Significant police agencies are now reevaluating if can policing change in the community due to the violence. It means working together with communities to restore confidence and create safer areas.

Changing the way police interact with the communities they serve can reduce bias, experts say. Joshua Correll, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Colorado, has been studying implicit racial bias in police departments since 2000. He developed and tested a paradigm known as the “police officer’s dilemma.” In the game, participants are presented with images of young men, white and black, holding either guns or innocuous objects such as cell phones or soda cans.

One strategy that could help prevent racial disparities in how police handle citizens is to train new hires to resist irrational, automatic reactions to people they encounter. Corey and other psychologists have studied the cognitive characteristics that make people more likely to oppose such bias.

As police and other officials work to rebuild trust with communities, they should consult the advice of the most knowledgeable members of those communities, including psychologists. This can help ensure that any changes to police policies, practices, or procedures are based on research and are effective, says Tyler.

The Future of Policing

The future of policing is changing rapidly, affecting everything from who police officers work with to where they operate. In many cases, these changes are influenced by technology, including social media platforms, that citizens use to communicate with each other and law enforcement.

For example, the NYPD has shifted the makeup of its officers to reflect the population it serves. In communities of color, where the NYPD employs the most cops, officers look more like their neighbors.

However, the change in police culture and the resulting increase in complaints is about more than just race. It’s also about the neighborhood context in which these incidents occur, according to an analysis by The Atlantic.

Activists want to change how police are funded, but a fundamental reconceptualization of the mission and culture of policing is needed. That requires rooting out racism and white supremacy and dismantling the racial hierarchy that continues to persist as an underpinning of American society.

It may sound far-fetched, but it’s not an impossible task. Some cities are already implementing programs to prevent violence and address crime in their communities without relying exclusively on the police.

These efforts include community-led violence prevention programs that allow residents to be more active in addressing problems in their neighborhoods. They also increase collaboration between law enforcement and mental health providers. These approaches can help law enforcement reduce arrests and incarceration rates by reducing escalation in violent encounters.