Veteran law enforcement officer Robert Reynolds uses the same logic for baking muffins with his son as he does for bridging the gap between cops and the communities they serve: follow the recipe.
Step 1: Use home grown ingredients
Like any good recipe, bonds between police and the public, begin with the right ingredients.
“I think it starts at home,” said Reynolds of both law enforcement and the general public, “but I think it starts at home well before you’re even interacting with law enforcement to begin with.”
He agrees that this issue plagues both sides of this struggle.
“Proper rearing by parents, proper communication,” said Reynolds, are essential to children who must learn how to properly respect authority.
“At the same time, working with law enforcement, treating everybody equally,” he countered. “I breathe the same air, I bleed the same blood, I eat the same way, I drink the same way as the next person that I interact with.”
Step 2: Build a foundation of trust
Trying to communicate without trust is like baking blueberry muffins without the blueberries: incomplete.
“There’s no trust build up,” said Reynolds of relations between the public and law enforcement. “Folks are seeing the police as going to being a para-military organization, and there’s not enough done to get the community involved in trying to get ahold of things. They see an influx of cops and they think ‘Oh my God, the government’s coming to run my life.’”
He pointed to police as the party who can facilitate a new understanding of communication with them by becoming involved outside of traffic stops and arrests.
“You get the community involved, you get the pastors involved, you get the community resources involved. You have national lights out,” suggested Reynolds, “you build up your crime watch groups, making the partnerships, making the community own their neighborhoods.”
Step 3: Break down barriers
Once the right ingredients come together, you have successfully produced a brand new creation. But sometimes, all that deliciousness simply won’t come out of the muffin pan.
That stubborn muffin pan’s doppelganger in Reynolds’s recipe is the “no snitching” unspoken rule that regulates the lives of many.
“There’s that great wall of silence,” Reynolds said. “You read about neighborhood shootings in downtown Newport News right now, there’s one happening every other night. You’ve got kids that are getting shot up at parties, they don’t want to snitch, they don’t want to talk.”
Breaking down these walls of silence in many communities is like trying to detach that muffin from that ungreased pan, only to have it break apart.
“You’re probably getting participation or willing support from witnesses in abut 20% of those cases,” explained Reynolds.
And then there is the issue of “street justice.”
“As much as its going to make you feel better to possibly get justice on your own in the end you become no better than the person who committed the intial wrong in the first place,” he said.
Instead, he would rather see proactive steps toward using the resources of justice as they are.
“Call your legislator, talk to your police chief, talk to your community resource officers, talk to your pastors,” he said. “Allow the justice process go through like it was designed for.”
Ultimately, Reynolds admits that a true bond between police and their clientele may take generations to fully improve. In the meantime, he points at programs like Coffee with a Cop to be the catalyst for change.
Though they won’t solve the problem, open forums and positive programs aimed at involving community members in their own processes are certainly necessary ingredients.