Burbank Police Department and Community Trust

• News • By Linda Bessin , Medium • View Original »

We need to refocus our discussion about Police Departments back to public safety, as this vital service must be the primary concern of any and every decision around policing.

Militarization of our police forces around the country is an example of how we have stepped away from this concept. For example, at one time the LAUSD Police Force had three grenade launchers and a tank. This was corrected but still serves as an example of where policing went drastically beyond protecting public safety. It implies that Police are at war with the people they are supposed to be serving. During the recent protests against police brutality, police departments around the county deliberately presented themselves as a wartime army. It is understandable that people are now frightened of what police will do and uncertain of their safety. While Burbank Police Department (BPD) has respectfully protected our local protests, this fear remains in our community. Building community trust should be paramount at this time.

In order to build that trust, now is the time to ensure that the protection of public safety coincides with the protection of civil rights and human rights. BPD can do this by specifically showing and not just saying that they are dedicated to delivering fairness, equity, procedural justice, transparency, and accountability.

One important way the public expresses its perception of its local Police Department is through complaints. In 2018, there were 18 complaints of discrimination and/or harassment against the BPD. All 18 were determined by BPD to be unfounded, which they define as the act did not occur or was frivolous. The fact that every complaint was deemed unfounded is worthy of explanation and investigation. Perhaps BPD is not considering what this reflects about its perception of our community. There is no transparency to this statistic. How can the public trust these conclusions, especially considering that we hearing an entirely different story from our Black neighbors about their experiences with BPD?

It is a fact that neighbor disputes, mental health crises, and other situations that do not involve public safety have been thrown onto the long list of responsibilities given to Police Departments over many years. This has resulted in a “culture that positions officers as ‘warriors’ who enforce the law rather than as ‘guardians” of public safety.’”[1] Police officers are often ill-equipped and not trained to handle situations that require patient, diagnostic problem-solving as opposed to protecting the public. Let’s move these responsibilities to those who are experts in those fields rather than criminalize these situations and at the same time, move funding from Police Departments to those experts. This is what is meant by “defund the police”. It is not abolishing Police; it is shifting resources to help the community at large.

Many say that people should go through the Police Community Academy, go to Coffee with a Cop, and participate in the BPD outreach programs. But in these turbulent times, BPD needs to connect with the entire community, not just those who are available at the convenience of BPD. Outreach means “to surpass in reach”. BPD needs to reach out and listen to our neighbors who are now beginning to speak about their experiences. One option is regular public town halls at times and places convenient for the different sections of our community. The emphasis should be residents’ experiences and what they think about policing in Burbank. We need to see BPD learn about us and from us, and then real, productive and lasting dialogue and a beneficial rebuilding of trust can begin.

[1] New Era of Public Safety: A Guide to Fair, Safe, and Effective Community Policing. (2019). Retrieved from https://civilrights.org/edfund/resource/new-era-of-public-safety-a-guide-to-fair-safe-and-effective-community-policing/