Pasco police officers have gotten a detailed road map to improving their relationship with the community, but that doesn’t mean their path is any quicker or easier.
What it does mean, though, is that step by step the plan recently suggested by the U.S. Department of Justice could help Pasco police earn credibility with those citizens who currently don’t have much faith in the department.
Pasco needs to embrace the DOJ findings and work to implement them in a focused, persistent and top-priority way.
Pasco Police Chief Robert Metzger invited the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to review the department’s relationship with the community after the police shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in February 2015.
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The immigrant farmworker was high on methamphetamine and throwing rocks when he was shot by police. His death came in the wake of other high profile police shootings across the country, adding to the fear and distrust of police officers whose use of force against people of color triggered a national outrage. Peaceful, yet emotional, protests followed the Pasco tragedy.
The federal agency released its recommendations last week, and said that while the guidance in its report is specific to Pasco, much of it can be applied to other police departments across the country.
One of the top recommendations is that Pasco police should do a better job training officers in the use of force. It also said Pasco needs to diversify its department, specifically noting there should be more Hispanic, women and Spanish-speaking officers.
While diversifying the police force definitely should be a priority, it is unfortunately not a goal that can be accomplished right away. There is already a backlog of recruits trying to get into the Basic Law Enforcement Training Academy and more classes won’t be added unless the state adds more money to the academy budget.
Metzger said there are two female recruits training at the state police academy, which is good, but adding more Hispanic and Spanish-speaking officers must be the next goal — even if that means it will be several months before they finish get their training.
In the meantime, Pasco police will have to adopt what recommendations they can as quickly as possible and make a concerted effort to include the community.
The report said that conversations with community members indicate a “less positive” perception of the department among the city’s Hispanic and Spanish-speaking residents.
While Metzger can point to several improvements already made in the department — like the Coffee with a Cop program and the opening of more mini-stations in Pasco neighborhoods — distrust in the community still lingers.
So Pasco police will have to continue to work hard to build credibility.
The DOJ report notes that community members can be the greatest supporter or greatest critic of police in the aftermath of tragedy depending on the relationship built with residents before an incident.
Decades’ worth of trust can be lost during one situation that causes the community to lose confidence in the police department, the report said.
The fatal shooting of Zambrano-Montes was that kind of situation in Pasco. Metzger asked for the federal review, and said that following the recommendations are a priority.
They need to be.