The community-Police Relations (CPR) project of the MSPJC is a groundbreaking effort that is creating a space for dialogue about the real issues between community members and law enforcement, which will ultimately culminate in a plan for action to improve community-police relations. This action plan will include solutions that address all levels of the issue: political, economic, institutional, and psychological.
The core CPR group met for the third time on January 25, 2013. In the morning session where only law enforcement were present, we shared a space for people to process their feelings around the December passing of Officer Martoiya Lang, the first Memphis policewoman to be killed on the job. This very emotional gathering provided officers with a chance to share their mutual grief. Some also shared feelings of guilt – the wish that they could’ve done something to have prevented what occurred, as well as feelings of anger about the structural and institutional factors that contributed to the circumstances of that tragic incident. Many also shared stories about Officer Lang; she was a beloved and much-admired colleague. Law enforcement participants also discussed problems with some of the policies and procedures in place at the Memphis Police Department (MPD), particularly how the pressure for generating numbers, as well as the effect of too little funding and too few officers on the ground, interferes with officers’ desires to connect more with people in the community. Officers wish they had more time to be proactive, to be a part of the community, to know people and to be known, which is preventative in relation to crime, and they also wish they were able to spend more time with community members in the wake of incidents – when going out on calls or taking reports, or in the aftermath of a tragedy.
In the afternoon, community leaders and members of MPD and the Sheriff’s Department met together. As the next stage of CPR is to move the dialogue circles out into other parts of the city through community forums, we discussed the importance of allowing enough time for thorough planning to ensure that these forums are as inclusive and successful as possible. We agreed that we need to accurately frame the community forums, so that members of law enforcement do not feel they are walking into a hostile environment where they will be ambushed, and so that both community members and police will know that they are all going to heard and respected. We decided to create a working group to undertake the immediate next step: to train facilitators for the community forums, which will begin in May at the earliest.
The second half of the combined meeting addressed concerns around media and messaging that had been brought up repeatedly in earlier meetings. The group recognizes that the mainstream media’s reporting – especially that of local television news – presents a one-dimensional, distorted view of both law enforcement and members of the community. The highly sensationalized coverage never reports on any positive events or people from either side, nor on any positive relations or times when community and police work together. And the media do not provide any context for their stories on these topics; there is no examination of the structural, socioeconomic, institutional, or political dynamics that underlie conflicts and negative incidents, such as shootings of police or community members. A proposal was made that we form a working group to start to map out CPR’s media strategy, both in terms of responding to inaccurate, problematic mainstream media coverage, and in terms of producing our own media (e.g. via Facebook or on the radio).
It was very encouraging when at the end of the meeting, over two dozen people volunteered for the two working groups (facilitation and media/messaging), which will be meeting in the coming weeks. Over the next few months, CPR will be firming up neighborhoods, venues, and dates for the upcoming community forums.
CPR Core Group- next meetings
February 22nd, 2013
March 22nd, 2013
If you would like to be involved with CPR or host a community forum, please contact:
Organizing Coordinator- CPR