In the past year, Mobile police officers had more than 200,000 encounters with citizens. While none of them led to the level of violence we’ve seen in Ferguson, Missouri or Baltimore, there’s still a level of tension between officers and the public sparked by those events happening elsewhere in the country. To address the issue, Police Chief James Barber unveiled a new “Respect for Everyone” initiative.
“People have rights and we understand that. But, we also have laws that we have to enforce to keep our community safe. We want to be able to accomplish that mission in a fair way with respect to everyone we encounter,” Barber said.
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, he showed a “Respect for Everyone” video that the department created to lay out guidelines for citizens and officers to follow to promote a mutual respect and prevent encounters from escalating.
“I think we take for granted, as law enforcement, that people do know [how to interact]. What we are finding out is that people do not know. It’s not just our young people, but a lot of people just don’t encounter police officers that often. So, explaining to them why the stop might be taking place, not just from a citizen’s standpoint, but what we expect from police officers during that interaction as well.
We took the 15 minute-long video downtown and received mixed reactions from the people who watched it, or at least the first minute of it.
“I think it will work very well. I like their title, “Respect for Everyone,” regardless of if they’re law enforcement or regular citizens. I love that concept that they have. I’m hoping that it gets out to the right people and the right people view the video and the message gets out that the police are there to help versus hurt,” said Wayne Tucker of Pritchard.
“I don’t think it’ll be effective,” Dennis Givens said “This is Mobile. Everybody take the police the wrong way. It’s a good thing, but at the same time though, they’ve just got to watch how they do it.”
Kayla Chalfant, who recently moved to Mobile, thinks the video is a step in the right direcion.”Any open form of communication between the community and the police force right now is effective. At least this is breaking some form of barrier because right now the community feels such a distance from them. They’re not connecting with them. I think opening up any form of communication will at least be a catalyst to start a more productive conversation.”
This week, the police department will roll out another tool aimed at improving relations between officers and the public; body cameras.
“I think body cameras will benefit in a wide variety of ways. I think it will certainly build trust between law enforcement and people. Everybody is on their best behavior when they know that they’re being recorded. But, it also helps us identify a problem employee as well as deal with frivolous complaints against the police concerning demeanor or use of force,” Barber explained.