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Friday, May 8, 2015

Four Hard Truths

The director of the FBI, James Comey, presented an insightful address at Georgetown University in February. The focus was on the relationship between law enforcement and the diverse communities they serve and protect.

Here are a few quotes from his speech: “Serious debates are taking place about how law enforcement personnel relate to the communities they serve, about the appropriate use of force, and about real and perceived biases, both within and outside of law enforcement.” He went on to say, “Those conversations—as bumpy and uncomfortable as they can be—help us understand different perspectives and how to better serve our communities.”

Director Comey then spoke of what he called “some of my own hard truths.” He said, “First, all of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty. At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo—a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.

“A second hard truth: much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias.” Discussing this further, he said: “Racial bias isn’t epidemic in law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts.”

The director’s third hard truth was that “something happens to people in law enforcement.” Many of us develop different levels of cynicism that we work hard to resist because they can lead to lazy mental shortcuts. “For example, criminal suspects routinely lie about their guilt, and nearly everyone we charge is guilty. That makes it easy for some folks in law enforcement to assume that everyone is lying and that no suspect—regardless of their race—could be innocent. Easy but wrong.”

Comey talked about why officers would focus on a group of young black man on one side of the street and not a group of white men on the other side of the street, when both were doing the same thing. He asked whether officers, judges, and juries are racist and responded he doesn’t think so.

“The truth is that what really needs fixing are the disproportionate challenges faced by young men of color.” In his fourth hard truth, Director Comey spoke of “so many boys and young men growing up in environments lacking role models, adequate education, and decent employment. They lack all sorts of opportunities that most of us take for granted.”

I found the director’s comments astute and candid. Below is a link to a transcript of his speech, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. I also welcome your thoughts, comments, and continued discussion:

Up Next: Public Safety Training—"Are We Training or Testing?"

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


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