In 2014 the St. Louis region became the epicenter of tensions between police forces and communities of color with the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Suddenly, the strained relationship, that had existed for decades, was a national news topic. This thrust into the spotlight created a climate in the St. Louis region where more people were willing to discuss issues and uncover ways to create change in their community.
Revealing Our Humanity Police and Community Engagement Model
In our effort to incorporate recommendations from the Forward through Ferguson, A Path toward Racial Equity Report, SLACO began a series in the West End Neighborhood named Revealing Our Humanity Police and Community Engagement Model. This series is in response to the Report that calls for restoring civilian law enforcement relations through community policing. This is in response to a call to action that facilitates more positive Police-Community interactions. The first of four sessions have occurred. We share our thanks to Tiffany Robertson, Dewitt Campbell from NCCJSTL, Gerry Rauch and Capt. Perri Johnson.
Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU), St. Louis Association of Community Organizations (SLACO), and the St. Louis Police Department came together to offer a Police/Community Engagement Program, called Revealing Our Humanity, which provides a space for dialogue to occur. This program invites community members and St. Louis City police officers to have meaningful conversations that can uncover mutual goals and a shared humanity. “One of the goals the planning committee discussed was the importance of reminding participants that police officers are not separate from the community. Their families engage in the same activities as our families and have many of the same goals,” stated one of the planning committee members.
The Planning Committee consisted of Tiffany Robertson, Founder of Touchy Topics Tuesday; a successful intentional integration model that aims to cultivate relationships across difference developed shortly after the Michael Brown incident. Tiffany was the originator of the concept of Revealing Our Humanity while leading the Police Reform Task Force through MCU’s Break the Pipeline Campaign. It was there that she was introduced to Captain Perri Johnson of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, who was at the time, Deputy Commander of Community Engagement. They shared a common vision for reshaping the culture of Policing and re-building the eroded trust between officers and citizens. Perri and Tiffany cultivated this vision by onboarding additional team members who were also committed participants within Touchy Topics Tuesday and were excited to lend their time and skills to this concept.
Dewitt Campbell III, MSW and Gerry Rauch, RN, LMT, BA Social Work contributed to the development, implementation and follow up of Revealing Our Humanity through their respective vocations and collaborative partnerships with other agencies such as NCCJ St. Louis and Sisters of St. Joseph. Dewitt engaged NCCJ to provide the necessary skilled facilitators to bring the model to fruition while Gerry promoted it within her sphere of influence exploring opportunities for funding while lending administrative support to collect and analyze data for quality control purposes.
SLACO and Executive Director, Kevin McKinney came on board as part of the planning group to provide neighborhood engagement opportunities through the SLACO membership neighborhoods.
Revealing Our Humanity fosters relationships with people who we may have been “pre-conditioned” to withdraw from, the Revealing Our Humanity team extended the theory to work specifically within and among communities adversely impacted by police interactions and vice versa for officers who policed these communities. Aware that both groups justifiably self-identified as having a natural bent to withdraw from the other due to their respective experiences, we developed short and long-term strategies that could be measured qualitatively by both community participants and officers.
Short Term Goals of this model program are Humanity Reveal, Inspire Transparency, Disclose Vulnerabilities, Cultivate Empathy and Extension of an olive branch.
Long Term Objectives of this model program are Decrease Volatile Interactions, Reduce Fear and Apprehension, Sustainable Model to Police from Heart versus Head, Internal Policing Community Culture Shift (Guardian vs. Warrior), Customize/Disseminate upcoming training throughout various neighborhoods in STL region/surrounding counties, and an ongoing model to be implemented in phases that promote familiarity and ongoing dialog pending successful outcome of inaugural session.
The sessions are currently delivered as a four-part series with the first three promoting gradually intensifying discussions/activities that literally reveal the humanity of both groups by exploring their respective experiences amongst the others. This is accomplished through various techniques facilitated by trainers provided through NCCJ. As the community residents and officers start to uncover layers of mistrust and discover that residents and officers start to uncover layers of mistrust and discover the motivations of each other and hopefully find some similarities between the two groups. This simultaneously lays a foundation of optimism that is reinforced with each subsequently attended session.
The final session of Revealing Our Humanity is intended to empower both groups to continue to build on the foundation laid by tailoring it even more to their community. The Connect/Serve/Support grand finale uses all the techniques applied in the previous sessions and asks both groups to identify collaborative measures to connect, serve and support one another into the future. The ROH committee recognizes that ongoing collaboration between the police department and community residents may require financial and or people resources committed to maintaining engagement. As a result the ROH committee will work with SLACO in its efforts to obtain a CDA grant to lead community organizations in each neighborhood to maintain this engagement.