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St. Louis Judge Timothy Wilson’s not guilty ruling for former police officer Jason Stockley is truly appalling; the verdict should not come as a surprise to people, considering the history of police officers across the country being found not guilty of killing citizens, even when there is video evidence that there was little or no threat to the officers.

Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Sam DuBose, Freddie Gray, and Jamar Clark — to name a few of the people who have lost their lives to armed police. Each case is completely different but what they all share is that the officers who killed them were acquitted, despite video evidence showing no real threat from the victims.

The outrage over the recent verdict sparked protests in the city of St. Louis and rekindled the dialogue on whether police can do their job of protecting people, without having freedom to use force and kill. The conversation is important to have but it should not be had after the fact when someone has been killed by a police officer. Not all police officers are bad. It would be unfair to paint all law enforcement with the same brush.

However, police officers represent something different to each person. In low income communities police officers generally are viewed negatively and just seeing a police cruiser may bring fear, anxiety or pain to some people. In contrast, in affluent neighborhoods police may be seen as pillars of their community, and public servants of the highest honor.

Police departments need to work on forming a better relationship in poor communities where they primarily serve. Building a friendly relationship can only help shift a paradigm in these communities. The underlying assumption for poor people and people of color too often is that police are a threat. That can change.

The Camden Police Department in New Jersey took a proactive approach to enhance the relationship between officers and communities. The department used the approach of the officers being more engaged in neighborhoods by walking in the communities instead of driving their vehicles.  According to Louis Tuthill criminology professor at Rutgers University, “These foot patrols are all about building relationships.” Tuthill found that that there is a correlation between lowering crime rate and police officers on foot. There need to be more police departments like Camden.

There has to be reform with police training and tactics. Too often officers are found not guilty because they are officers. In many cases the jury and judges are forced to accept the officer’s’ defense that they feared for their lives despite the compelling evidence against them.  In Stockley’s case, it was not enough that only his DNA was found on the gun that allegedly led to the “fear of his life.”  If that’s a head scratcher, then surely Stockley saying he was “going to kill this motherf***er, don’t you know” should have shown his intent, but Judge Wilson did not agree.

Police departments should require a B.A. or A.A. to become a police officer. Currently the requirements in most jurisdictions include a high school diploma or GED and completion of a certain number of hours for training.

According to a CNN report, it takes more hours to become a licensed barber then it does to become an officer. The hours vary depending on the state. According to a William Terrill study, college educated police officers are less likely to use force.

In an MSNBC interview, Dr. Maria Haberfeld of John Jay College of Criminal Justice gave her take on higher education with police officers. “It’s a huge deal in terms of how emotional you are, how you’re more into assessing things and not just reacting,” Haberfeld said. “So this a very, very important element of why we should be looking at higher education.”

Stockley’s actions and words, and the DNA evidence, clearly proved he was guilty.  Rather than focus on the errors of past verdicts I think we should focus on improving our police forces so they do not overreact and kill people. All police officers should have at least an A.A. degree.  Every police force should have a strong presence on foot in the communities they are supposed to serve.

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