I was thinking about Tyre Nichols again last night because of the State of the Union Address. I often think about the way policing works in America today and have been a long-time supporter of reform.

By now, you are most likely aware of the tragedy in Memphis involving Tyre Nichols and the police officers who pulled him over for alleged reckless driving. The police officers in question said that a confrontation followed, and the suspect fled on foot. Officers chased him, and another confrontation took place before the suspect was taken into custody. As a result of his encounter with the police, Mr. Nichols was hospitalized, then succumbed to his injuries and died three days later.

Video shows, however, that Mr. Nichols was abused by the police over an extensive period of time. There also seems to be no evidence that he did anything wrong to be pulled over in the first place. He was beaten and kicked even after he was handcuffed. Because of his injuries, an ambulance was called, but it took approximately 20 minutes before aid was rendered as the paramedics chatted with the police officers while Mr. Nichols lay on the ground in pain. Mr. Nichols was finally transported to the hospital in critical condition.

He died a few days later.

We have seen numerous incidents of police brutality in recent years, especially involving young black men. It’s past time we looked at the way we police and consider important reforms.

We all agree that violent crime cannot be tolerated. Certainly, the people in affected communities don’t want to live in danger. Police are necessary and they have extremely difficult jobs. Like people who work at Beech Brook, police officers are often victims of secondary trauma. Most police I know do a great job, are professional and care deeply about the communities where they work. Nobody wants these heinous acts to occur.

But unfortunately, many communities respond to increases in violent crime by creating task forces or small units of police officers to dispatch to areas of high crime (like the S.C.O.R.P.I.O.N. unit in Memphis). These task forces often use tactics like pulling over or stopping as many people as possible for even the smallest infraction (and it appears maybe for no infraction at all). The idea is that you will eventually come across a bad guy and get them off the street.

Yet, it doesn’t seem to be working. This tactic seems to be overzealous and likely hurts the relationship between the police and the community they are meant to protect and serve. It stands to reason that this friction would increase the number of incidents like we saw in Memphis because the officers are not necessarily connected to the community they are now supposed to be protecting and an overzealous approach can lead to officers becoming overly aggressive. Especially those officers who might already lack self-control.

Accountability after a situation like this matters and there was more accountability in the Memphis case than we typically see. All five former Memphis police officers were quickly fired for their actions. More officers and other first responders have been fired or disciplined. The original five have now been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression. The Department of Justice and the FBI have also opened a civil rights investigation. Compared to similar situations, this happened quickly and decisively.

But it isn’t enough. It was not enough to prevent this tragedy and it won’t be enough to prevent future tragedies.

I am proud that Beech Brook and the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Department (CMHAPD) are ahead of the curve in this regard. PAR, our Police Assisted Referral program, represents a paradigm shift for policing.

Provided in partnership with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) Police Department, the PAR Program trains officers to be first social responders for CMHA residents who have experienced an act of violence. Officers refer families to Beech Brook for the services and support they need to stabilize the situation and prevent further acts of violence.

There is nothing on a police officer’s standard duty belt to address a social crisis. But multiple studies over successive decades have shown that officers spend upwards of 80% of their time in non-arrest situations (e.g., dispensing advice or deescalating tense situations).

And most importantly, because of their collaboration with PAR, police officers are ready, willing, and able to help individuals, families, and youth find new pathways to address their problems.

PAR reimagines non-enforcement aspects of policing – expanding police training and procedure, redefining police in partnership with other health and safety community organizations, and promoting community engagement by developing trusting, authentic relationships.

The last part is the most important. If we really want to change the way we police in this country, it must come from a place of goodwill. The goal must be to develop trust and authentic relationships between the police and the communities they serve.

Maybe if all communities had programs like PAR, citizens and police would be able to come together and identify the root causes of violent crime and even identify those who are responsible. Maybe we would not have to resort to overzealous, authoritarian tactics that result in tragic outcomes.

Learn more about Beech Brook’s PAR Program and how it helps provide community policing at its best.

-Tom Royer, Beech Brook President/CEO

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