Activist: Cops Should Be Community Organizers First, Then Community Gets to Pick Which Cops Stay

Anti-racism activist Tim Wise recommended that new police officers should be required to spend their first 90 days on the job as community organizers rather than law enforcers.

“What if officers had to spend the first 90 days on the force without a gun, without the ability to arrest but walking the neighborhood, getting to know people, sitting in their barbershops, sitting in their churches, sitting on their front porch stoop, getting to know the people, going door to door, asking the people, what do you need us to do and what do you need us not to do? How can we work with you? In other words, spend the first 90 days as an organizer, not as an enforcer, not as a military representative of an occupation,” Wise said at the National League of Cities' REAL Talk Series on “Undoing Racism in America's Cities and Towns.”

“At the end of that 90 days, if I’ve been walking the streets getting to know the people in that community then the community ideally should get to decide whether I’m fit to be a cop because they are the ones that are going to be affected. And if I come in with a sense of humility and justice then they’ll probably say, ‘hey, I like that guy.’ If I come in with an attitude that I’m here to crack some heads, they will probably be like, ‘nah, I don’t think that’s the one.’ And then ultimately they get to make the call,” he added.

Karen Freeman-Wilson, the Democratic mayor of Gary, Ind., expressed support for Wise’s recommendation.

“If we use Tim’s example, then it requires this threshold determination that the person who walks through that door as an unarmed officer who is really getting to know the community in 90 days assumes that everyone in that community or the majority, because everyone isn’t, but the majority of the people in the community are law-abiding people,” said Freeman-Wilson, a former attorney general of Indiana.

“And when you walk in with that assumption then you walk in the school with the assumption that the majority of the kids are there to learn and the majority of their parents sent them there to learn – that frames everything you do from day one,” she added.

Wise, the author of White Like Me, said ideally there should be residency requirements for police officers.

“But we know that’s not always possible. You’re not always going to find somebody in Ferguson that wants to be a cop, right? And you’re not always going to have enough affordable housing stock for people to just move in, but at the very least let’s let the people in the community make the call,” he said.

According to Wise, the current problem with “systemic racial inequality” in the justice system is not only related to individual officers.