This I Believe, Lieutenant John Souza, UMassD Police

“This I believe” | Lt. John Souza, UMassD police department, 2016

…the biggest problem we face in the police profession today is TRUST.

We can’t ignore the recent fallout and violence that has occurred all over the United States. It can no longer be business as usual and there should be a sense of urgency about this.

There is a very real perception in black communities that the police are making decisions based on bias, and as a result, these communities are angry with the police and don’t trust us.  Combine these perceptions with the terrible actions of some officers that we’ve seen on the news who have not only damaged the police image, but destroyed lives too.  There’s much work to be done, and the police should be willing to engage, listen, and understand, and not only after a controversial incident. Police should be transparent with community leaders and willing to share their organizational commitment to training specific to racial profiling, and with aspects of use of force issues.

A difficult fact of our profession is that when we make a mistake it could cost a life, including our own; it’s a very unique, stressful, and highly scrutinized profession, as well it should be. The responsibilities that are placed on police officers are great; I learned this fact 18 years ago while in the police academy. I can recall thinking that there’s so much to learn, so much to remember, yet so little time to make a final decision during a real life encounter. Most people will never experience these challenges. It made me think that the historical, age-old discussion that the police have had with youngsters about the dangers of “talking to strangers” should probably change in ways to reflect the huge responsibilities of the job, the fears, the inherent dangers, and the amount of knowledge you need acquire about state and federal laws. I also learned early on, that despite good and honorable intentions, you will at times be responding to help people who dislike the very sight of you and what you stand for. Learning to have thick skin is one thing, but changing perceptions is quite different.

Like so many police officers, I’m frustrated with the perceptions out there and realize there is no quick and easy fix.  The problem is much too big to fix alone, but we can’t sit idle and distance ourselves; we have to be thinking about changing perceptions and this is going to take time, collaborative partnerships, and strategy.  Now, more than ever when it’s most difficult, we need to reach out to our communities and utilize the basic concept of the TRUST model for community policing in an effort to solve problems, and to rebuild TRUST one interaction at a time.  Here it is:

Transparency: In our strategic planning, communicating with our community, with citizen complaints…
Respect: For our community members, for ourselves, for the profession, and to earn it every day we wear the uniform…
Understanding: Differences, perceptions, perspectives, emotions, and to be willing to explain aspects of our job…
Solutions: Finding innovative ways to solve community problems, being open to community input. We need to listen more.
Together: Becoming part of the fabric of the community and collaborating with stakeholders to identify and solve problems to improve the quality of life. This is community policing…

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With every opportunity that presents itself, we must demonstrate competence and earn trust. We should never lose sight that the same community that gives us the power that comes with the badge is the same community that we must strive to earn trust from each day we wear the uniform.  It’s critical that we are proactive in our philosophy of policing.

I believe in the integrity of our UMDPD officers, I believe in a meaningful partnership with our community, and I believe we can do great things together that will make a difference in the lives of our number one customer, our students”.

Stay safe everyone,

Lt. John Souza

UMass Dartmouth Police