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Columnist: A country in turmoil over police might find solutions from LaGrange’s chief

The perspective

It seems like the ’60s all over again — a disproportionate number of blacks in America expressing distrust and even hatred toward law enforcement. This emotion appears to be especially prevalent among young African-Americans who now vent their animus and suspicions of law enforcement in a movement called Black Lives Matter.

Are race relations in the United States at an all-time low? To research the matter, PEW, a nationally recognized research entity interviewed 3,769 adults — 1,799 whites, 1,004 blacks and 654 Hispanics.

The research discovered blacks and whites in America are worlds apart when it comes to racial maters. Some findings from the research may be shocking but not surprising. It was revealed that 34 percent of black people are saddened that President Obama has not made progress in improving race relations compared to 24 percent of whites.

More than 32 percent of white people, mainly Republicans, however believe emphatically that he has made race relations worse, while only 9 percent of black people feel the same. With respect to the Black Lives Movement, which appears to be abhorred by conservatives and those in law enforcement, 65 percent of black people show support for the movement.

Some whites also support the movement. More than 40 percent of white people — mostly Democrats I might add — and those under 30, express some level of support for the movement (Source: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/06/27/on-views-of-race-and-inequality-blacks-and-whites-are-worlds-apart/).

Among the various factors which divide the country include, from the perspective of blacks, increased incidents of police brutality and the shootings of unarmed Americans. Police shootings of blacks since 2012 in places around the country like Florida, Missouri, Louisiana, and most recently in Florida, where an unarmed therapist attending to a patient was shot while following the orders of police, inflame the hatred of police by blacks and even some in the white community.

A recent shooting of a black man in Minnesota caused so much consternation from the governor of that state that he was moved to say that had the young man been white the outcome of that interaction with the police officer would’ve been different.

Passions are indeed running awry in America, and just as much among whites. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement slogan, a counter movement evolved among local law enforcement titled Blue Lives Matter.

Most recently, those who found disfavor with the black lives matter movement, which included law enforcement, governmental officials and mainly white Americans, collected and delivered more than 141,000 signatures to the Department of Defense, demanding that the black lives movement be investigated as a group that could inspire terrorism in the United States.

LaGrange, Georgia, a Southern city that is an exception to the crisis in law enforcement

The U.S. Department of Justice and law enforcement facing crises in their individual communities might want to visit this city of 30,000-plus residents to learn something about effective community policing. Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar has dramatically improved the relationship between the community and law enforcement.

The city, with similar demographics as Ferguson, Missouri — where Michael Brown was killed by officer Darren Wilson — before Dekmar, was also characterized by hatred and suspicion of the police by many blacks. Even a known drug dealer in the community appears to have respect for that city.

In the face of police shootings of blacks around the country, the dealer posted on social media an appreciation for the police not killing him, but to save face, he indicated that he still considered them as the enemy.

Key aspects of community policing in LaGrange

If you keep up with what is happening in communities that appear to be under siege, you know that those who are already suspicious of the police have become even more alarmed at the increasing number of reports of police involved in violent confrontations who are provided body cams, but somehow disable them during such confrontations.

It appears that the officers wearing body cams involved in the recent shooting of Charles Kinsey in Florida were able to maintain all of the video footage of that incident except the actual shooting.

Sgt. Marshall McCoy, one of LaGrange’s community outreach officers, stated firmly that the chief is emphatic that if an officer intentionally disables his body cam he could face serious discipline and, at a minimum, the loss of a day’s wages.

Sgt. McCoy went on to say that Chief Dekmar is committed to running a professional police department even when officers find themselves in adverse conditions. As an example, he went on to say that an officer discovered to be using profanity in the course of an arrest could also automatically lose a day’s pay.

Special Officer Jim Davison, also a part of the city’s community outreach team, stated that some of the respect for the chief is due in part to Dekmar meeting monthly with black and white community stakeholders to address or ameliorate potential problems before they metastasize into a catastrophe. This includes using force as needed or required in effecting an arrest, but not as a matter of standard operating procedures.

Police departments around the country might want to give Chief Dekmar a call — he might just also have the solution for big city problems.

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By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

Dr. Glenn Dowell, a LaGrange native, is an author and columnist who currently resides in Georgia. He has been a guest speaker on major college campuses and has appeared on TV programs including ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’ He may be reached at gdowell@live.com.