Courts Human Rights

Opinion: California police chief is the chief of all chiefs

Photo courtesy of @Rasheed_Shabazz
Written by Matt Stephens

It’s not very often that a police chief in power steps up and joins a protest with activists. That is exactly what chief of police, Chris Magnus, of Richmond, California, did recently. He stood up with his fellow community members at a black lives matter protest, holding a black lives matter sign, in his police uniform. While police brutality is a popular issue in the media with the events of Ferguson, there is one department that is going above and beyond to help benefit their community through community policing.

While confidence between police and minority communities is spiraling out of control, Magnus led what was one of the most dangerous cities in America to decaying crime rates. The murder rate has gone from 62 murders in 1990 to just 11 in 2014. The style for the department is to allow the citizens to be policed as they actually desire to be policed. The results have proved his methods should be the example for every police force in the United States. His success can be attributed to the implementation of geographic policing. This means he has his officers stick to a particular area and try to walk their beats as much as possible. This allows officers a chance to interact with everyone. Even more impressive, officers sometimes do more with the community while on duty, such as playing a pick-up basketball game with local kids. So if there is a crime situation, children know at a young age they can trust law enforcement.

The department focuses on addressing the issues the community sees as the biggest issues. They are one of the best in the country because they actually take feedback from their community seriously and implement plans addressing what citizens actually want them to address.

The way the police department conducts itself is not the normality in policing today. This is why many activists call for reform in protests quite often. Magnus exceeds expectations by setting the above-and-beyond mentality as the standard. How many officers in communities have conversations with activists in the community? Magnus does so on a regular basis, meeting with local activists to ensure his citizens are accepting of his methods. On one occasion, Magnus took part in a police brutality protest in his community while in uniform standing among his citizens. He did so while holding a sign stating that black lives matter. He did receive some backlash from some members of the media, but he stood by his message while his community stood by him.

This is the type of character that needs to be set forth by all police departments in the U.S. Police training needs to be implemented that is based around the needs of the community. In his department, Magnus trains his officers to develop communication skills in dangerous situations. His officers do not even use a gun during this training process. This would be so beneficial to implement in training across the country. More recently, officers across the nation have been caught in situations where they have to make hard and fast decisions in an instant and that decision has altered the lives of some families forever. Training officers’ communication skills is crucial to making decisions in tough situations. Magnus took it upon himself to make sure his force was fairly representative of his community. The racial makeup of the police force is correlated to that of the community. This was something the Ferguson Police Department failed to accomplish.

For the protection of his community as well as that of his officers, Magnus did something that every police department in the country needs to do; he implemented body cameras. Richmond officers have body cameras to document situations that could potentially arise. This would be smart to implement in every U.S. city. Being one of the few openly gay police chiefs in America also has played a role in the policing style of the department. According to Magnus he knows how it feels to be in the minority. That is why he strives to make sure all lives matter.

Visions of policing need to be more like the one of Chief Chris Magnus. In a time of growing tension between police and the communities they serve, there needs to be an open dialogue. This means officers need to address issues the community wants heard. No matter what side an individual takes on the events of police in the media, there is no question change needs to occur. This starts with other departments taking a look at the community policing of Chris Magnus and the Richmond, California, police department. There is no question that there needs to be reform in regards to policing in society. Police in every city need to sit down and reevaluate if their systems fit into community policing. Their policies may be stuck in the form of a “police state” of mind.

About the author

Matt Stephens

Matt Stephens is the social media director and an opinion columist. Matt also works for WOUB-TV, where he is a reporter for local high school sports as well as Ohio Bobcats Golf and Softball. Matt is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio and is a strong advocate for Chipotle burritos.

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