In the aftermath of the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, here are 50 questions I have for my local police department. Feel free to ask yours the same questions.
To the Commissioner of My Local Police Department,
I am concerned for the safety of our community's African-American residents and for all people of color who are disproportionate targets of police violence. I am writing to examine what protocols if any you have in place to ensure that this type of egregious police violence does not occur here.
Specifically, I would like to know the following:
What type of race sensitivity training do your officers have to undergo? Is this mandatory for all officers? Are officers provided ongoing and up-to-date statistics on police violence vs. minorities? Is the feeling among officers that this type of training is valuable or does it provoke further resentment by being cast as part of the culture of 'political correctness'? In other words, do your senior officers truly believe race sensitivity training is necessary and do they reflect this attitude to the rest of the department? What do you do with officers who crack jokes or exhibit signs of irreverence during race sensitivity training? Are they disciplined?
Many police forces suffer from a locker-room culture of racism. What is your policy when an officer regularly uses racial slurs? How many officers have you disciplined in the past three years for using racial slurs? What has been their punishment? Is it common for officers in positions of authority in your departments to use such slurs? Do you turn a blind eye when they do? Do officers within your departments regularly send out emails containing race-related jokes or memes? If an officer was to send out such an email, what would be the response? Are racial jokes and race-specific references laughed off in your department or are they treated as indications of deeper systemic issues?
Do your officers tend to make generalities about minorities? Do you notice a communication pattern in which minority groups are lumped together with one term, or all assumed to exhibit the same behavior? How can you as an institution take further steps to ensure that no culture of racism exists within your force? Please be very specific.
What percentage of your officers on patrol are actually from the neighborhoods they patrol? How many African-American officers are there on your force? What attempts are there to ensure that patrol cars have at least one person of color when patrolling neighborhoods that are predominantly inhabited by people of color?
Do your officers wear body cameras? What are the department policies in relation to such cameras? In many recent cases of police shootings, the police body cameras have either malfunctioned or turned off or the content has gone missing. What steps are you taking to ensure that this doesn't happen within your department?
What is the primary purpose for your department to have officers on patrol? Do officers have a financial quota that they are expected to meet through issuing citations? What percentage of the citations issued by your department have gone to low income citizens? To people of color? How many traffic violations has your department issued to people of color in the last year? What was the total income your department received from citations to people of color over the last three years? Is there a pattern within your department of targeting people of color for traffic violations and misdemeanor citations?
How often do your patrol officers have to get mental health checkups? Are they taught to look for signs of internal stress and agitation? How are they encouraged to come forward and report any issues they are having with anxiety, agitation, or fear? Is there a culture within your police force that would make an officer feel awkward for coming forward with such problems? Do your senior officers and department heads recognize that stress and agitation are serious issues? Is there a designated staff person assigned to deal with such issues? What do you do with a stressed out officer? Are they allowed to continue patrolling?
Are patrol officers taught to look for signs of stress and agitation exhibited by their peers/partners, so that they could potentially de-escalate a situation involving a stressed-out or trigger-prone officer? What is the protocol when one officer is concerned over another officer's behavior?
Many officers involved in shooting of minorities have claimed that they felt "threatened." How are you taking steps to train officers in what is actually a threat and what isn't? What are your department's protocols in terms of what constitutes justified use of force? Are officers that are prone to drawing and discharging their weapons investigated? Are there consequences to such actions?
What is the attitude in your department about victims of police violence? Are victims cast as "bad apples," as though they brought it on themselves? Is there an awareness that police violence is an issue, or is it dismissed as an attack on the police department by people with a "politically correct" agenda?
Does your department have an ongoing dialogue with the African-american community on these issues? Have you met with community organizers or representatives of Black Lives Matter to confront these issues candidly and directly? If not will you commit to ongoing dialogue?
Thank you for your time. If these questions seem very specific, they are intended to be. Let it put your department on notice that we, as a community, are monitoring how you are working to uproot systemic racism and change policing for the better, and we expect our police force to be an instrument of peace in the community.