SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — When protests began in earnest on Friday, we saw different responses by different Bay Area police forces. So, how do you strike a balance between keeping some kind of order and not inflaming passions even further? It’s a question police agencies around the country are grappling with.
The debate around our current social unrest isn’t just about the killing of George Floyd. Most voices have actually condemned that. Rather, the big question is how police should be responding to the rage caused by it. Initially, San Jose police took a hard-line approach to protestors. But San Jose State Criminal Justice Professor Greg Woods says that doesn’t have to be the only response.
“We’ve seen a number of law enforcement officers actually taking a knee, like Colin Kaepernick,” he said. “And so different law enforcement respond in different ways.”
Woods says modern policing in the age of cell phone video will have to rely less on brute force and more on establishing relationships with the public. It was a message that Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills was sending to the public and his own troops when he chose to take a knee before the protestors. His department sent officers to help areas experiencing protests and looting but he says it can’t just be a never-ending battle.
“It takes somebody reaching out,” he said, “even if it’s police officers on the skirmish line looking at the person in front and saying, ‘Man, I care about you.'”
Whether police show restraint and for how long can also be a delicate balance, especially when each night there are live pictures of people ransacking stores, sometimes in full sight of police. Don Cameron has taught police response tactics for decades and says it’s OK to standby during protesting, even angry protesting, but he feels it’s important to take decisive action at the first physical attack.
“You see ME get away with it and you say, well, nothing happened to him, I’m gonna do it too,” Cameron said. “And that’s when you get the looting and get all those things. If you would take care of the first overt act then you would not have the mimicking and if you don’t have the mimicking you won’t have the crowd control problems.”
The reputation of police across America has taken a huge hit from past abuses including that of George Floyd. And Chief Mills says it may take a generation or longer but the future of his profession hangs on changing the way things are done.
“But just sitting back in our corners and taking swipes at each other…that’s never going to solve anything,” he said.