Excerpts from the November 14, 2015 discussion Not Another One! Police and Teens Finding Ways to Work Together to Combat Gun Violence.
Teen: This question goes out to the teens. What characteristics do the police have to have for the teens to trust them? How can the police come up to you and you not run or get scared or feel threatened?
Teen: Well I know for me I do see African American police officers but I feel like they aren’t in my area and I feel like if we do get more African American police officers in more urban areas than I feel like you know that wouldn’t solve all our problems but I think like it would be a step forward in making us feel comfortable again with police officers.
Teen: I kinda feel like that if their approach was a little bit more respectful in a way, if like everybody was all on the same page in like a respectful sense, you know what I’m saying? It would kinda be more of a loving interaction. And so we have a lot of policeman, that not all, but we do have a lot that abuse their authority and will use their badge as an excuse to not show any respect towards not just African Americans but people in general and so I feel like if they kinda changed that within themselves and they looked at everybody as equal human beings that I feel like that would decrease the tension.
Teen: There’s just like, even on the small scale of not just police officers meaning the people that protect that city, the school officers and things of that nature they even abuse that type of power with that badge even though they don’t really have that, you know they’re not a police officer and those are the ones that teens encounter on a daily basis the ones at schools, the small local mall cops. Even if they were to change their perspective on how they interact with us like on the same page like how he was saying it will help us when we encounter our city police officers to you know act better because we haven’t been harassed even on smaller levels.
Teen: What are our rights when a police officer interacts with us?
Lt. Col. Ronnie Robinson: You have every right to be told and to be fully informed about why you are being stopped and the police officer needs to explain why you’re being stopped and exactly what the situation is all about. You have a right to ask questions but you also have the responsibility to be respectful just as that police officer does.
We pride ourselves, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, prides ourselves in being one of the best police departments and one of the most professional police departments in the nation. And the comments that were made by the young man and the young lady were really, really good. They were heartfelt and they were sincere about what they were saying and they were absolutely right. Myself and Chief Dotson and the rest of our agency, we definitely see a need that policing has to change in the United States.
With the Mike Brown incident in Ferguson that went globally across the world and all the dynamics involved in the protesting and the right to protest, and protestors that were really sincere about protesting and making change and trying to improve the communications between police officers and the community, that dynamic was outstanding.
But then, in the midst of that dynamic there were individuals who had their own agenda that wasn’t really focusing on change they just wanted to destroy and cause problems and friction. And a lot of the police officers that were involved with the protests here in the metropolitan area were working hours, 16, 17, 18 hour shifts and doing those 16, 17, 18 hours was very stressful. And sometimes standing the line, on the front line and being disrespected, even assaulted or spit on or cursed, for hours, it effects a human. We are still human people, human beings. And to decompress from that experience, I don’t know if our agency has yet to decompress from those experiences and our officers on the streets and their communication skills may have deteriorated some from that. We have to look at that. And as managers and as supervisors and commanders I have to understand and I want the public to understand that we recognize that we have officers that don’t communicate accordingly and respectfully like they should. And we have to address those issues. But its nothing that you can just blink an eye and change overnight. We have to weed those individuals out and offer training for those individuals and if they can’t adjust their attitudes and improve their professionalism then maybe they aren’t fit to be police officers.
It’s just a dynamic that events like this are going to help. We’re on the right track. The communication gap needs to be bridged. And I think talking and getting out here and communicating and let you guys know what we go through and you come and experience and maybe ride with us sometime and give us ideas, it is going to be very helpful to us getting to where we need to be as a community.
Teen: Something else on that though…say for instance a police officer disrespects you and they go past their rights, then what does that person do, who are they supposed to go to and what are the steps to take?
Lt. Col. Ronnie Robinson: Anytime you have an encounter with a police officer, be respectful first. If you want respect you’ve got to give it. And that goes the same for the police officer.
If that police officer disrespects you then you go into a professional mode and what you do is you notice what they are wearing and you get a physical description of them in your head. And what they are wearing should be some indicators on what their name is, they should have a nametag on, and they should have identification whether it is their rank on their collars or their shirtsleeves. They should have a vehicle that’s with them if they aren’t on a foot beat and that vehicle has a number on it. Look at the vehicle and get the number of that vehicle. Arm yourself with information that you need to take to an adult or somebody that you trust to let them know, “I had this encounter with a police officer and it was a negative encounter and this is what happened.” And be able to explain everything that happened.
And then you could even ask that officer for his or her name if they don’t have a name tag on and then you could ask to speak to the supervisor, “Can you have the supervisor respond to the scene?” And if they refuse to do that ask for the name of the supervisor and you arm yourself with this information because you have a right to know. You take it to somebody you trust – whether it be a teacher, whether it be a parent, or an uncle or even another individual that you know can handle themselves respectfully and talk and get your point across and convey your feelings then you respond to the station and you ask for a watch commander or a supervisor and you explain what happened and you should get some justice then.