SOUTHFIELD — The key to police and community relations is built on a foundation of trust, according to Southfield Police Chief Eric Hawkins.
Hawkins, along with a handful of public safety officials and elected officials, participated in a seminar, “Race and Law Enforcement in the Urban Community,” April 8 at Lawrence Technological University.
The seminar was presented by the Michigan Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials and featured discussions on race, equality and leadership. It also offered a panel discussion with local law enforcement officials, a question-and-answer segment, a roundtable discussion and a networking lunch.
The panel discussion was moderated by University of Detroit Mercy sociology and criminal justice professor Erick Barnes.
Hawkins discussed how distrust of police can be rooted in social media, particularly from high-profile police incidents played out over social media platforms.
“A lot of the things that we were seeing were being misrepresented, and they were being portrayed in a way that kind of incited and fueled a lot of emotions, and a lot of our young folks were seeing this, and it was impacting them. So now we have certain communities that have started to distrust police officers, particularly in our minority community.”
The first step to building trust, Hawkins said, is discussion.
“We’ve got to be open. We have to have conversations like this. We can’t get offended either way, and we really have to talk about some of these issues,” he said.
Hawkins also spoke on the importance of officer wellness and how it relates to the way officers conduct themselves out in the field.
The Southfield Police Department, Hawkins said, has several ways to combat stress in the police force. For example, the Southfield PD allows officers time to exercise at the beginning or the end of their shift. It has treadmills in some offices and is hoping to get bicycles for officers to ride in their downtime.
“I have to have my officers taken care of,” Hawkins said. “Officers who are stressed make bad decisions, and we end up having issues.”
Barnes and Hawkins also discussed how the hiring process can have an impact on how police are perceived. Hawkins said that in the past, police hiring was based mostly on physical strength and stamina, but lately, police departments are looking for recruits with impeccable communication skills.
“It’s called the ripple effect: The people you hire today set the tone for hiring officers five years from now, because they’re going to be first line supervision. Ten years from now, they’ll set the tone on how your administration functions. Fifteen years from now, they’ve set the social definition of your department. So who you hire today makes a difference,” Barnes said.
Lt. Calvin Hart, of the Michigan State Police, said that once trust is obtained from the public, police departments will be better able to work with their communities on crime prevention.
“The police cannot be effective without the support and cooperation of the community,” Hart said.
In addition to Barnes, Hawkins and Hart, Highland Park Chief Chester Logan, Oak Park Director of Public Safety Steve Cooper, Farmington Hills Chief Chuck Nebus, Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, and Michigan Association of Police Chiefs Director Robert Stevenson spoke at the event.
Southfield City Council President Myron Frasier also gave remarks at the seminar, along with Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard.