Ferguson and the Need for Effective Community Policing

Police tape saying "police line do not cross"

This is part of our ongoing series of blog posts about race, racism and law enforcement in communities of color.

By Ellen Scrivner, PhD, ABPP

We thought the days of racially divisive policing in the 60s were long gone. Then, Ferguson erupted and captured the nation’s attention. Although we have seen progress in race relations over the years, the death of Michael Brown following on the heels of Trayvon Martin shows that we still have a long way to go.

It is disappointing that as of the late 90s we were on a path to changing how police interacted with their communities through the advent of community policing and collaborative problem solving, the focus of a new office in the Department of Justice that specifically supported community policing. I am talking about the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office). Rather than funding tanks and rifles, the COPS Office provided support to hire and train officers in community policing and in engaging the community to work together to keep their communities safe. Community members were intricately involved in how police departments carried out their mission. In some agencies, they helped with hiring new cops, training in the police academies, and participating in community-police roundtables where community problems and their resolutions were determined and transparency and accountability were key to the process.

Due to the eventual budget cuts by a Congress that thought federal dollars did not need to go to policing, coupled with the effects of 9-11, we saw a change to a more tactical type of policing. The emphasis on militarization as well as the growing use of metrics, in contrast to community relationships, as a way to prevent crime and keep communities safe became emblematic of changes that some saw as progressive but which as we saw in Ferguson may be more regressive.

We now hear a call for the return to community policing. Truth be told, this cannot be done overnight or in the midst of a crisis. The progress of the 90s that led to problem resolution and resilience occurred over time and brought the community into police departments to arrive at joint resolutions. From that platform flowed work on procedural justice and bias-free policing as a means to end racial profiling. Clearly, it is time to pick up where we left off and make a new commitment to supporting community policing. Psychologists can be instrumental in helping departments achieve effective community policing given our extensive experience in facilitating organizational transformation and change.


Ellen Scrivner, PhD, ABPP, is an Executive Fellow at the Police Foundation. A licensed psychologist, she is also Board Certified in Police and Public Safety Psychology. She is a member of the American Psychological Association, and has served as president of the Psychologists in Public Service Division (Division 18). In 2013, she received the Harold M. Hildreth Distinguished Public Service Award from Division 18 for outstanding executive leadership in advancing public service psychology. She has had a distinguished career characterized by a strong record in executive leadership devoted to advancing policing in America. She has held national criminal justice policy positions, both at the Federal and local levels, and has created innovative public safety initiatives responsive to pressing criminal justice needs. She is a recognized national expert on criminal justice policy, police behavior, and public safety and policing issues. In addition to significant Washington experience, she has held academic positions and also served on the Steering Committee for the Harvard Executive Sessions on Policing and Public Safety (2010-2011). Dr. Scrivner held significant positions in the Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS), U.S. Department of Justice. As part of the initial COPS staff, she assisted in developing the new and innovative Federal office within DOJ and subsequently became Assistant Director of Training and Technical Assistance, where she created a national training strategy that was implemented through a nationwide network of innovative Regional Community Policing Institutes. Subsequently, she was appointed Deputy Director of COPS and provided oversight for billion dollar grant programs that provided funding to 75% of police chiefs and sheriffs across the country; provided oversight for the COPS Office Police Integrity Program; coordinated the U.S. Attorney General’s National Conference and Presidential Roundtable: Strengthening Police and Community Relationships (1999); and was appointed to the Attorney General’s Task Force on Police Misconduct (1995-2000).


  1. I agree with your views and cannot refute your long list of academic and professional accomplishments however, you are missing the very simple fact that black children are taught by parents and black leadership to mistrust ALL police and white people in general. The most recent example is the father on tv in Ferguson, MO. telling his 3 or 4 yr. old daughter to look their they are, you can’t trust the police. Never mind that nothing had even happened yet. While there may be individuals in police departments that should not be there even that is not the biggest obstacle. “Snitches get stitches” accurately sums the biggest hurdle law enforcement has when trying to encourage community involvement. The criminal are aware of the cult of victimization prevalent in black communities and they exploit this at every turn. They also have Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson among others reinforcing victimization at every turn.
    Yes I am white and no I am not a racist. My parents raised me to be color blind and I have always been. In fact I am currently unemployed for asking to many questions regarding the terrible treatment of my two female co-workers. It is not the first job I have sacrificed for better treatment of anyone, regardless of race. I also got beat up a lot in grade school for standing up for people. Someday I hope we can have frank discussions about the truly harmful racial slurs aimed at all black people, children and adults, not from whites but from fellow blacks. Do not be mistaken America is not living with Dr. Kings ideology, but we are living with the ideology of Garvey,Cleaver, Black Panthers and Black Power and the glass will only ever be half full. Try as you might , even with a 100% black police force you will not solve this. There goal is to never stop until all racism is wiped out. It will never happen, too many adults holding little children on their knees on both sides. I don’t mean to sound so cynical, but all of the professional black people who have raised these issues have already been labeled Uncle Tom, acting white and sell- outs.
    I do wish you all success, being a cop is no easy task and there is always ways we can improve ourselves, including me. Just ask my dear wife. I am a man after all.
    Dan Richter


  2. Restore Pride In Parenting; End Child Abuse & Neglect; End Police Brutality

    In his 2015 Grammy award winning rap performance, “I”, American Rap Performance Artist Kendrick Lamar reveals, “I’ve been dealing with depression ever since an adolescent.”

    During a January 20, 2011 LAWeekly interview (Google search) Kendrick, born in 1987, the same year songwriter Suzanne Vega wrote a song about child abuse and VICTIM DENIAL that was nominated for a Grammy award, he told the interviewer:

    “Lamar’s parents moved from Chicago to Compton in 1984 with all of $500 in their pockets. “My mom’s one of 13 [THIRTEEN] siblings, and they all got SIX kids, and till I was 13 everybody was in Compton,” he says.”

    “I’m 6 years old, seein’ my uncles playing with shotguns, sellin’ dope in front of the apartment. My moms and pops never said nothing, ’cause they were young and living wild, too. I got about 15 stories like ‘Average Joe.'”

    Kendrick boldly describes why many CHILDREN deal with depression.

    Kendrick describes who is creating/perpetuating poverty and struggle for children when teens and adults make irresponsible, selfish choices by building families with too many mouths to feed.

    Kendrick is describing why many police officers fear for their safety when dealing with depressed, angry, frustrated people who were raised in abusive homes, and as they mature resent their parents for introducing them to a life of struggle….though unlike Kendrick and Tupac Shakur who write about their moms depriving them of a safe, fairly happy Average Joe American kid life, many kids blame others for their life of struggle and hardship, often venting their pain and anger on their peaceful neighbors or Average Joe guys like me who wore/wear a blue uniform with every intention of doing good and helping people.

    Though after years of witnessing victims of child abuse harm their peaceful neighbors I just wanted to survive without being physically harmed by abused, depressed children who develop into angry, frustrated, unpredictable teens and adults, often venting their anger on their peaceful neighbors or police officers trying to protect their peaceful neighbors from emotional and physical harm inflicted on them by angry, frustrated victims of child abuse.

    Franky, day after working day of witnessing the emotional damage caretakers do to their developing children took it’s emotional toll on me.

    I grew up listening to the peaceful loving sounds written and composed by talented Americans who created a new genre of music for me, my friends, neighbors and our world to enjoy as I developed into a teen and adult.

    Motown musicians gave me every reason to admire and respect them. So essentially I began my young life admiring Americans of African descent for making me and my friends smile and dance to their joyous sounds.

    However, listening to the sounds produced by my Motown friend’s children and grandchildren, coupled with twelve years of personally witnessing many American children of African descent being abused, neglected and maltreated by the Americans of African descent who introduced them to a life of pain and struggle, the respect I had for Americans of African descent has diminished.

    Sadly, today when I meet an American of African descent I ask myself a question I rarely ask when meeting other people, “Was this person a victim of horrific child abuse, was this person nurtured to embrace the Street Life Toya Graham failed to protect her son Michael from because she irresponsibly built a large family she could not reasonably expect would thrive and flourish?”

    Recently I listened to Mr. Barack Obama seemingly lament the speed with which gay Americans went from enjoying little respect from their American neighbors, to being accepted by a good majority of our neighbors.

    Sadly, after Americans introduced laws to end legal racism that harmed my Motown friends and multiple generations of their parents and grandparents, Americans of African descent did not enjoy the same accelerated path of acceptance….despite my Motown friends doing their best to show the world they are loving, peaceful people deserving of respect.

    Sadly, a depressed population of Americans reeling from emotional pains caused by our human ignorance, used well intentioned social programs to build large and small families of children who ended up like Shawn Jay Z Carter, angry, depressed, unsupervised, running wild through the streets of Brooklyn with his Mack-Milli, causing fear to peaceful people and the police attempting to protect peaceful people. Many were my civilian co-workers, mostly loving competent moms living in this Brooklyn community, daily facing stresses and challenges of protecting their children from being emotionally or physically harmed and/or influenced by children like Shawn Jay Z Carter…or Tupac Shakur, a teen who wrote about committing suicide in his ‘That’s Just The Way It Is’ rap because his parents irresponsibly introduced him to a life of pain and struggle.

    Hey, I am not pointing fingers, there is plenty of blame to go around. I recognize we are humans, constantly learning and evolving as individuals and as a society. We make mistakes and we try to correct them. Sadly, inept $politicians$ often slow or stifle our progress and social evolution, as they did when opening the door for depressed people to build large and small families before acquiring the skills and means to provide for their children.

    I also recognize we are becoming a people who have little respect for truthfulness, often deflecting blame on others, pointing fingers at me, an Average Joe American who choose a career as a blue American because I thought I could develop a rewarding career by helping my neighbors.

    Unfortunately for me, I became a cop around the period of time when many children born just after our nation’s post civil-rights social programs were introduced, matured into depressed angry, young teens and men who needed to vent their anger and frustrations, often harming their peaceful neighbors and communities.

    These children and young people like Shawn Jay Z Carter (born Dec 1969) were hit with a double whammy, contending with the emotional trauma their single-moms and/or parents experienced from racism, which resulted in these kids being raised and nurtured by depressed people still understandably peeved about being treated less than equal or as not fully human.

    Thankfully my Motown friends showed me not all people succumb to despair and depression, though I’m sure they experienced their share of pain growing up in a predominantly racially ignorant land of people.

    Early in my police career when I was assigned to the Brooklyn community Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter raps/writes about attempting destroy by selling poison to people living and working in his community, and rapping about engaging in extremely harmful anti-social behaviors designed to protect his drug operation from rival gangs in adjoining neighborhoods, a few of my training officers advised me to be prepared to experience “culture shock.”

    When I asked what is meant by “culture shock,” I was told, “You’ll find out.”

    I did find out what “culture shock” is, though it was not a culture of violence and harmful anti-social activities many were insinuating I would be shocked by.

    The aspect of this Brooklyn, NY community that shocked me to the core was witnessing children being emotionally scarred by a “American Sub-Culture of Child Abuse/Neglect” that 2015 Grammy winner Kendrick Lamar raps and speaks about some twenty-five years after I first witnessed the “American Sub-Culture of Child Abuse/Neglect” that today CONTINUES emotionally damaging many developing children and their communities.

    I personally witnessed the emotional trauma and physical pain a young, neglected, unsupervised, Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter is responsible for causing, and its aftermath, leaving a community populated by mostly peaceful people fearing for their safety on a 24/7 basis, which are the hours Shawn’s crew/gang were selling community harming substances.

    During the twelve years I served this community I met hundreds of peaceful people who were just as shaken, upset and deeply disturbed as I was by the daily displays of violence and other anti-social activities mostly caused by teens and adults who were victims of childhood abuse and neglect.

    I stated I would not point fingers, because it is difficult for me to blame victims. Shawn Carter, Tupac Shakur and most all American rappers born during the post civil rights period of American history are victims of racism and or the effects of human ignorance we call racism. I am not excusing their anti-behavior social behavior, I am merely understanding, from my point of view, what caused me and a community of mostly peaceful people to fear young Shawn Carter and his gang of poison merchants, as well as his rivals who used their own “Mack-Milli” semi-auto firearms to protect their drug operations.

    However, from my point of view there comes a time when American people should be learning valuable lessons from their elders and neighbors.

    Ms. Toya Graham grew up witnessing her neighbor’s struggle, yet she choose to introduce her children to the same struggles she witnessed other single moms and their children experience.

    With all due respect to Ms. Graham, she is no hero. Ms. Graham is partly responsible for creating living conditions that lead children to grow up depressed and wanting to vent their anger on anyone who is NOT their mother.

    Ms. Graham was an extremely immature young woman who irresponsibly built a family she introduced to a life of hardship and struggle that lead to her teen son and his classmates to attempt causing grave harm or death to Average Joe blue Americans.

    As a former blue American who regularly witnessed the sadness and grief many kids experience when raised by immature females, I am sorry to say I have little love or respect for Ms. Toya Graham and the thousands of moms across our nation much like her. Ms. Graham’s immaturity caused me and entire communities of mostly peaceful people to fear for our safety and lives.

    To Ms. Graham’s credit she recognizes the police have a tough job dealing with all the madness her immature, irresponsible sisters create for communities and the police trying to protect communities.

    However, there are many Americans blaming police for being brutal when dealing with depressed, angry, unpredictable, frustrated, sometimes suicidal teens and adults who vent their emotions on authority figures instead of the people who introduced them to a life of pain and struggle. Many victims of child abuse are in denial, declining to blame their own moms, instead choosing to blame the cops because they are an easy target.

    Anyone familiar with the recent NYTimes article about the rise in suicide Americans of African descent are experiencing?

    Imagine your the Average Joe American kid like myself who experienced a fairly happy, safe child and young adulthood in a community populated by fairly happy kids and adults.

    Then picture yourself spending significant amounts of time working in a community where many kids and their caregivers are depressed and/or just don’t give a frig about anyone else.

    Would this unhealthy environment cause you to experience concerns for your physical safety, possibly affecting the compassion and empathy most of us beginning at a young age are imbued with through love and/or discipline?

    I am not making excuses for cops who overreact, just offering reasons why some humans, aka police officers, much like Ms. Toya Graham’s son, succumb to The Street mentality prevalent in many American communities. The mantra for The Street mentality is “Survival of The Fittest.”

    Frankly, I become peeved when I listen to leaders, pundits and many of my American neighbors blame police who are being forced to deal with the consequences of a serious social problem that has been harming children for decades.

    A social problem of Child Abuse and Neglect that often causes police to experience grave concerns for their personal safety when interacting with teens and adults who experienced an abusive childhood. Abusive includes being raised by a single-mom and or non-existent dad who are Kendrick Lamar describes “living wild” parents.

    I become even more upset when I hear terms like “White Privilege” being tossed about, inciting more division among us. The people who use this term are exploiting the depression of Americans who are in denial. Americans wanting to blame anyone but their own single-moms or parents for introducing them to a life of struggle and hardship.

    Do you know what I also find upsetting? Unlike when I was a kid tuning into music that mostly expressed peace and love, making me smile and boogie, ten-year-old kids today tune into sounds of hate and anger, sounds that include characterizing our moms, sisters, grandmas, daughters and aunts as witches and bhores or less than human…much like the greedy early Americans characterized the African people they abducted, enslaved and treated less than human.

    For decades American teens and men have been directly or indirectly writing/rapping about the child abuse they suffered or witnessed, yet our leaders from all parties do nothing to ease the pain by addressing the small population of American mothers of African descent who are harming their children and communities by building families before acquiring the skills, PATIENCE and means to raise fairly happy Average Joe and Josie kids playing in safe neighborhoods. Safe neighborhoods that when mom admonishes them to be careful in the street they know she is telling them to watch out for cars, not depressed neighbors who sell poison or harm their neighbors while acquiring funds to purchase poison.

    Responsibly raise fairly happy kids and there will be little need for police to have concerns for their personal safety.

    I implore my American neighbors from coast to coast to actively and loudly shun those who want you to believe ‘blue me’ and a majority of our American neighbors do not want us to become a nation of peaceful people….you know who they are, they are the leaders with large voices that are extremely unwilling to criticize “their own kind.”

    If we are seriously interested in ending police brutality I’d suggest listening to this streetwise Staten Island NYer (search: Truth: Keeping It Real On Hustling And Selling Drugs!) offering his opinions for how we become peaceful people raising fairly happy Average Joe and Josie children in safe, peaceful communities.

    Unlike the politicians and community leaders who have personal agendas to retain and maintain their power and money streams, this Average Joe Staten Island man has no incentive to mislead and lie to our neighbors, as our politicians do without batting an eyelash.



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