BY JEFF DIRKSE
Stan. Co. Sheriff
Some people see a badge, a uniform and a gun, and that’s all they see. Some of the men and women behind those badges see every call as a crisis.
Such narrowly focused views can lead to unfortunate, sometimes tragic situations.
We intend to broaden the vision on both sides of the badge. As Project Resolve, roughly 40 members of our community are trying to forge a better understanding of what residents need from law enforcement and how law enforcement can better provide it.
As issues related to race and policing reached a fevered pitch over the last year, we chose to act. In July every police chief in Stanislaus County, the head of probation, the CHP and the district attorney’s office answered the call to convene for a series of meetings about these issues in our own community.
Members of groups like the South Modesto Partnership, the NAACP, charities, elected officials, the leaders of religious and community groups and individuals across the political spectrum also answered the call. With the help of a professional facilitator, we began gathering on Zoom.
Three months, we figured, would be time to find shared solutions. Nine months later, we’re still meeting. Still talking. Still vowing to get this right.
We know change is a process, not an event. As community members, we feel leadership in law enforcement is sincere about taking a look at its relationship with the community. And as law enforcement, we know we can’t do this alone.
Real change is seldom comfortable. So, we talk through the discomfort to find the ideals and goals we share in common. Those shared goals give us something to return to when things get hard. And as we continue to examine our own community, our roles, the racial reckoning in this country, the need for trust between a community and its law enforcement, it is the strength of our relationships that will make this work.
Knowledge is powerful, so in addition to the many sessions we’ve held just trying to better understand the data, the training, lived experiences, as well as policies and procedures, we also commissioned a poll of more than 1,000 Stanislaus County residents spanning the county’s 24 zip codes. The poll revealed many of our challenges:
■ Nearly three quarters are concerned with police violence nationally. More than half are concerned with police violence in Stanislaus County.
■ Some 80 percent say crime is a major problem.
■ Despite overall favorable opinions for all groups, younger people, our Hispanic community and Black, Indigenous, and people of color are more likely to have less favorable feelings toward law enforcement.
■ Few make distinctions between deputies, police officers or highway patrol; they’re all cops.
■ One out of four residents believe they have been racially profiled.
But the poll showed that we are not starting from zero.
More than 70 percent of those we surveyed trust law enforcement. Nearly 80 percent of those polled believe that local law enforcement treats people like them with respect.
But we didn’t begin this process to pat our own backs.
If we want to be better, we have to do it with great intention. It’s a fragile thing, this positive approval rating. And those who have unfavorable opinions of law enforcement for a variety of reasons need our attention most. We will be diligent about this and our next steps.
Over the coming months we will move to exploring possible solutions and strategies that will help us improve. We’ll continue our exploration of the kinds of activities and behaviors that build trust and legitimacy including advisory boards, data sharing, training, new and innovative partnerships that could include ways to augment officers with other types of professionals when responding to calls. And of course, we’ll continue to investigate more opportunities for us to engage and reach more people throughout Stanislaus County.
Ultimately, Project Resolve members know that the only approval rating that we should strive for is 100%. We may never get there, but our job is to work towards it every day. It is a process of continuous improvement.
Project Resolve is about asking the hard questions and figuring out how to create a better, more caring, more empathetic, prosperous community. We are resolved to better understand each other and what this community needs for the relationships between our residents and our law enforcement to be based on trust, respect, accountability, and a safe and healthy community.
Project Resolve was convened by Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse. Other contributors to this Op-Ed represent a sampling of members, including Wendy Byrd, Vito Chiesa, Marian Kaanon, Kate Trompetter and Phil Trompetter. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org