By Chris Adams

When it comes to the divide between police and minority communities, history explains the present.

The relationship between the police and minorities is “deeply rooted in mutual suspicion and mistrust,” in the words of Northeastern University professor Rod K. Brunson. He cited the days of slavery and patrollers who used violence to squash slave revolts, to graphic images of police violence against African-Americans during the civil rights era, to recent episodes of police shootings of unarmed black citizens.

“Policing in the United States has a complicated and troubled history,” Brunson said.

Can that suspicion be overcome?

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Brunson detailed the kind of effective policing strategies that can both help the police do their job and build relations with minority communities.

“We don’t have to make a choice between public safety and people not having fair and equitable policing,” said Brunson, who early in his career was a police officer.

One such example: Operation Ceasefire, a program known as “focused deterrence” that has been used in cities such as Boston and Oakland, California. In Boston in the late 1990s, it was used to attack growing gang violence. It relied on data to identify and target repeat, high risk offenders, and its crime-prevention efforts are focused on those people – not the entire community.

“Avoid besieging and criminalizing communities of color,” Brunson said.

Boston saw a nearly two-thirds drop in youth homicides, as well as strengthened police-minority community relations and improved police legitimacy, Brunson said.

In Oakland in 2018, there was a 31.5% reduction in gun homicides; target neighborhoods experienced a 20% reduction in shootings, he said.

Ceasefire strategies have also been used in Chicago and Los Angeles, with positive results.