Students, staff and visitors filled Pacific Ballroom D on Thursday to participate in a discussion on the issue of race and policing.
The Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs’ Office held its first “New Narratives” discussion of the year to bring debate and discussion on the issue of race and how groups are policed across America.
Although it can be a sensitive topic, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Thomas Parham, believes it should be discussed as it continues to affect communities across the country. “One happened to be race and policing that was initiated by the Ferguson piece, but it wasn’t simply Ferguson,” Parham said, referring to the reasoning he and Chancellor Gillman had for planning the discussion.
The New Narratives discussion series looks to bring students, academics, guest speakers and administrators together to bring debate and understanding on issues affecting society at large.
According to Parham, the goal of the discussion was to get a full understanding of the aspects of police relations with groups across America, including both negative and positive aspects.
“Our job is not to simply critique law enforcement, our job is to also praise law enforcement because we really do appreciate the men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day.”
The speakers list included UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, police personnel including UCIPD Chief Paul Henisey, Santa Ana PD Chief Carlos Rojas, former Police Chief of Arvin, CA Tommy Tunson and several UCI students.
Dean Chemerinsky focused on culture and its influence on police behavior but this was not American culture but rather institutional culture of various police departments.
“A police department has a culture and that culture affects all aspects of policing and so if we are going to make a change in policing we got to think about it in terms of the culture of the department,” Chemerinsky said.
In order to further explain this idea Chemerinsky revealed how the history of the LAPD shaped the culture that ultimately became the norm. The size of the LA metropolitan area forced the department to abandon community policing.
“I think what has happened in the 14 years since we have written our report is that the culture of the LAPD has changed dramatically,” Chemerinsky said, recounting the change that he has seen happen. Chemerinsky believes this change began earlier in the aftermath of the Rodney King Riots in 1992 when the U.S. Department of Justice threatened to sue the city of LA over alleged abuses of Constitutional Rights of American citizens.
According to the panels, the issue of institutional racism is still prevalent in police departments across the country but special attention was given to the LAPD during one of the panels called “Looking to the Future: A View of Police Practice” where the police chiefs discussed what roles they have had in trying to change the popularly held belief that the police are only interested in making arrests and not on helping the people.
Former Police Chief Tunson, recounted similar pushes from his time as a police chief. His programs to change the practice of the departments he controlled brought him into conflict with other officers and brought accusations of being overzealous.
“I have been stopped, beat arrested by police as a kid. I have been called the N-word by my fellow police officers,” Tunson said.
Others on the panels cited similar abuses by police officers across the country including the incidents in Ferguson Missouri, New York City and in LA where the use of force by police resulted in the death of suspects in the last few months.
However, others cited improvements and ways to limit or end discrimination in police departments and Henisey used his final statement to lay out his method to achieve this goal.
“What is needed is to get more officers from our disadvantaged and minority communities, only then will we see the results we want,” Henisey said.