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Guest Opinion

Just, safe policing starts with data and transparency


It seems that not a week goes by without a young Black man brutally killed by the police who are sworn to protect us all. Another family shattered, another young person’s future vanished.

How can we make sure this never happens to a family here in Bucks County? Since the murder of George Floyd three years ago, we at the NAACP Bucks County have been focused on the goal of effective policing in all 39 Bucks County police departments — policing that respects and protects human life, policing that is fair and safe for everyone, and one that builds community trust.

Three years into this work, what can we say about racial equity in Bucks County policing? While many departments have engaged with us collaboratively, we are hampered by a lack of basic data.

Except for high-level arrest statistics mandated by state law, there’s no public access to key information, like the number of use-of-force incidents, police involved shootings or the racial breakdown of traffic stops, or even how many officers of color serve on our police forces.

It’s almost impossible to assess what’s going well and where improvement is needed.

Policing works best when there is trust between the police and the community they serve. Trust is built on open communication and transparency. We can hope that police departments are monitoring their own statistics, checking for outliers (such as officers with high numbers of complaints), and ensuring that all races are treated equally.

But unfortunately, without the data, we can’t be sure.

And we should be sure. After every police killing of a Black motorist or a Black person just sitting in their own home or a Black person getting arrested for a misdemeanor, it becomes shockingly clear that there were signs of problems in the police department all along. Were they considered acceptable? Did no one take notice? Were they covered up? Or were they simply ignored?

Let’s make sure this story never repeats in Bucks County. As a famous management guru once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Today, without data, we simply don’t know if everyone in Bucks County can count on equal protection of the law. We need and deserve publicly available data on the performance of our police departments.

Let’s get it now, so that we can evaluate and take corrective action before some preventable tragedy forces the data into public view. Let’s start by ensuring police departments are fully transparent with their communities by collecting and publicizing data about how the police interact with members of their community.

Call your elected local officials and ask them to require their police departments to collect and report:

1. The number of officers of color on the force

2. The number of use of force incidents, by force level and by race of the subject, and

3. The racial breakdown of traffic stops

They have the authority to do so.

Karen Downer is the president of the NAACP Bucks County.

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