While Ferguson, Missouri Police Chief Thomas Jackson has been watching his city come apart at the seams, while he’s been trying to explain a police officer’s actions that may be explainable, while he’s backtracked on what Officer Dennis Wilson did or didn’t do – another police chief has learned to avoid those circumstances by immersing himself in his community.
Ian Moffett was last seen jumping in a swimming pool and hanging out with children who reside in Liberty City, one of America’s most infamous impoverished neighborhoods made so by riots and a very popular video game.
Moffett, a former U.S. Army rapid response team member who now runs the police department for the country’s fourth largest school district, sat down for an interview with Fox News Latino. The Guyana-born lawman who grew up and went to school in Miami knows a thing or two about policing, especially when it comes to how his officers are perceived by the community.
(Editors note: the greater Miami area was a hot bed for racial activity and riots in the 1980s and 90s, but after establishing crisis response teams, outreach programs and community policing, it has yet to have experience another disturbance.)
So you really went swimming with the kids in Liberty City?
“We provided information to kids about staying out of gangs. At one point, I got into the pool with the kids and helped them learn to swim. I received a call that night from a fellow police officer telling me how the kids were still talking about swimming with the chief of police.”
What are you prepared to do to avoid, or make sure that what’s happening in Ferguson doesn’t happen in Miami?
“This situation is not unique. It starts with the leadership in the agencies knowing what their roles are. We in Miami-Dade County have been through situations like this before, and we know what’s happening in Missouri is not beneficial to the community. So you have to have open conversations in community forums, beforehand. For example, tonight I am going to attend a community forum with other local chiefs of police to talk about this very issue.”
What are you going to talk about?
“You have to have an open conversation with the public, not just talking about police vs. the public, but rather of violence itself. We need communication between our community, our community leaders and clergy to make sure you can work on things, it’s always welcome.”
After the Overtown Riots (in 1989) and The McDuffie Riots (in 1980), the police chiefs in the Miami area created a crisis response team, community policing, and outreach programs with schools and churches. Is that part of the reason we stopped having racial disturbances?
“Rick, you are absolutely right. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we are guardians of the constitution, guardians of safety in schools, guardians within the community. You don’t want to come off as warriors. There’s a difference between guardians and warriors, and you want to engage the community. At the end of the day, you want their trust. Let me tell you something else we are going to do this year: we are going to be engaging with our kids on what to do if you are stopped by police – what you should do, what you should NOT do.”
What about the militarization of police departments with surplus equipment from Iraq? Doesn’t that make you look more like, using your word, ‘warriors’ in the eyes of the public?
“Let me tell you, and I speak from experience, there is a big difference between the military and law enforcement. At the same time though, this job goes from zero to 100 MPH in seconds. When you look at the Dadeland shootings down here in the 80s, or more recently the active shooter situations like Sandy Hook and Aurora, Colorado, whether it’s a school or a mall, our officers are asked to be those guardians. We need to make sure we have the proper equipment and the proper training.”
I’m going to interrupt you, because that sounds fine, but you don’t need that military equipment to serve a warrant on a guy for selling weed to his neighbor, right?
“That’s my point. You have to make sure you know how to use it and when. That’s the decision of the agencies and their leadership and how they push down and have these things in place, because sometimes you need these things in place. Look at the Bank of America shooting in Los Angeles, the police was outgunned and innocent people got killed.”
One of the problems in Ferguson seems to be transparency. It took a week to figure out what the officer knew or didn’t know about a strong-armed robbery. Shouldn’t that radio traffic be available immediately, shouldn’t it be documented? Isn’t that transparency?
“At the end of the day, police departments have standards for professionalism and accreditation. There will be a criminal investigation and an internal investigation and they will present items to the grand jury on Wednesday in Missouri. In Florida, I can tell you we have an officer’s bill of rights. I can tell you watching what’s going on (in Ferguson) we need to be patient about the investigation. The only way the investigation is going to take place is with information from that crime scene.”
Where and how do we start changing how way we view the police?
“That goes back to one word being used all over this nation: ‘police FORCE.’ When we talk about the police, I prefer we use the word ‘police DEPARTMENT.’ I’ve been able to visit and assess police departments outside of the United States and this sort of thing is all over. When we start using words like police force to describe agencies, we have a depiction of a use of force. There are many elements to a police department, not just force