Conversations are taking place all over the world about the tragic deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the two black men who were both recently gunned down by the police. Mothers and fathers are having conversations with their black sons about how to act when confronted or stopped by the police. Anger and fear resonates in the hearts of people everywhere and they are demanding that justice must be served.
Police Chief Troy McDuffie of the Spring Lake Police Department in Spring Lake, North Carolina and I discussed the recent tragic events, steps to take when stopped by the police, and the healing that needs to take place.
Shanessa Fenner: What is your viewpoint on the latest tragedies that have transpired this week with the two black males getting killed and the five police officers?
Troy McDuffie: I have been in law enforcement for 30 years and this is probably the most toxic environment that I have experienced as it relates to law enforcement in the community. It is very troubling. My agency consists of 40 police officers that I lead and I am concerned about their safety. However, on the other hand, I am well aware of the fears of the community. I focus on continuously talking to my officers about events locally and nationally reiterating how it affects them as police officers and how it affects the community in general. It is very disturbing and very concerning looking at the shooting events in Minnesota, Baton Rouge, and the five officers killed in Dallas.
SF: When you talk with your police officers about the use of excessive force what kinds of training and discussions do you have with them?
TM: I firmly believe it starts at the top. It starts at the leadership of a police department which is the police chief. I take full responsibility of that role. Your agency leader aside from the formal training, policies and procedures, guidelines, and the North Carolina general statute laws that we are governed under when it comes to the use of force, the tone and the climate that the agency leader sets for his department goes a long ways in determining how they are going to go out and police the community. I believe in the community and law enforcement working together to protect and serve their town. In order for that to occur there has to be trust. The community has to trust their police chief and police officers. That is what I have tried to establish in this community the last 6 ½ years which was lost prior to me taking over. I reiterate to them that they will follow department policies and guidelines and I expect that they will conduct themselves as professional officers. We will police this community and treat everybody the same. If they follow my guidelines, not to say that it will totally eliminate something bad from happening, it will go a long ways of us not being in a national spotlight for the type of events that have occurred the past several days.
SF: Tell me the appropriate steps a person should follow when stopped by the police.
TM: The advice that I would give a citizen is to be cooperative. If the officer asks you for your driver’s license and registration go ahead and give him those items. You may feel that you have not done anything and want to know why he stopped you. It is probably not the right time and place to try to address these things with the officer. When you see the blue lights or siren pull over to the side. Don’t move around in your vehicle or start reaching in your glove compartment box. Wait until the officer approaches your vehicle to ask you for your license and registration. The main thing is to not get into a verbal altercation with the officer. It is only going to escalate matters. I encourage the citizens of Spring Lake [and across the United States] that if you feel the officer is not professional or rude to you, you always have that step of coming to the department and filing a formal complaint. Every complaint that comes to this department will be looked at. I can assure the community that it will be corrected.
SF: If you have a permit to carry a gun and you have the gun with you what do you tell the police officer if you are stopped?
TM: My advice is to make sure your hands are up where they can be seen at all times. When the officer walks up inform the officer that you have a weapon on you and a permit to carry.
SF: America is angry and hurting right now. What needs to happen in order to heal, move forward, and prevent future shootings?
TM: I know that it is difficult for citizens, communities, and police officers in light of the things that have occurred this week. Law enforcement leaders have to continue to try to bring the community and law enforcement together. This will help the healing process. If a citizen approaches you and wants to talk about the events of the past we have to put our personal feelings aside and know that we all are not the same. The majority of police officers want to protect and serve as they are sworn to do.
Dr. Shanessa Fenner is a principal, writer, TV host, and radio personality.