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Chester County Press

Editorial: Into the mirror

03/24/2015 02:56PM ● By Richard Gaw

In the wake of the Ferguson incident of 2014, police departments all across the nation have used this tragedy as a lightning rod call to consciousness, in a broad sweep effort to re-define themselves not just as units to enforce protection, but as participants in a larger entity.

Department by department, municipality after municipality, officer by officer, the lingering impact of the cold-blooded murder of Michael Brown and subsequently, a string of other similar murders at the hands of irresponsible decisions – all just an easy Youtube download away -- have turned tragedy into action, and become the child-like steps taken in order to improve relations with the communities they serve.

Throughout Chester County, law enforcement units continue to turn "community policing" from a cliché in a mission statement to an every-day practice. The State Police in Avondale have created Camp Cadet, which invites young people in our area to see how policing is done first-hand. The Kennett Borough Police continue to reach out to local students as part of the "After The Bell" mentorship program coordinated with the Kennett Consolidated School District. The New Garden Township Police Department is a consistent presence at township events, moderates regular town-hall discussions with its residents, and on May 16, will host a community open house at the township building.

At the March 18 Bridging the Community forum held at the Mary D. Lang School in Kennett Square, representatives from the State Police, and the New Garden, Kennett Borough and West Grove Police proudly referred to these efforts as examples of "community policing." For that, each unit is to be highly commended.

However, two glaring omissions -- elephants in the room -- came to light at the meeting that threaten to undermine the hard work these departments are doing in order to bridge relations with our community, one whose collective identity has gone from predominantly white to one more reflective of the changing face of America. When asked to provide a head count of minority officers in their ranks, the tallied numbers were embarrassingly small. When asked to provide a head count of those officers who are able to speak Spanish, again, the percentage was miniscule. Even more alarming was the fact that in a community where clearly one-half of its residents are Hispanic, there are no Spanish language lessons required at any of these units.

Right now, as many as seven local municipalities are exploring the feasibility of forming a regional police department which, if implemented, will provide a blanket of round-the-clock protection to the residents of southern Chester County, the likes of which they have never seen before. Should this department eventually be formed, we advocate that each officer be required to attend mandatory lessons in the Spanish language. Finally, we advocate that the final roster of law enforcement officials be more reflective of the community’s ethnicity.

With every tragedy that our nation endures, we are given a proverbial mirror upon which to see our reflections. At these moments, we as a nation are very often at our best, for the very simple reason that the mirror reveals truths, and fears, and things that we should be doing more of. We ask that when our community leaders and law enforcement officials draw up the methods by which we as a community are protected, that they remember the two elephants in the room on March 18, those now purely reflected in the mirror.