Reflections on the NIOT National Gathering

On June 20–22, 2014, the national Not in Our Town (NIOT) community gathered in Billings, Montana, to combat hate and intolerance in all of its forms. The COPS Office co-sponsored a track that brought together members of law enforcement with community members to build and strengthen ties and exchange strategies for preventing and responding to hate.

Not in our town logoIn total, the gathering brought together leaders from 46 communities in 21 states, including law enforcement from coast to coast. From the welcome speech by Montana Governor Steve Bullock to the closing remarks by Bowling Green State University (Ohio) student leader Adriana Darris, there were numerous moments to be captured and remembered. Below, Travis Martinez, a lieutenant with the Redlands (California) Police Department, and Josef Levy, retired commander of the Long Beach (California) Police Department, share some of their reflections and lessons learned from the gathering.

Reflections from Lieutenant Travis Martinez, Redlands Police Department

As a few hundred leaders in education, the faith community, government, and law enforcement gathered in Billings to discuss how hate crimes impact a community, one resounding theme resonated in every discussion: If communities collaborate and work together, they can fight hate crime and mitigate its effects. Edmund Burke summed up this concept in his famous quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” One important piece of this collaborative partnership is the role law enforcement plays in responding to hate crimes. Law enforcement’s role is pivotal to the prevention, intervention, and investigation of hate crimes.

Law enforcement leaders must create a culture in their respective departments that establishes a zero-tolerance attitude toward hate crimes. All members in the community must know that their local police department will go to extraordinary lengths to hold those people that commit hate crimes accountable for their actions. No matter if it is a swastika being spray-painted on a wall or a murder fueled by racial hatred, law enforcement leaders must have established clear expectations that all hands are on deck when it comes to investigating these types of crimes. When looking at law enforcement’s role, police departments are like offensive linemen, and the community is the quarterback. Officers are tasked with protecting the community so they can enjoy life without the fear of being victimized because of their race, gender, nationality, age, religious preference, or sexual orientation.

Law enforcement must continually strive to make in-roads with community groups that are susceptible to hate crimes. Successful investigations and prosecutions are dependent upon witnesses coming forward. If authorities build trust among these groups beforehand, witnesses are more likely to come forward.

The following actions by law enforcement can aid in reducing hate crimes:

  • The latest technology should be made available to aid investigators. Law enforcement leaders must insure investigators have the latest updated equipment to complete their investigation. Advancements in social media monitoring, GPS technology, anonymous police reporting tools, surveillance cameras, cell phone forensic analysis, and crime mapping programs should all be made available to law enforcement.
  • Multi-agency task forces should be created to investigate hate crimes. Prosecutors should work alongside the investigative team.
  • Victim advocates should be made available to all hate crime victims much like they are for sexual assault victims.
  • High visibility patrols should be conducted in high-risk neighborhoods.
  • Specific hate crime training should be provided for all officers. Officers should be trained to identify hate crimes and act accordingly. Hate crimes should maintain the highest level of response.
  • Law enforcement must proactively work with minority groups to establish trust and legitimacy. Witnesses and people with knowledge of impending hate crimes are more likely to come forward if they trust their local police department.
  • Law enforcement must ensure hate groups in their area are monitored. Dedicated personnel should monitor social media to watch for clues indicating hate crime may be occurring.

Reflections from retired Commander Josef Levy, Long Beach Police Department

Not in our town logoAs I reflect on the Not In Our Town National Gathering, I think about all the people who are so passionate about fighting hate in America. It was a sincere pleasure to be among a distinguished group of law enforcement, education, and community leaders committed to building safe, respectful, and inclusive communities. The conference was an opportunity to hear and see the work being done throughout the country in many different arenas.

It is clear that policing continues to evolve and departments are beginning to recognize that the measure of their success is directly related to the relationship they enjoy with their community. Police leaders can no longer “police in silos” and must work hard to build and maintain cohesive relationships with the communities they serve. Police leaders must design programs that open lines of communication and build community trust. In order to build community trust, police leaders first need to create a culture within their departments that values this philosophy.

Programs that have proven to be successful in creating and sustaining law enforcement partnerships include the following:

  • Police-community dialogues
  • Police chief advisory boards
  • Police-youth mentoring programs
  • Police-youth leadership academies
  • Community academies

However, I must stress that based on my nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience, these programs MUST be launched in the absence of a crisis.

I am grateful to have been able to participate at this year’s gathering. This country is fortunate to have Not In Our Town as a valuable organization and resource that recognizes the importance of stopping hate; addressing bullying; and building safe, inclusive communities for all.

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