For more than two decades now, law enforcement agencies have pushed officers to build bonds with the communities they patrol, shedding the “warrior cop” image in favor of cooperation and collaboration.
Many police leaders believe “community policing” has improved law enforcement relations with minority communities — at least to some degree.
But the Dallas shooting Thursday night that left five police officers dead complicates matters, officials said.
“This tragedy makes police officers more apprehensive than ever at a time when we are encouraging more engagement with the community,” said Ed Medrano, Gardena’s police chief. “It is harder for them put themselves in the community because they are concerned for their safety. So are their families.”
Medrano said the last few years — which have seen growing scrutiny on how officers deal with blacks — have been tough for officers and Thursday's loss of life in Dallas reinforced a feeling that they are under siege. He said he knows officers will have Dallas on their minds today and in weeks to come.
“Officers get resentful,” Medrano said. “They get afraid. They will do their jobs and get out in the community, but they will be less motivated.”
Community policing took hold in Los Angeles after the 1992 riots and the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers. The Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies imposed reforms and set up programs designed to build bridges with non-white communities. In recent years, the LAPD has been developing policies encouraging officers to deescalate encounters without resorting to violence whenever possible.
Other law enforcement leaders agree about the impact on officers because of Dallas.
"It kind of hits you in the pit of the stomach. The absolutely senseless violence, the tragic loss of so many officers and senseless hate behind it," said L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
Still, the sheriff said he doesn’t see a need to waver from long-standing policies.
"Building trust between police and community is the key to the safety of this nation," McDonnell said. "There is definitely a heightened sense of vigilance, and police across the country have their guard up. There's a state of mind right now and everyone has their guard up."
George Hofstetter, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said violence against police — especially on the scale of Dallas — is heightening anxiety.
“Public perception is always in back of our minds — if I do that, what is the public going to think? Couple that with our own safety and the safety of our partners. Especially right now, people are probably stressed out by everything that's going on,” he said.
“There does seem to be a lot of animosity toward law enforcement right now,” Hofstetter added. “Family members are probably even more stressed out today than yesterday. That’s also something we’re worried about. We’re worried about our family at home, wanting to get home to them. It just creates a lot of stress. We’re short-staffed, deputies are working extra shifts.”