Many people have talked about racial problems in the United States since the shooting of an unarmed black teenager last month. A white police officer shot and killed the young man in the community of Ferguson, Missouri.
The incident has brought attention to the sometimes hostile relationship between police and some communities.
So, many police departments are using a method called “community policing” to both fight crime and improve relations. This method is being used in the city of Long Beach, California.
For years, Long Beach has struggled with gang violence, poverty, and racial tensions among local residents and with police.
Twenty-two-year-old Jacob Sarenana says he has been poorly treated by the Long Beach police.
“They always try to mess with me. I ask 'what’s the reason for pulling me over?’ ‘Oh, because you fit the description.’ Really? Really, yeah, I guess I’m always fitting the description then, because I’m always getting pulled over.”
Darick Simpson is a community activist. He has been working to improve relations by organizing meetings between young people and police officers. Almost one-third of Long Beach residents under age 17 are poor. Mr. Simpson says that poverty, and racial differences, combine to cause problems.
“With any differences come some misunderstanding. Because people bring their culture, they bring that history into the workplace, into schools, into different social scenarios.”
Still, he says he has seen an improvement in relations over the years. Last year, Long Beach had its lowest rate of violent crime in more than 40 years. This year, the rate is even lower.
Don Rodriguez works with young people in the city. He says police officers are more involved with the community than ever before.
“Now we’re seeing [is we're seing] more community people involved in the policing, working with the police, police getting a better feel of the community.”
Jim McDonnell is the chief of police in Long Beach. He says in the past, police officers would tell the community what the problems were and then try to fix them. But now, he says, police work with citizens and community leaders to solve problems together.
“We build a team. And when you have a team, when a crisis comes up, you’re not dealing with it by yourself. And too often when we see things get volatile across America, and whether it’s a racial issue or another similar type of issue -- it’s often because there aren’t those pre-existing relationships in place.”
But he says even successful partnerships do not guarantee that conflicts can be avoided.
“We will always have issues that arise. We will always have that potential for conflict. It’s not if it happens, it’s when, and more importantly, how we deal with it when it does happen.”
Chief McDonnell says the way to change beliefs is for police officers to be involved with young people all the time, not just when a crime has happened.
I’m Christopher Cruise.
Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reported this story from Long Beach, California. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
problem - n. a difficult question or situation with an unknown or unclear answer
crime - n. an act that violates a law
struggle - v. to try with much effort; to fight with; n. a great effort; a fight
poverty - n. the condition of being poor
relations - n. understandings or ties between nations; members of the same family; people connected by marriage or family ties