SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — With police departments facing scrutiny across the nation, a local educator and author says he’s expecting to see real change as protests bring more attention to the growing divide between law enforcement and citizens.
Michael Jenkins, Ph. D. is a West Scranton native and associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Scranton. Studying policing in the United States and internationally, Jenkins is considered an expert on the subject and says that historically, protests have been able to bring about slow but noticeable change to policing.
“There have been these incidents that have drawn attention to the sometimes very bad relationships between police and its citizenry,” Jenkins said. “We saw in 1992 with the beating of Rodney King, we saw more recently in 2014 with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missiouri, and we’ve seen unfortunately most recently the incident in Minneapolis [the death of George Floyd].”
According to Jenkins, these protests as well as current ones did result in positive changes to policing. Police are now more likely to be charged for crimes in they commit on duty and grand juries are more likely to indict police.
“Police enjoy some of the highest levels of respect and trust in our society. They sometimes out rank clergy. There are times like we’re seeing presently, where because of these widely broadcast incidents between police and citizens, there is a drop in support for police,” Jenkins said.
While the drop of support happens quickly, change follows slowly. Jenkins says that police need to be held to a higher standard, be open and transparent and be held accountable when they act badly.
“I do think that, as painful as the present time is, because of relationships between police and citizens in some areas, I do think that there will be some real change that comes to the police profession, and that change will be lasting,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins says the founding principle of organized police departments is that “the police are the people and the people are the police” which comes from Sir Robert Peel in 1829 and still holds true today.