‘If we don’t fix it now, we’ll never get it right:’ How to restore trust in policing.

‘If we don’t fix it now, we’ll never get it right:’ How to restore trust in policing.
Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone. (Source: Roger Chesley/ Virginia Mercury)

What will restore trust between police departments and the communities they serve, particularly with people of color? A local law enforcement executive in Virginia – thrust into the spotlight since the slaying of George Floyd by officers in Minneapolis – has some ideas.

“A real quick fix will be banning chokeholds,” Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone told me in a lengthy interview at his downtown headquarters.

Recruiting people who have a “guardian” mentality, instead of that of a warrior, is another. That means changing the police culture.

And though it could take a while: ensuring that every police officer around the country has standardized training, he added.

State officials would be smart to listen to Boone, one of a few dozen African American police chiefs among the several hundred law-enforcement agencies in the commonwealth. He’s been appointed to advisory panels in Virginia, has the ear of Gov. Ralph Northam, and has gained credibility around Norfolk because of his outreach to community groups.

There also was Boone’s comportment during one of the early protest marches in Norfolk after Floyd’s killing. He answered dozens of questions from demonstrators, some while using a bullhorn. He also marched with the hundreds there that day – though a few bristled at his appearance.

Boone had heard on the police radio a report that some demonstrators wanted to attack the station where they’d gathered. He had visions of the Minneapolis police station that burned during protests, and the chief wanted to ensure it didn’t happen in his city.

That’s why Boone made himself visible and defused the tension. Lots of police supervisors might not feel as comfortable in a similar situation.

“It wasn’t planned,” he told me, saying he ordered his police officers to stand down. Some protesters were unconvinced by his answers to the crowd, but many appreciated his presence.

Demonstrations in Norfolk following Floyd’s death have remained mostly peaceful, nowhere near the rancor that’s taken place in Richmond, for example. The capital city was also home to several Confederate monuments that drew repeated protests.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.