1997 Baker Institute report offers strategies to resolve divide between police and African American communities

America’s struggle with race and justice continues, with the events of this violent summer perhaps widening what President Obama called “the deepest fault lines of our democracy.”

The Baker Institute sought answers in 1996, when African American leaders and police chiefs from across the United States convened at the institute for a summit meeting to determine how to improve strained relations between law enforcement and the African American community. The summit was led by Lee P. Brown, then a senior scholar at the Baker Institute and former police chief of Houston and New York, as well as drug czar during the Clinton administration. Brown later served as Houston’s mayor.  

“Ultimately we wanted the outcome to be an identification of the factors that account for the growing polarization between the police and the African American community. We wanted to outline a national strategy for correcting that problem,” Brown said.

Key recommendations from the summit report were:

  • Cultural awareness and diversity training for all levels of law enforcement.
  • An increased focus on community policing, including enhanced community involvement in local policing and increased empowerment of officers to solve problems in the communities they serve.
  • Better communication and engagement with African American youth, including the development of a youth citizen academy and youth police commission.
  • Working with the media to ensure the accurate portrayal of police work and the African-American community.
  • An emphasis on the role of the police chief as a community leader.
  • An evaluation of hiring and recruitment practices to ensure officers are capable of an unbiased enforcement of law.
  • The appointment by the president of a national commission on race in America, in which African American leaders would join law enforcement representatives on the commission to ensure the concerns of all parties were addressed.

These recommendations are as valid today as they were in 1996. Some have been implemented, others have not. It is time to move beyond speeches, protests and debate to concrete and practicable steps and solutions. 

Click here to read the 1997 policy report resulting from the Baker Institute's summit meeting on "Police and the African American Community: Building Bridges to the Future."