SD Black Police Officers Association Honors Black Pioneers of Policing

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Courtesy of Rulette Armstead
Photos by Robert Tambuzi

The Black Pioneers of Policing Committee celebrated its Second Annual Gala on June 14, 2019, at the Jacobs Center with Retired Assistant Chief of Police Rulette Armstead as its keynote speaker. Chief Armstead retired from the San Diego Police Department 14 years ago, after 31 years of service to the San Diego community. In her remarks, she readily admitted that all the changes she had hoped for in policing during her years of service had not happened. However, she stated that her continued vision for 21st century policing leadership is to see 7 (seven) seeds planted, cultivated, and grown in the field of policing, to include the seeds of leadership, knowledge, creativity, problem-solving, diversity, control of the use of force, and community policing.

Regarding the seed of leadership, Armstead spoke about the need to change the policing authoritarian organizational culture to one of transformational and servant leadership in order to move decision-making down to the lowest levels so that sergeants and lieutenants can actively make decisions and lead officers into true professionalism; thus moving policing from fear to fostering, with increased listening by administrators to officers and people in neighborhoods, with coaching, mentoring, and shared responsibility as the most important characteristics of a police leader. Armstead quoted a published article written by the President of the Black Police Officers’ Association, Benjamin Kelso, in which he writes, “When considering best practices, law enforcement models of the past do not provide solutions for today’s problems…many times, police leadership tends to resist or reject change in favor of maintaining the status quo.”

In terms of the seed of knowledge, she spoke about the need for officers and first line supervisors to possess Bachelor’s Degrees and police administrators to possess advanced degrees in order to continue to professionalize the field of policing. Chief Armstead cited examples of how officers with degrees tended to perform their duties more professionally and more efficiently in her opinion.

Within the seed of creativity, Chief Armstead talked about how the current policing authoritarian style stifles creativity and the need for law enforcement to practice new and creative ways of addressing law enforcement problems. She cited the multi- disciplinary approach brought forth by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, to prevent school shootings as a creative approach to seriously address this issue.

Regarding the seed of problem-solving, Chief Armstead called on law enforcement to move from suppression to solution by continuing to use proactive prevention and intervention strategies to keep our children out of the criminal justice system. She asked officers to continue to work closely with our schools and churches by mentoring, coaching, and modeling appropriate, lawful behavior.

Chief Armstead stated that within the seed of diversity, law enforcement agencies are still not reflective of the communities they serve. She pointed out that although the San Diego Police Department recently celebrated its 130 year anniversary, only two black women have ever been promoted above the rank of sergeant in its 130 year history, those women, Lieutenant Kimberly McElroy, who retired as a police lieutenant, and Assistant Chief Armstead herself. She emphasized that currently, there are no black women above the rank of police detective at the Department, and that the last black woman that was promoted to sergeant was Alexis Blaylock, who was promoted 14 years ago, and who has since left the police department.

Chief Armstead encouraged women to move out of their comfort zone, study, and pass the promotional exams in order to become supervisors and managers. She said, “We must stop hiring relatives and start harnessing rainbows.” She asked the question, “Are we really recruiting, or merely reinstituting.”

Within the seed of force control, the Chief said that she views police officers as peacekeepers. As such, they should move from muscle to mediation, stating that deadly force should only be used to save a human life.

In terms of the seed of community policing, Chief Armstead described how Eric Jones, Chief of Police of the Stockton, California Police Department demonstrated true community policing when he decided that he needed to do something in order to curb violent crime in his city. He began to listen to those formerly incarcerated. He listened to victims and survivors of crime. He listened to those in neighborhoods that were the most impacted by violent crime and that had the least trust in his police department. Then he began to change policies and practices based on what he learned during his listening sessions. For instance he trained his officers in implicit bias, which is how biases can form and how they can jeopardize good judgment. He trained them on procedural justice, which is being fair, being neutral, giving a voice to people, and respectful communication. As a result, community trust exploded throughout his department. Citizens began calling the police, giving them information on violent crime cases, which reduced the violent crime rate significantly. In fact the homicide rate went from 40% in 2017, to 66% in 2018.

In her concluding remarks, Chief Armstead stated that the police must move from “just the facts” to philosophy because community policing is not a program, it is a philosophy set forth by the “boss.” It permeates throughout the department. It spreads throughout the community. Every janitor, every clerk, every police officer, every manager, including the City Manager and the Mayor must know how they fit into the scheme of things and must live and breathe that philosophy. Community policing is the glue that bonds us together.

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