A Hidden Gem: “Good Cops” Serving Black Communities

A Hidden Gem: “Good Cops” Serving Black Communities August 30, 2015

Earlier, I wrote a piece that asked “Where are the good cops when we need them?” It was in response to the shooting of yet another unarmed black person Sam Dubose in Cincinnati. What made this shooting more atrocious was the fact that officer Tensing lied to investigators in an attempt to cover up what actually happened. The officers, who knew what actually happened supported Tensings version of events until investigators saw footage from the body cam that Tensing wore that day. Officials later charged Tensing with murder.

The piece did receive some feedback. One of the people who commented on social media and elsewhere was Mary McCampbell. She had been following the work of Officer Tommy Norman in North Little Rock, Arkansas. She shared with me Officer Norman’s brand of community policing and eventually wrote a post offering Officer Norman as a police officer as a “good cop.”

Below is an excerpt of her essay, “Policing with Embrace: How Officer Norman Loves His Community”  published in Christ and Pop Culture.


(Officer) Norman has worked for the North Little Rock Police Department for seventeen years. At first, he thought that a friendly honk and wave were enough to establish a relationship with the community he served. But he soon realized that the only thing he was learning about the community was that “they wave back,” which was not enough. He needed to get out of his car, sit on porches, and learn the stories of others by listening to them and participating very actively and consistently in their lives: “You work eight hours a day as a police officer — but those other sixteen hours a day are those people’s lives.” Norman believes that he needs to be “aware and connected” to those other sixteen hours. And he is just that, even on his days off. On Instagram, we can follow his frequent visits — both in and out of uniform — to Boys and Girls Club, Arkansas Dream Center, United Cerebral Palsy of Arkansas, church events, block parties, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and even as an honored guest at a local barber shop’s community appreciation party. (The North Little Rock Police Department, under the guidance of Chief Mike Davis, has created an infrastructure that enables and encourages this kind of positive policing as officers are regularly involved in events like “Shop With a Cop,” the Special Olympics, “Fish with a Cop,” and the yearly “Season of Giving” event.) As a result, Norman’s specific community has radically embraced him, a powerful response to his commitment to them.

New children to Norman’s neighborhood are sometimes hesitant to engage with a police officer. In one instance, as Norman pulls up to meet a group of children for the first time, they quickly jump off their swings and run back into their apartment. He gets out of his car, walks to the apartment, and asks their mother if he can speak with them. When he asks them why they ran away, one child responds: “We thought you was fixing to lock us up.” Norman quickly asks, “Why? I’m your friend,” and offers them drinks from his trunk. In the next video, we see Norman sitting in a swing with the same child pushing him as he tells him to “get me way up in the air.” Norman’s response to this child’s fear is a model of servant leadership, effective community policing, and good parenting. Rather than ignoring or dismissing these children — or worse yet, making assumptions about them — he moves out of his police car, enters their home space, and engages them in conversation to reassure them that he was there for them, not against them. Perhaps the most telling picture of relational policing is when Norman temporarily becomes vulnerable, comically disempowering himself and allowing the child pushing him on the swing to be the one in charge. He enters into the child’s world at his level, showing that he trusts this young man. Soon, the trust will be on both sides.

In Norman’s work, we see authority that is not built on reckless or threatening attempts to grasp power, but rather, on mutual respect engendered by an authority figure that shows he can be trusted because his intentions are truly to serve, protect, and “be a friend.” His relationship with the community he serves is a reflection of 1 John 4:8, which tells us that “There is no fear in love.” And another specific way that Norman shows love for his community is how he very intentionally portrays them in a positive light on his social media accounts, subverting stereotypes about the homeless, inner city residents, and those with disabilities. We see this on his Instagram account when he features a photo of neighborhood teenagers walking from house to house looking for work (and captions it a “brag moment”), as well as multiple videos in which he comments on the good manners of the children he encounters. In one very poignant and timely video, he allows us to truly hear a child’s voice, giving her a sense of agency as he films her saying that police officers need to “treat people right,” a phrase that he then repeats in order to to affirm her point of view. She later paraphrases the golden rule, saying that police officers need to “Treat others the way you supposed to be treated.”

Read the rest of the post here


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