Human Contact

Sunday, while eating breakfast at the Hampton Inn in Rogers, Arkansas, I happened to see an interview CBS’s Bob Schieffer conducted with Camden, NJ Police Chief, J. Scott Thomson.


In a nutshell, Thomson talked about how the Camden city police force had been disbanded and a new county-run police force had been established in a city that was “ranked as the most dangerous city of its size” and is “arguably one of the nation’s most challenged cities in terms of crime, poverty and social inequities.”

Thomson stated, “In less than twenty-four months, we have streets that were once controlled by criminals and drug dealers now being occupied by children riding their bicycles and families enjoying their front porch steps.”

This was accomplished without militarization or polarization by maintaining a philosophy of building community first. According to Thomson, “Cops should act as guardians, not as warriors.”

Schieffer asked, “If you could pick out the one thing that has worked, what would that be?”

Thomson replied, “Human contact. Officers walking the beat…nothing builds trust like human contact.” He went on to say, “We cannot have our only interaction with the public be during moments of crisis.”

It’s true. If we interact only during moments of crisis, our emotions are too riled to have a productive discussion.

In my opinion, social media–the antithesis of human contact–is part of the problem, and we should look at it with a discerning eye. The ease of anonymity draws negative, inciting commentary. People don’t need to be anonymous to say something positive, to move the conversation forward, so we don’t see as much useful commentary.

Then there’s the news media. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I admit to being a news junkie. However, the media can inflame a situation by the stories on which it focuses. We see far more exposure of violent protests, more angry debates by those on both “sides,” than we see possible solutions, like the story of Camden.

So we must read and listen with discernment, not project our feelings about 140 characters, a few words, a few photos, to the entire issue. Social and news media provide but a microcosm, and often, only a negative one.

I’d like to see a program like CNN’s Crossfire–where Democrats and Republicans talk about political issues–but with a select multi-cultural panel talking about racial issues and possible ideas to bring about more equality. The key to such a program would be keeping the conversation respectful, if not calm. Otherwise it defeats the purpose of inspiring and promoting open dialogue. Unfortunately, it’s the arguing and vitriol of a program like Crossfire that seems to draw the audience.

It’s easy to get sucked into the negativity, the “gotcha” and “score another for our team” moments. Something about it seems to invigorate us–I admit to falling for it myself. In the past, I’ve been sucked into it politically. But in the long run, it’s a detriment to finding solutions, which is harder work and unfortunately, doesn’t always provide the stimulation or immediate gratification of “gotcha.”

But which will get us to the goal faster–talking about solutions or “gotcha?”

Make human contact. Sure, it’s scary and it’s risky. That’s why we avoid it. But it’s the only way we’ll ever be rid of the stereotypes and prejudices that cause so much tension today.

For more information on Camden:

“Camden Turns Around With New Police Force” – New York Times

Slide Show – New York Times


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