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Ex-Police Chief Says Officers' Connections With People They Serve Are Key


This is Special Coverage from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.


And I am David Greene. We are following developments this morning out of Dallas, Texas, where last night five police officers were fatally shot. Seven other officers and two civilians were wounded after a peaceful demonstration turned chaotic. Snipers opened fire on police. Three suspects are in custody, and one suspect is dead after a standoff with police. This is the voice of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings this morning.


MIKE RAWLINGS: These men that put their lives on the line last night and lost them - and we've got to get to the bottom of it. But more importantly, we have to lift up the families right now.

GREENE: Now, before those snipers opened fire, what was taking place was a peaceful protest in Dallas like so many other events, demonstrations and vigils around the country in response to the death of two black men over the course of this week in encounters with police.

And for the perspective of law enforcement about all of this, we spoke a bit earlier to Noble Wray. He is a former police chief in Madison, Wis., currently serving in the Justice Department as part of a law enforcement reform initiative. Could you just start by telling me how you heard about the news in Dallas and how you reacted when you first learned of this?

NOBLE WRAY: Dallas is a very difficult situation. It's a painful situation. It's painful. You know, after 30 years of working specifically and directly with law enforcement, and, you know, after that at the national and state level being involved with law enforcement, this is a tough time. But this is a tough time for all Americans.

GREENE: Mr. Wray, as I've been reflecting on the last few days, I think back to a conversation I had with a woman named Connie Rice, an activist who for years fought the Los Angeles Police Department with what she saw as civil rights violations and came around to working closely with them and working closely with police officers. And she told me that she would have police officers come to her and say help me. I am afraid of black men. Does that surprise you?

WRAY: Well, for a number of years being involved in implicit bias training, the things that you don't know about a human being, you fill in with certain things. So it's so very important that we reach out and that we connect with communities. It's not just about African-American men, but that is a real issue. We need to make sure that our officers connect with the people that they're going to be dealing with.

Here's a picture of the United States, and no one really talks about this. Ten, 11, 12 o'clock at night, there's usually a police officer and an African-American male on the street. So what we need to do is make sure and ensure that the people that are out there 10, 11 and 12 o'clock at night understand each other, know each other, can connect with each other. Sometimes people are involved in things that they should not do, and law enforcement has to take action. But you need to know the person before you make that connection or know about the person before you make that connection.

GREENE: I just think about the kinds of connections you're talking about and think about last night in Dallas and police officers on the streets with people in the community who were angry, and, you know, I could imagine mingling with them being out there, connecting, as you say, perhaps, and then this happens. So how much is what happened in Dallas a setback in those efforts?

WRAY: Well, you know, I'm a bit more optimistic. What happened last night was very difficult for the law enforcement community, but it's not the law enforcement community. And I wish that we could stop talking about the law enforcement community and start talking about the community of humanity. That was a difficult thing that happened for everyone, just like the day before where we saw two people lost their lives.

And I'm not at a point where I can cast judgment, but we need to start talking about the community of humanity. That was a difficult thing. It's not law enforcement separate. It's not community separate. We need to start thinking and focusing on the community of humanity. And if we don't start doing that, it's always going to be a political one way or the other.

GREENE: All right. We've been speaking to Noble Wray, who's the former police chief of Madison, Wis. Thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

WRAY: All right. Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.