(WIAT) — Every year, January 9th marks Law Enforcement Appreciation Day around the country. But this year’s observance comes after a difficult year for community-police relations.
From police-involved shootings of African Amercan men that started protests, to the slaying of five officers during one of those protests in Dallas, these were the incidents that defined the conversation in 2016.
The conversation played out largely on social media, something Sgt. Heath Boackle, a Birmingham Police officer and president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, has been a modern game changer in his line of work.
“I think because news and things get out there so fast,” Boackle said. “And when that happens, somebody’s quick to comment, like, say something.”
Boackle says that while social media can fail to provide the entire story about a particular incident and lead to unnecessary controversy at times, it can also be a good thing for law enforcement and the way agencies relate to the community.
“I think, moving forward, police departments across the nation are starting to be more transparent,” Boackle said.
A good example of that transparency, Boackle pointed out, is the use of body cameras by police.
Since the Birmingham Police Department began using body cameras in 2015, and outfitted more officers with the devices in 2016, Boackle said he’s received fewer complaints against officers who are members of the FOP.
“I do think that when you can set a video out, that can see what happened, that can hear what happened — the thing is you’ve gotta watch it in its entirety,” Boackle said. “You can’t just see that 30 second blip of it and make a decision on it.”
Boackle said in order to improve the relationship between the community and police, there needs to be a mutual effort.
“I think the biggest thing is being transparent. I think both from the law enforcement community, from the citizen side of it, if everybody lays everything on the table, and is honest, I think it can all work,” Boackle said.
According to Boackle, many local law enforcement agencies saw a decrease in new recruits in 2016. He said it’s likely due to the difficult events that took place that year.
To those who are on the fence about becoming officers, Boackle said, “If you ever want to make a change in something, you’ve got to partake in making the change. And I would ask them to join us, and we can all do it together to make the change better for everyone.”