Rebuilding trust and community engagement
Panelists discuss police practices at NIH and outside communities
Prompted by the Tyre Nichols case and other police-related events, the Clinical Center's Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) program hosted "A Facilitated Discussion on Police Brutality" on Tuesday, March 21 and a second discussion on Tuesday, April 18. This discussion was the first of its kind at the hospital.
In January 2023, Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was pulled over in a traffic stop in Memphis, Tenn. The incident turned violent, with five police officers captured on body camera footage brutality beating Nichols for about three minutes. Three days after the incident, Nichols died from his injuries, and criminal charges were brought against the five officers.
According to the Washington Post, (subscription required) "Although half of the people shot and killed by police are White, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for roughly 14 percent of the U.S. population and are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate."
The Washington Post Police Shootings Database asserts that 1,087 people have been shot and killed by police in the past 12 months.
Dr. James Gilman, CEO of NIH Clinical Center, opened the discussion by explaining that many staff at the hospital were hurting and bothered by incidents like the one involving Tyre Nichols. Feeling that simply blasting an email to employees wasn't enough, Gilman consulted with Cecelia Henry, the hospital's scientific diversity advisor, about hosting a forum to discuss the issue.
The March and April discussions included prominent speakers from the NIH community, including:
- Dr. James Gilman, CEO of NIH Clinical Center
- Kevin Williams, Esquire, Director for the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
- Leslie Campbell, Acting Chief of NIH Division of Police, Office of Research Services
- Stephon Scott, Senior Policy Advisor for NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
- Kay Johnson Graham, Policy Advisor for NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
- Cecelia Henry, Scientific Diversity Advisor for NIH Clinical Center
- Brenda Robles, Certified Medical Interpreter, NIH Clinical Center Department of Social Work
- Daryl Holder, Special Assistant to the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Medical Officer for NIH Clinical Center
During the first discussion, Kevin Williams, the director for the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, shared his experience of forgetting his ID access (PIV) card, a familiar experience for federal employees. He called the NIH Police for help in accessing his locked suite, but despite being the director with authorization to the building and his office, an error meant Williams was denied entry. Williams recounted feeling like the situation was spiraling out of control, with two armed and skeptical officers, through a simple error and no fault of his own.
Acting police chief Leslie Campbell, gave an overview of the NIH Division of Police's mission, vision, values and the Presidential Taskforce on 21st Century Policing.
In 2022, the NIH Police received 26,000 calls for service and conducted 578 traffic stops. Campbell expressed his hope that every citizen's contact with the police would align with the NIH Police's mission and values but acknowledged that he could not guarantee it.
According to the acting chief, the NIH Division of Police holds it police officers accountable through a process of reporting and terminating.
Campbell stated, "We terminate officers who violate our oath…I commit to you, I commit to my officers that we will treat everyone on campus with dignity."
Campbell shared that the NIH Police are working to reform the requirements for the use of force, training and increase community engagement. He also provided recommendations on what to do if stopped by an officer.
"Cooperate and ask the officer for name or badge number if you feel your rights are being violated or the stop is unjust. Police have numbers on their cars, write it down, take copious notes." He also suggested citizens take opportunities to interact with the police officers to help rebuild trust and confidence.
"We will treat the community with dignity and respect. Officers find themselves in situations where we must make split second decisions. I will not stand for police violence," said Campbell.
Daryl Holder, special assistant to the NIH Clinical Center's Chief Operating Officer and Chief Medical Officer, shared how he grew up in rural Alabama and during his time in the U.S. Navy he would always hang his uniform on the passenger side because if the police didn't respect him, they could "respect the uniform."
During the Q&A session, audience members were engaged and asked different panelists probing questions.
Campbell was asked his thoughts on hotspot policing. Hotspot policing is a strategy which focuses on small geographic areas or places, usually in urban settings, where crime is concentrated. While he did not have direct experience with it, he emphasized the importance of constitutional policing and respecting everyone's rights. He also noted that the Department of Justice is currently looking into the Memphis Police Department and that supervisors need to hold everyone accountable.
Another audience member commented that it seems that there is an historical issue with who has power and how it has been abused by police to target the Black community. They reiterated the need to understand the source of the abuse of power to come up with solutions.
Next, an audience member asked, "Despite efforts with community engagement, police violence is still prevalent… how do you feel about the public's outrage and call for police defunding?"
Campbell responded, "I'm not an advocate for defunding but rather for reforming the police. By defunding the police, what happens is you limit the service law enforcement can provide. We don't live in utopia… there is a need for law enforcement to provide service to the community. Having good quality service and compassion is key." Campbell also emphasized the need to hold officers accountable for any incidents of escalation, violence, and acts of racism.
A question about responding to mental health crises was also asked during this discussion. The audience member asked if an individual is in crisis, should the NIH Police, or 988 (the national suicide hotline) be called? Campbell stated that while the NIH does not currently offer those services, they are sending officers to crisis management and de-escalation training and hope to offer them in the future.
Gilman addressed a question to Chief Campbell. "The tactics are designed for me to lose my cool and they did that with Tyre Nichols. The video shows officers giving him conflicting directions and some saying, ‘no get back down' and it's really designed to make people lose their cool. What are your thoughts on that? How are we supposed to make sure we keep the wits about us whenever we are stopped?"
Campbell responded, "That is not the way officers are trained. Proper training tells you that when there's more than one officer on scene, one officer takes charge, so the individual knows exactly what to do…It is our job in law enforcement to control the situations, it is our job in law enforcement to de-escalate situations." He also reassured that the Memphis police officers were wrong in their approach and that's not the standard.
An audience member asked about the law regarding videotaping as she did so when she noticed two people in handcuffs as she was walking. She began videotaping and was notified by police to keep it moving.
"What is the policy on videotaping when you think the actions by police are questionable?"
Campbell shared that there isn't any prohibition from filming while in public and that you can film him, take pictures of him because "I'm doing the right thing. I stress that with my officers… to do the right thing and there's nothing to hide".
Kevin Williams, director of the NIH EDI program, asked about the screening process for those looking to join the police force.
"One of the major reforms in policing is recruiting and hiring" Campbell said. "To improve this, at the NIH we reach out to all segments of the population to try and find the best qualified officers. Once identified, they go through an interview process, physical fitness test, psychological evaluation, background check and medical exam before they are offered a job."
"Who's watching the watchers?" Dan Lonnerdal, executive officer for the Clinical Center asked Campbell
"KALEA, a local organization, sets law enforcement standards. There are training commissions depending on the state, and as a federal police department we follow the lead of the Department of Justice. The DOJ regularly checks in with all federal police departments, with discussions of standards and reform, training, reporting use of force activity…etc. There are times that we fail and don't live up to those expectations." He also described the mandate for body cameras on all police officers and how NIH is working towards that goal.
The hospital CEO also responded to questions.
An audience member brought up the issue of de-escalation, particularly in situations where individuals may be fearful when facing law enforcement. "It seems to me that there is pressure put on the person who is facing this power and there is this underappreciation of the fear that someone feels in their bones when facing a weapon. Why is the de-escalation going to be on the person facing the weapon?"
Gilman responded by noting that this related to some of the tactics used in hotspot policing and metrics.
"We want to measure preventing crime which takes time, so we measure drugs and weapons that have been confiscated and the only way to get probable cause involves creating conflict in the mind of the person that has been stopped. I think it's worthy of an entire separate discussion," stated Gilman.
An online viewer asked, "How is it determined that an area is high crime? What statistics are used? Are they biased on how the statistics are collected?"
Gilman responded, "I think several high crimes areas have developed because of racial disparities and discrimination and housing policies that were prevalent for many years. The tactics of redlining and other unscrupulous tactics are used to preserve segregation."
Another online question asked "Can you tell us what the NIH UNITE initiative is doing to combat racism on the NIH campus?"
Brenda Robles, manager of the Language Interpreters Program with the hospital's Department of Social Work and member of the NIH Language Access Plan steering committee responded, "The NIH UNITE initiative has an anti-racism steering committee, racial and ethnic equity plans, are looking at hiring practices and acknowledging gaps in representation."
Robles also mentioned "where we work is not equitable, it doesn't reflect who we are. Diversity is the foundation, and we need equity. If we're not being represented, what are we measuring? Inclusiveness is about belonging and how can we belong if we are not reflected? These are the foundations of what UNITE is working on."
- Janice Duran