No one in Toledo could have been happy to see Black Lives Matter activists marching to the mayor’s office after a pair of Toledo police officers were caught on video cursing and flipping a middle finger at a civilian. Not the mayor, not the police chief, and not the public at large.
The handful of activists, who were initially turned away from Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz’s office last week, were a no-show Monday when they had an actual appointment to see him. And many hope this is the end of the matter. But it should not be. We need to learn from it.
Camping out in the mayor’s office for an hour when you do not have an appointment to see him, but then failing to turn up when he makes an appointment with you, is not the way to resolve serious issues. It smacks of a publicity stunt and publicity stunts are not helpful in a matter like this one.
But the issue is not whether the Black Lives Matter activists handled the incident well. The issue is whether TPD will handle the incident well going forward.
The first officer seen on the video, Sgt. James Taylor, curses repeatedly at the citizen confronting him and tells the man he does not care that he feels threatened by the way the officer is approaching him. Later, Sgt. Taylor, seen sitting behind the wheel of a cruiser, contemptuously shows the man his middle finger and dares him to post a photo of it on social media.
This is not professional. It is not the kind of behavior that wins public trust. This is not the kind of policing that convinces people in Toledo’s worst neighborhoods that they should trust and respect the police — something TPD officials understand they need to root out crime in these vulnerable areas of the city.
Chief George Kral issued Sgt. Taylor a verbal reprimand for the incident. He must do more. He must convey the message — to his department and the city — that this behavior by officers is totally unacceptable.
Chief Kral has worked too hard to build trust for the police force in the community to let it be eroded by incidents such as this. He has pursued policies aimed at building the good rapport cops need, particularly in heavy crime neighborhoods.
He has hosted coffee-with-cops events, created virtual ride-alongs, and shown up at myriad block watch and community forums. He has initiated programs such as STOP to establish good relationships with marginalized communities in the city and to earn the trust of residents, even in neighborhoods where police cruisers aren’t always a welcome sight.
Too many police departments do not get a chance to reform after a video like this one. Instead, their wake-up call comes only after a civilian or an officer is injured. It is a matter of great good fortune that this incident did not escalate to physical violence.
The cursing-and-middle-finger video is a teaching moment, for all — an opportunity that the Toledo Police Department should embrace.
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