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IACP’s Terrence Cunningham on his ‘historical mistreatment’ apology

In no way does recognizing historical injustice discredit or take away from the nobility and valor of the law enforcement profession today

The International Association of Chiefs of Police’s statement on the historical injustices minorities have encountered from U.S. law enforcement has drawn a strong reaction from the police community, including Police1 readers. The statement, delivered by IACP Immediate Past President and Wellesley Police Department Chief Terrence Cunningham at the 123rd IACP conference in San Diego, was widely covered and discussed by national news media. We interviewed Chief Cunningham by email to learn more about what went into the IACP’s statement, the top takeaways for patrol officers and what the association has planned to continue doing to resolve racial discrimination.

PoliceOne: What would you like patrol officers to take away from the statement?

Chief Cunningham: First, I strongly encourage the officers to read the entire statement, or watch the video, and not rely on sensationalized media headlines or hearsay. In delivering this message, I had the safety of the brave men and women who walk the beat every day first and foremost on my mind.

All of us know that losing an officer is undoubtedly the gravest tragedy an agency can face. This past July, the assassinations of the officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge shook our profession to the core.

As I sat through the memorial services in Dallas and Baton Rouge, I watched as family members and loved ones consoled each other as they sat, emotionally exhausted and likely asking themselves why. I felt an urgent sense of responsibility and moral obligation that something more had to be done to protect our brothers and sisters in blue.

Many officers on the street, just like some members of the community, feel they are under siege. Tragically, there have been 200 shootings of law enforcement officers so far this year. Forty-five officers have been killed by gunfire, a 50 percent increase over last year. This targeted violence against the police has to stop!

In the many conversations that I have had on community-police relations, particularly those with chiefs around the country, I realized that in order to move forward we need to acknowledge historic injustices.

I understand that not everyone will embrace the message we are carrying forth.

However, in no way does recognizing historical injustice discredit or take away from the nobility and valor of the profession today.

In fact, in my remarks I highlighted the fact that the law enforcement profession is replete with examples of bravery, self-sacrifice and service to the community. Furthermore, I made specific reference to the fact that police are required to enforce the laws enacted by federal, state and local government and, thereby, are the face of a good or bad law.

Lastly, I made it clear that at its core, policing is a noble profession made up of women and men who have sworn to place themselves between the innocent and those who seek to do them harm.

PoliceOne: Are there additional takeaways or insights you would like to add?

Chief Cunningham: I also was very clear in stating that today’s officers are not to blame for the injustices of the past, and those who denounce the police must realize this.

I hope that what law enforcement, of all ranks, will take away from my words is that if we are to move forward, we must truly understand and acknowledge that historic inequities have created a multigenerational mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies.

Communities of color need to know we hear their concerns in the hope they also hear ours.

My statement signals our fervent desire to bridge the current gulf of mistrust within our communities of color. Acknowledging what brought us to this current point, I believe, will form a deeper sense of trust, respect and empathy among communities and law enforcement agencies. My hope is this will inspire more peaceful actions, and stronger, more robust relationships between agencies and the communities they serve; improved trust will foster greater officer safety.

PoliceOne: What can urban and rural law enforcement agencies begin doing today to help resolve racial discrimination?

Chief Cunningham: It is not really a question of urban and rural agencies, but rather what the profession can do to resolve these issues. I also want to be clear the vast majority of law enforcement agencies out there are doing it right.

They are holding community meetings, listening to all segments of their community, working to make sure that their police force mirrors their community, being transparent and accountable to the community.

The IACP has a newly formed Institute for Community-Police Relations that is here to assist agencies of all sizes, regardless of geographic location, as they work to enhance their relationship with their community.

PoliceOne: Empirical evidence shows that the racial inequalities highlighted are part of a larger criminal justice system issue and not just a law enforcement issue. Does IACP have plans to work with other criminal justice stakeholders to help decrease racial bias that exists in our criminal justice system?

Chief Cunningham: We agree and that is why for close to two decades we have called for a National Criminal Justice Commission to perform a comprehensive review of the state of our entire criminal justice system, seek out areas of weakness and inefficiency and develop solutions to help provide a strategic plan to combat crime and promote public safety.

We know that we (IACP) cannot and should not drive forward alone, but we cannot and should not shy from our leadership role. For example, the IACP has been helping lead a consensus group of 17 organizations working on use of force issues. We have also established working groups with a broad range of stakeholders to discuss issues such as community-police relations and use of force data collection.

We know that police are not the only solution and that any approach that seeks to make meaningful changes to the criminal justice system will need the expertise and input of a wide range of stakeholders — prosecutors, courts, community and institutional corrections, academics, as well as other organizations that are looking at improving the health of our neighborhoods and communities.

We hope to work closely with many groups as we look for solutions.

PoliceOne: Now that IACP has released this statement, what will the association do to improve the issues that were addressed?

Chief Cunningham: It is our hope that this statement will be the first step to move the conversation in the right direction. We know that words are not enough and we recognize that this is a national issue that will only be solved locally. However, we can play a role in decreasing rhetoric and advancing meaningful action.

Those actions include calling upon law enforcement officers of all rank, community groups and activists to come together, sit down and identify next steps. To develop and drive policies that will make our officers and communities safer.

To help aid in this process, the IACP will use the Institute for Community-Police Relations to help provide law enforcement with the tools and resources they need to build and sustain a culture in policing that values transparency, accountability, and community engagement and increases community trust. The work of the ICPR will be guided by an advisory panel of law enforcement practitioners (both executive and line officers), community leaders, civil rights advocates and academics.

The ICPR will work to build a foundation of solutions and tools that can be interwoven into any agency, no matter the size or geographic location. Additionally, there are resources that are available for all levels of law enforcement, which will help ensure sustainable solutions for agencies as they work to build strong and lasting relationships with their communities.

PoliceOne: What recommended actions can our nation’s law enforcement community take to improve overall community relations?

Chief Cunningham: I understand that not everyone will embrace our acknowledgement; however, it is my hope that many law enforcement officials of all ranks will deliver this same message to their communities, particularly those segments of their communities that lack trust and feel disenfranchised.

Our hope is by acknowledging what history tells us to be true, we can help reduce some of the tension that puts our officers in harm’s way.

If we are brave enough to collectively deliver this message, we will build a better and safer future for our communities, our law enforcement officers and our nation. Too many lives have been lost already and this must end.

Once these words are delivered, we must follow-up with action and that will take the initiative, drive and courage of all sides. We must get out of our respective corners and be willing to sit down and have meaningful conversations. We have to be willing to compromise.

We need to be bold enough to take a step forward and have thoughtful and productive conversations that acknowledge the hardships of both sides and search for policy-based solutions that not only work to improve the criminal justice system, but take into account other aspects of our societies systems that are failing our communities.

PoliceOne: Thanks Chief Cunningham for taking the time to discuss the IACP statement on the law enforcement profession and historical injustices.

Heather R. Cotter has been working with public safety professionals for 20 years and understands the resource challenges and constraints agencies face. Heather is a Captain in the United States Army Reserve and holds two master’s degrees from Arizona State University and a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University. Contact her at