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Police Chief Apologizes For Historical Mistreatment Of Minorities


The head of one of the largest police organizations in the U.S. has formally apologized for, quote, "the role that our profession has played in society's historical mistreatment of communities of color." Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said that yesterday at the group's annual conference in San Diego. And then he got a standing ovation.

Cunningham acknowledged a, quote, "dark side to his profession's history" and a, quote, "almost inherited mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies." He says he hopes to break that cycle, and he is with us now. Welcome to the show.

TERRENCE CUNNINGHAM: Great. Thanks for having me, Kelly. I appreciate it.

MCEVERS: So I just want to make sure I characterized that right. Was this an apology?

CUNNINGHAM: It was an apology. It was an acknowledgement and an apology for, you know, the past role that our profession's played.

MCEVERS: Yeah, when - I know there's been some emphasis on the past when it comes to this apology. Is it also an apology for what I think some people consider, you know, contemporary problems?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, you know, the meetings that I've had - one of the things that I've learned is that if we're really going to have a true dialogue, it's got to start with some type of an acknowledgement about the past and what's happened and how we got to where we are.

And quite frankly I had this conversation directly with the president on two occasions, and...

MCEVERS: President of the United States.

CUNNINGHAM: President Obama, yep, and I think this was an opportunity for us to say, look; we need to get both sides out of the corners. I've been thinking about this - actually I started thinking about it back in July after the five officers were killed in Dallas and then the officers were killed in Baton Rouge. And you say, OK, this has to end. This violence against the police needs to end.

MCEVERS: I mean not everyone has been supportive of what you said. I just want to read...




MCEVERS: In this day and age - I want to read something from Lieutenant Bob Kroll, who is the head of the Police Officers Federation in Minneapolis. He told The Associated Press, our profession is under attack right now, and what we don't need is chiefs like him perpetuating that we're all bad guys in law enforcement. I think it's an asinine statement. We've got officers dying on almost a daily basis now because of this environment, and statements like that don't help. What would you say to him?

CUNNINGHAM: I would say directly to him, you know, read the entire speech. I said right in the speech that the history of law enforcement profession is replete with examples of bravery, self-sacrifice and service to the community. And you know, I recognize those officers for all that hard work they've been doing.

Every place that I've gone, I've talked about the fact that, you know, 99.9 percent of the officers in the millions - literally 11 million arrests a year - the millions of contacts that those officers make - and we have these very, very small percentage - I mean one is too many, but we have a very small percentage of officer-involved, you know, fatal shootings.

MCEVERS: I mean it sounds like it's a really fine line that you have to walk, though. I mean the police maybe are as divided as the public about this. You're either supposed to defend police actions no matter what, or you're somehow seen on - as someone who's on the side of protesters and people who want to commit violence against police. How are you going to find this middle ground?

CUNNINGHAM: You know, it is a - it is walking the razor's edge, and it's really difficult. But again, I hearken back to those days in July when I was sitting in the memorial service for those Dallas police officers. And I was sitting in the next room over from the families, and I watched those little kids sleeping on their mothers and fathers arms, waiting for the president to come in for three hours.

And as I sat there and I reflected, I thought to myself, you know what? We have to do everything that we can to stop this violence against the police and to keep our community safe at the same time. And if it means that I have to stand up and I'm going to take some hits from, you know, some of the police organizations and people who feel differently from me, that's fine. I'm, you know - I've got thick skin, and I'm willing to do that if it means that we're going to keep our community safe and we're going to keep our officers safe.

MCEVERS: Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, thank you.

CUNNINGHAM: Thank you very much, Kelly. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.