"There's this huge disconnect where both sides need each other, but we've got to find a way to get there," said US Attorney for Western PA David Hickton about the need to improve relations between residents and law enforcement.
In May 2011 Hickton formed the Community-Police Relations Group comprised of local law enforcement and community leaders. Following "listening sessions" the last few months to survey safety needs and concerns of the public, the group held a community forum Thursday evening in Pittsburgh to detail trust-building initiatives and other proposed actions over the next several months.
"I think there was a general recognition of a problem of mistrust," Hickton said.
The US Attorney said the common message to law enforcement from residents of several communities has focused on economic deprivation which he concedes leads to a spike in crime.
"If we can find a way to help build the scaffolding and support around around communities that are in distress, we can have an impact on the crime rate," Hickton said. "We can put folks in a better position to feel good about themselves, feel good about their communities and work more cooperatively with police."
"We've got a common problem, we've got a common enemy, we have a common desire in our collective will to succeed." That common enemy according to Hickton is random violence against the law-abiding community and police. "We have made progress and more needs to be done."
According to Hickton that will include a youth forum to get the perspectives of young residents to learn about their concerns and their dreams. He also wants to go "back to the future" and return to beat cops and police athletic leagues. "I think everybody recognized it was better when officers were on the ground, they could understand the community's needs better and have more community engagement that was outside the confines of a crisis or a criminal investigation."