This #Firestarter stands for innovation and empathy in law enforcement
It sounds like the beginning of a movie: A newly promoted police lieutenant. An area with rising violent crime. How will he make the streets safe again?
If this were a movie, you can guess what would come next: The cops would crack down and bust the bad guys. Maybe there’d be a car chase or two.
But this isn’t a movie plot. It’s a real situation that was faced by Tarrick McGuire, now deputy chief of the Arlington (Texas) Police Department. He did help make his city safer — but it didn’t happen as it does in the movies. Instead, Tarrick reduced crime through a youth mentoring program that eventually earned national recognition.
Tarrick is a lot more interesting — and smarter and more innovative — than any movie action hero. And he’s tirelessly continuing his movement to strengthen police and community relationships.
Following in His Role Models’ Footsteps
It’s only natural that Tarrick would be involved in both law enforcement and mentoring. Growing up in Dallas, his own mentors were two police officers who went to his church.
“These two men were role models to me,” he says. “They invested in me.” When they talked about how police work enabled them to make a difference in their communities, Tarrick was paying attention.
After graduating from Oklahoma State University, Tarrick returned to the Dallas area with the goal of entering law enforcement himself. To gain more insight into the profession, he did a ride-out with one of the officers from his church.
“I learned from that experience that the public safety profession as a police officer was really investing in the community, trying to problem-solve and make neighborhoods a better place for people to live,” he says.
He carried that sense of mission into his work with the Arlington Police Department, which he joined in 2003.
Fighting Crime With Mentorship
The story of his mentoring program begins in 2013. Tarrick was looking for ways to curb the rise of violent crime in his police district.
“We were making arrests, but the crime was still not decreasing in a way that I felt it should decrease,” he says. To find some answers, he took a hard look at data. He discovered that the majority of violent crimes were being committed by Hispanic and African American teenage boys. He saw that arrests weren’t making a dent in these crimes. So he joined forces with representatives from the courts, faith-based communities and local businesses, as well as other police officers, to see if a mentoring program could be the answer.
The police chief approved the Mentoring Arlington Youth (MAY) Program they designed, which matched 10 youths for a year with mentors from law enforcement, schools, religious institutions and businesses.
“The MAY Program really focuses on social justice issues, having difficult conversations with youths about what’s going on within home life, but also exposing them to great opportunities,” Tarrick says.
The program has resulted in increased trust of law enforcement, better grades at school for participants and a greater willingness of community members to share information that helps solve crimes. It has received wide acclaim, including from the U.S. Department of Justice, and, in the past two years, has expanded to serve young women as well. (I was so happy to hear that the Junior League, an organization that’s close to my heart, has been a key part of this.)
Spreading the Movement
Tarrick’s movement continues to gather momentum in other ways as well. He serves on the International Association of Chiefs of Police Research Advisory Committee, is a National Institute of Justice Scholar and served as a consultant to the Department of Justice COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) Office.
He has become a leading advocate for a data-driven and evidence-based approach to community policing. This means making smart use of available information to deploy the most effective strategies. Tarrick gives this example: Let’s say a community is experiencing a lot of car burglaries. To best use their resources, police officers need to know things like the time of day the crimes are occurring, how those crimes fit into historical patterns (for example, do car burglaries typically rise at a certain time of year?) and whether the criminals are breaking into cars by force or taking advantage of unlocked doors. It’s also important to quantify the police response and any results of that response. For example, how much did police increase their presence in the neighborhood, and did the number of burglaries change after that?
Tarrick has spoken throughout the country about community policing. Sometimes that has meant hearing gratitude and appreciation for police work. And sometimes it has meant hearing difficult questions on officer-involved shootings and other issues.
“People just want to know that you’re going to do the right thing,” Tarrick says. “There are approximately 900,000 police officers in the United States of America, and, ultimately, just like any other job, someone is going to make a mistake. And so we have to ensure that we are evaluating these incidents in the correct format — that we’re transparent with the public.”
Answering the Hard Questions
Tarrick sees many examples of progress in strengthening police and community relationships. There are more local leaders like him who are working to increase engagement, stop destructive generational cycles and create more positive messaging. Technology such as body cameras and in-car video has helped increase transparency and empower communities.
But he knows there’s more still to be accomplished. He points to rising rates of suicide among police officers as a serious issue to be addressed.
“This is a challenging job,” he says. “Police officers are human, too.”
Tarrick also recalls a conversation with one of his sons that affected him deeply. It happened after Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black motorist, was fatally shot by a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2016.
Tarrick’s son knew the Crutcher family because they attended the church where his grandfather was pastor. He called his dad with a question.
“He asked me, ‘Am I safe?'” Tarrick remembers. “It was a very difficult question. Out of everything I’ve done in policing, it just of left me in this space of disillusionment — to where I felt like I couldn’t adequately answer his question.
“And this is why community-police relations are so important to me,” he says. “I hope to leave a legacy behind for my children. I hope that I can continue the conversation that civil rights, social justice and equity in policing are very important. I hope that I can continue to educate the public that law enforcement is a difficult job and that, without police, our communities will suffer multiple perils.
“I hope that, at the end of the day, people understand that I was called at a particular time in history to speak to a generation in order to make a difference. That’s really what I want the impact of my work to be. I want to be able to answer the difficult questions by the work that I’ve done.”
How You Can Help
You can support Tarrick’s movement by getting involved with building relationships between police and residents in your own community. Don’t wait for a crisis to start having conversations with your police department. Just as he urges officers to get out of their cars more and engage community members, he encourages us to do what we can to open dialogues, too.
“We’re all people,” Tarrick says. “And we want to know that we can depend upon each other and that that we can have empathy for each other regardless of what the circumstances are.”
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