Building Community Police Relations

Poor police community relations are reaching a boiling point. So much so, that across the United States citizens are protesting police brutality. On a recent episode of JustLove, host Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, spoke with Rutgers professor, Robert Snyder, to discuss how the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City overcame the crime, housing decay and poor police-community relations of the 1970s & 1980s to become a community that is now facing the problems of prosperity: development, gentrification and rising rents. Msgr. Sullivan speaks with Lt. Sonia Pruitt from the National Black Police Association about ways in which law enforcement is trying to improve police-community relations.


Below is an excerpt of the episode. For more information on JustLove please visit

The Catholic Channel Sirius XM 129 presents, JustLove, a conversation on the church’s social mission with Monsignor Kevin Sullivan.

Msgr. Sullivan:  Welcome to JustLove, I’m Monsignor Kevin Sullivan and this is our weekly conversation about the church and the world. This week is a very sad week, it’s a tragic week for our country because of the deaths particularly the deaths in Dallas of police officers who were just protecting a peaceful demonstration and were targeted and shoot and killed and in the midst of such a difficult week Lieutenant Sonia Pruitt who is on the Board of Directors on the National Black Police Association and who is working in Montgomery County in Rockville, Maryland has agreed to be with us today on JustLove. Lieutenant Pruitt, thank you for taking the time to be with us. 

Lieutenant Pruitt: My pleasure, good afternoon.

Msgr. Sullivan:  Would you like to tell us a bit about the National Black Police Association?

Lieutenant Pruitt: We’ve been in existence since 1972 our main goal is to train and educate not only minority officers which is our main focus, but everyone We have a broad spectrum of reaching out to the community because we realize that the community needs to be taught about policing and then together we can come up with solution to ease the divide and bridge the gap and move our joint message forward which is that everyone wants to live in peace and feel as though they are treated justly.

Msgr. Sullivan:  In that training what are some examples of the things that you try to communicate.

Lieutenant Pruitt: One of the things we do quite often is to teach the community is what to do when you are stopped by the police. It is one of the foundations of our education program because as you have probably heard some of our community members say that they speak to their children and in particular their sons about what to do when they are stopped by police officers. Who better to teach that then police officers?

Msgr. Sullivan:  Lieutenant Pruitt it’s very interesting, I’m in New York City and there are some clergy groups here that have met with political leaders and our mayor has been criticized because he said he did some educating of his own son on how to react to police officers. So it certainly seems to me that what you’re doing is very important and maybe in some worlds maybe we wished we didn’t have to do that, but certainly in the world we live in it is a value.

Lieutenant Pruitt: it’s a real conversation, if you recall Dr. Williams the Dallas Trauma Surgeon spoke on that during his news conference. It was poignant to point out that we live in a world that ever since I was a little girl, even though my father was police officer, that this is what you do to keep yourself from getting into trouble. It’s a different conversation. It is not simply to be polite we teach you where to keep your hands, what not to say, and don’t make sudden movements.

Msgr. Sullivan:  It strikes me that we we’re talking about is exactly what you are trying to train people to do.  In a situation like that is to do things that don’t result in the recent tragedy.

Lieutenant Pruitt: You are absolutely right. Now we are talking about the compliance piece. We try to hit that piece pretty hard because we want our young people to know that they have to do what they are told and they can fight the other battle later if they feel they have been treated unfairly. Now we are seeing at least on video is that the person was compiling but it did not prevent the tragic event. This goes into the heart of the issue and what we need to address. The people getting hurt are someone’s sons and daughters and their lives should not be taken lightly.

Msgr. Sullivan:  It seems to me that with the situation in Dallas, which was so tragic, is that you can have the best kind of community police relations and then all of us can be victims of a lone wolf who is absolutely violent and an outlier that we are defenseless as s society.

Lieutenant Pruitt: Yes, and there is always going to be someone in the extreme fringes. What disturbs me about that situation the most was that we could not control the message that disseminated from that situation which for me was that he was upset about the movement and whatever the movement meant to him.

Msgr. Sullivan:  I think that that is unfortunately the world we live in and it seems that in order to get more attention you have to be more extreme.

Lieutenant Pruitt: Yes, and one of my prongs that I address with citizens is to engage civically and knowing what the laws are and who drives whose laws. As citizens we have to know who drives those laws, who we are electing and we have to hold those people accountable.

Msgr. Sullivan:  Thank you Lieutenant and we hope that we can have you on again soon. Lieutenant Sonia Pruitt, board member of the National Black Police Association.

It hasn’t been a good week for community relations of the police, but I am delighted that it did provoke us having two very good guests about the possibilities and hope. I’m Monsignor Kevin Sullivan and thank you for tuning into the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM 189.