Letter to the editor: We need to improve police training, focus on de-escalation and mental health treatment


Editor's note: Citizens For Progress is a community group organized to establish meaningful communication among our residents and to engage all entities concerning issues affecting our schools, housing, health care, the legal system, law enforcement and government policies. CFP is seeking to improve the quality of life for all citizens of Sumter County.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our concerns and hopes for continued progress in this community. In light of the recent killing of Tyree Nichols on Jan. 10, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee, we thought it necessary and proper to address three important issues; first: The issue of police violence in this country has exploded into our daily experience largely due to the availability of video data captured on cellphones, body-worn cameras and surveillance cameras.

Law enforcement agencies are now being caught doing things that have been heard about for decades but are only now being seen. An issue of police culture is now being measured by our citizens.

Second: We must realize that policing in the community must evolve from what it was 50 years ago. The availability of guns, the increase in drug use, the cycle of domestic abuse and the crisis in mental health treatment demand that we develop new models of public safety management. We don't send the fire department to respond to a water pipe break. We don't send a policeman to a house fire. Why do we send a policeman to a domestic situation or a fight at school?

Our community will be safer when we train and match the response with the need. No, we don't want to defund the police; we want to improve the culture of public safety for all citizens regardless of color or gender.

Third: We want to make it clear that it does not matter the color of the actor as long as the law is being broken and a citizen's right to life and liberty are being denied.

We are horrified by the actions taken by the policemen in Memphis and call for a swift and public trial in court. But after judgment is rendered, let us not return to the status quo. Plans must be created now to improve training, focus on de-escalating tension and improving mental health treatment at all levels of the community.

This is a change that is long overdue and one that we cannot afford to delay.