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ISU Chief Attends White House Meeting On Policing

Aaron Woodruff standing next to police car
Illinois State University

Illinois State University Police Chief Aaron Woodruff was among about 70 law enforcement officers from around the nation invited recently to the White House to discuss critical issues facing the police.

The meeting focused on the findings of a May 2015 report by The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

It was the fourth meeting the White House had called, each with a different group of officers and community leaders. It was the first since the fatal shootings of several police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

It was also the first which President Obama attended. He expressed support for law enforcement in the wake of the police shootings, Woodruff said.

"One of the best ways to provide support to our police officers is to make sure that we are addressing potential underlying tensions between officers and the communities where they're serving. Pretending sometimes those tensions aren't there is not going to make things better," the president told the gathering, according to a transcript of his remarks.

"When we're able to bring people together and strengthen those bonds, that's going to make the lives of police officers on a day to day basis just a little bit  easier and our streets safer and it's going to create the kind of atmosphere whereby we continue to bring crim

The presidential task force recommended "six pillars" for improving police-community relations. They include: building trust and legitimacy; use of technology and social media to improve communication between police and community members; improvements in community policing to aid in crime reduction; better bias training and education for officers; and officer wellness and safety.

Woodruff said officers were concerned that a disproportionate amount of media attention has focused on police shootings of citizens.

"There are over 385 million police-citizen contacts in this country every year," Woodruff said. "Out of those, a little over 11 million result in arrests and  out of those contacts 48,000 result in officers being assaulted."

By contrast, Woodruff said there were just over 900 police shootings in which a citizen was killed. "I don't want to minimize those  particular numbers. We'd  all like that number [of citizen shootings] to be zero ... But if the media reports these incidents as police are always shooting African Americans, it is going to make more people agitated towards police, assuming police are unsafe to be around."

He said there should be no contest between whether "black lives matter" or "blue lives matter."

"We are all human beings and what matters is how we want to be treated and how  are we treating each other. Making making it rhetorical  thing whre 'these people are important and these people are not important,'" is wrong, Woodruff said.

"Blue Live Matter shouldn't have its own movement  Yes, of course, police officers matter as much as that young black male standing on the street corner. Ever life matters. Certainly the vast majority of those of us in law enforcement recognize that," he added.

Woodruff said the group at the White House heard a presentation from Morehouse College Professor Bryant Marks on "implicit biases" or "hidden biases" which can develop in particularly in officers who work in largely minority neighborhoods.

"We all carry implicit bias within us," Woodruff said. "If you are assigned to a traditionally African American neighborhoods and every call you respond to is an African American being violent or selling drugs, over time you might start having a bias because every interaction might be involving criminal behavior."

The way to combat hidden bias, Woodruff said, "is to have positive interactions. The the community policing pillar helps to resolve some of the implicit bias issues" that may exist.

"At a certain point we have to still function as a country and bring both sides to the table. We need to work to improve the community with less pointing fingers at each other ... And  It starts with having honest dialogue and  communications."

Woodruff said he plans to expand implicit bias training for ISU police officers, and hopes his department can offer implicit bias education to the ISU student body.