As part of our police brutality series, NewsOne delves behind the Blue Line to speak with Officer Nicalle Edwards, a police officer with the DCHD Police Department in Dallas, Texas, to examine the intricacies of the law enforcement and Black civilian relationship. Here, her honest answers prove that Blue often trumps Black and that distrust — and anger — dwell on both sides of the badge.
NewsOne: What led you to law enforcement?
Officer Nicalle Edwards: Ah! The age-old question. The truth? My mother married a man who beat us and molested me. I vowed to never be a victim again. I want to save some child that can’t save his/herself. So yes, I became a cop to make a difference. It may be a cliche, but as the young people would say, “It’s real talk.”
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NewsOne: Do you ever feel compelled to speak out about police brutality? If not, why not? If so, how?
Officer Edwards: Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with any police brutality cases. It is not as prevalent as you might think. The few cases that I’ve seen from neighboring departments have been dealt with expeditiously. I hold myself and my fellow officers to a high standard, and I personally don’t have an issue with reporting behavior that is unbecoming of an officer.
NewsOne: Police brutality is something that is rampant in the Black community. It is a fact that there is a long history of it — maybe not in your department, but around the country. Are you suggesting that police brutality occurs primarily because of Black citizens, not the police?
Officer Edwards: I’m not saying for one minute that cops are not responsible for the negative stigma that surrounds us. Cops are ever evolving, just like the world. Cops are a reflection of its community. I can honestly say that times are changing…in a positive way. Police officers are required to get more education and citizens are also becoming more knowledgeable of the criminal justice system, which bridges the gap of ignorance.
NewsOne: How can the negative attitudes many police officers have toward Black people be changed?
Officer Edwards: The only way any racist’s attitudes will be changed is through education and experience. The state of Texas mandates that all police officers attend Cultural Diversity training at least once every training cycle. This class is supposed to teach racial sensitivity, but what it boils down to is upbringing. If you were raised to be a racist, all of the training in the world won’t help you.
NewsOne: What is the best way to deal with rogue cops?
Officer Edwards: The best way to deal with a dishonest officer is to obtain that officer’s badge number and department info, then make a report to his/her supervisor. If you feel like that officer’s actions were criminal, you may need to contact a lawyer or the District Attorney.
Now to play devil’s advocate, ask yourself this, “Did my actions warrant his/her response? Did I comply with the ‘legal’ commands of the office (for example: promptly produce identification, proof of insurance, etc.)?”
NewsOne: Are there any ways we can learn to possibly diffuse combative situations when they happen (between law enforcement and civilians)?
Officer Edwards: When approached by a law enforcement official, remain professional at all times. In most cases, your behavior determines the outcome of an encounter. When responding to a call, the attitude of a suspect sets the tone of the exchange.
Let me give you an example: You are speeding (20 miles over the limit). I stop you and approach the vehicle. You roll down the window. I introduce myself, tell you why you were stopped, and ask for your driver’s license and proof of insurance.
You respond by promptly producing said documents. I ask where you are going and you explain that you are running late for work — all the while remaining polite.
After running a check of your criminal history and current warrants, it is determined that you have an outstanding warrant for a traffic citation in a nearby city. Because you were civil and polite, I’d use officer’s discretion and give you a warning and not arrest you for your outstanding warrant.
This would be an ideal call.
Now let’s say I approached your car and you jumped out cursing, because you are pissed that you were stopped.
This call is going to go very differently.
Depending on your actions, you may be maced or tasered. You are definitely going to jail on that warrant and you may have some new charges. Your car will be towed and your day will be spent in intake, instead of work.
The truth of the matter is that most violent encounters with the police take place because suspects become belligerent, combative, and uncooperative.
The media has a funny way of highlighting the officer’s response: omitting the incidents that led up to the suspect being subdued. This is a big reason the community fears the police.
NewsOne: What can residents do to empower themselves against negative officers in their community?
Officer Edwards: Become active in the community, attend your town hall meetings, vote for your leaders, become familiar with the officers that patrol your neighborhoods, report inappropriate conduct, and be visible.
NewsOne: Do some police officers feel they are above the law?
Officer Edwards: Again, I can only speak for what I’ve seen…I have never seen an officer who thought that he/she was above the law. The state of Texas has a way of reminding us that “you too will go to jail.” If you are an officer who breaks the law, justice is just as swift.
NewsOne: Are you ever afraid when doing your job because of the reputation that police officers have?
Officer Edwards: I am forever mindful that I live in a bubble, because of my chosen profession. I’m okay with that. I try my best to practice what I preach. I live by the laws that I enforce. In saying that, I realize that I’m a rarity. I perform my duties as if I am on camera, always aware of my audience. I have been in Internal Affairs more times than I can remember, but each time I’ve escaped unscathed, because I remain professional. I am not “all cops” and I refuse to be burdened with negative perceptions. Like I always say, You hate the police, until you need the police.
NewsOne: Being a Black woman, do you feel any conflicting emotions when looking at the police brutality that runs rampant in Black communities?
Officer Edwards: As I said before, I haven’t experienced police brutality in any community. I have, however, experienced brutality from the community. I have been kicked, hit, punched, scratched, bit, and spit on…by the community.
I have even been shot at, on several occasions, just because of the uniform that I wear. I can recall being asked to work an off-duty job at an apartment complex that had been taken over by the city because of its high-crime rate and the number of 911 calls.
When I arrived, I stepped out of my personal vehicle and stood beside two fellow Black officers. About 30 seconds later, we heard gunshots. The Black community that we’re there to serve and protect, was trying to kill us. Talk about police brutality. The Black community didn’t care that we were Black or that I was a woman.
On Sunday night, three Dallas PD officers were shot at in a drive-by while attempting to break up a fight outside of a night club. They were trying to keep the peace and the community was not having that.
A few months ago, one of my friends was driving home from work in his personal vehicle, and someone shot at him on the freeway. They left a hole in his rear glass, but thank God, not in his head.
This is what I think of when you speak of police brutality. My job is dangerous and most Black people couldn’t care less about me… until they need me.
I’ve been in law enforcement for 11 years total. I’ve been a police officer for 5 years. You have no idea the weight of the badge. Yes, you have those who abuse their authority, but you have those who go to war on these streets every day, but we get overshadowed by the jackass that hit Suspect one too many times.
NewsOne: Historically, the Black community has been unable to trust the legal system or those sworn to protect it. You mentioned what civilians should do, what can officers to do foster healthier relationships with the Black community?
Officer Edwards: Community policing is something that we as law enforcement officials have implemented over the years. Community policings, in essence, is a collaboration between the police and the community [and the community] identifies and solves community problems.
With the police no longer the sole guardians of law and order, all members of the community become active allies in the effort to enhance the safety and quality of neighborhoods. The expanded outlook on crime control and prevention, the new emphasis on making community members active participants in the process of problem solving, and the patrol officers’ pivotal role in community policing require profound changes within the police organization. The neighborhood patrol officer, backed by the police organization, helps community members mobilize support and resources to solve problems and enhance their quality of life. Community members voice their concerns, contribute advice, and take action to address these concerns. Thus, building great relations between the community and police.
While Officer Edwards offers insight in to the inner-workings of law enforcement as it should be, there is little acknowledgement of law enforcement in the Black community as it is, showing that the same race does not indicate kinship between civilians and police.
Clearly, we need to be able to empower ourselves against forces that are empowered and given license to kill us.
Check back with NewsOne as we present a call-to-action designed to combat the violence in our communities. Violence that comes from both in front of and behind the Blue Line.