Redesign of Public Safety Series: Dr. Cedric Alexander speaks on police reform
Dr Cedric Alexander. Photo by Hyosub Shin_AJC

Few people in the country know the issues of police reform from multiple aspects better than Dr. Cedric Alexander, who has been in law enforcement since 1977 and is former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).

Not only is he a law enforcement analyst for CNN, but Alexander served as deputy commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services; chief of police in the Rochester Police Department; chief of police for DeKalb County; federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration, a division of the United States Department of Homeland Security in Dallas, and more.

Along with his years of experience in law enforcement and as a Black man in America, Alexander’s brutal honesty in assessing issues of policing have made his voice one of the most sought after on the subject.

As part of the Defender’s “Redesigning Public Safety” series, here are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Alexander.

Defender: What is your vision of redesigning public safety?

Dr. Cedric Alexander: I truly think everything’s on the table…So, if I’m a police chief and I’m running a police department and the public is telling me that they’re not comfortable with police, they don’t feel safe. There are parts of our communities that feel marginalized or treated differently. And it doesn’t have to be the majority of our community, but there’s a part of our population where people don’t feel like, particularly people of color, where they don’t feel safe. They don’t feel as if they have a relationship with their police department. So, what has to happen in my opinion is that myself as a chief, my community, my elected officials, I think we all have an opportunity in this space we’re in right now to be able to sit down and start talking about how would we like to see policing in our community.

Defender: Do you know of any departments nationally that are implementing some of the discussed reforms?

Alexander: No, because we’re still in the embryo stages of all of this. Hell, you can’t even get Congress to pass a public safety bill that’s going to benefit us. Right after George Floyd, you had the Republicans and the Democrats working together trying to create some public safety protocols, but they can’t even find a center. But what it has to come back to is people in those local communities. This is right where real work gets done…But you also have to remember Houston, Texas isn’t Butte, Montana. So, the needs in Butte may be very different than the needs in Fifth Ward, Houston.

Defender: What changes can be made nationally, and what changes can only be made locally?

Alexander: All of them can be done locally… How we police, how we negotiate with our unions in terms of police officers doing their jobs, everything can be done locally. And at a state level, it is great to have federal legislation that says no chokehold. But you can also have state and local legislation that says no chokeholds. Because really all the social ills in this country really are resolved at a local level.

Defender: We hear the term often, but what exactly is community policing?

Alexander: The term community policing really means that me as a police officer, I’m in the community as a guardian and not as a warrior. I’m in the guardian mindset or I don’t come to work.

A “Justice For Breonna Taylor” demonstration and march protesting police brutality and racial inequality on August 9, 2020 in Manhattan, New York City. Photo by STRF/STAR MAX/IP

Defender: What has 2020 taught the policing community about the limitations of the current policing standards?

Alexander: Well, I think George Floyd taught us a lesson. But George Floyd is not the only lesson. George Floyd was a tipping point…Right before George Floyd, what did you have? You had Breonna Taylor. You had the incident in Central Park where the white woman called the police on the brother. She weaponized herself to say that he was attacking her before that. What did you have? You had all those coming in succession to each other. And it doesn’t include the microaggressions that we all experience every day just being Black in America… But what 2020 has taught us is that in this pandemic environment…it also tells me we have the wherewithal as a nation to come together and fix this. Even though we look very divided at this very moment because of the politics… we have the capacity to come together in all of this.

Defender: What can community members do to assist?

Alexander: Be involved in their city government. It represents you and your community…You need to know who these people are. You need to write them. You need to go to city hall and meet with your county commissioners and mayors and city managers, however your government is set up. You need to make sure that your voice is heard collectively and individually.