Brian Encinia. Does that name ring a bell? Probably not as much as Sandra Bland. If you have not been keeping up with the news, allow me to fill you in.
Ms. Bland was pulled over by Brian Encinia, a Waller County police officer, for illegally changing lanes. The routine stop was escalated and resulted in the arrest of Ms. Bland. While in police custody, Ms. Bland committed suicide (per the coroner’s report).
Citizens are questioning whether Ms. Bland’s death was a suicide or a murder. The fact that the public is questioning the cause of death is emblematic of the current state of affairs–a high level of distrust of government.
Why do we distrust government? Why are we questioning individuals who are trained to protect and serve?
When policies and practices result in death, there is usually a continual profiling of the victim. While there may be some profiling of the responsible public servant or organization, the imbalance of profiling is a major contributor to repetitive policy failures and public distrust. The public response to Ms. Bland’s death—doubt—is not a new phenomenon. In fact, Ms. Bland played a role in the organized response to recent cases of police brutality, excessive force and falsification of official records. Therefore, we know she was a fighter.
With a few clicks, we can find a plethora of information about Ms. Bland. However, what do we know about Brian Encinia? What type of police officer is he? Is he an aggressive person? Based on the video footage of the arrest, one might conclude that the officer’s focus on trivial matters contributed to the escalation of the traffic stop. If Brian Encinia had a higher level of professionalism and focus, Ms. Bland might have received a simple warning.
The lens I used to study the officer’s behavior is fairly crude. However, this is the type of study that should take place when the actions of a public servant result in a loss of life.
We are not learning from the past failures because we are too protective of those who commit to public service, which inevitably decreases the quality of performance, lowers expectations and increases public distrust.
My soapbox is rather short for this topic, because what needs to occur is evident…in my mind. For those interested in rebuilding public trust, here are a few things to consider:
- Proper compensation – If we want to attracted good talent, we must provide fair compensation for public service…especially for those on the front lines. Otherwise, you get what you pay for.
- Character Check – When there is very little distance between the public servant and the citizen, it is key to examine and cultivate the character of the public servant. If the public servant’s character is not in alignment with the mission of the organization, damage and/or loss will ensue.
- Sankofa – Learn from the past. The standard reaction to policy failures is to manage public perception. However, if there is a policy response that is not focused on risk reduction, incidents will repeat and this repetition will intensify any existing distrust of government.
Submitted by Henry Smart, III