Panel Explores Issues of Race and Law Enforcement

Feb 05, 2021

The virtual discussion is part of the University's observation of Black History Month.

black history month

Cal U assembled a panel of black law enforcement professionals on Feb. 4 to explore the issues of policing and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“Policing in a Dichotomous World: Black Law Enforcers/Black Lives Matter” — the first event in the University’s celebration of Black History Month — was held virtually and drew more than 100 viewers. It was organized by the Student Affairs Diversity Committee.

Dr. Mathilda Spencer, a criminal justice professor at Cal U, moderated the discussion among panelists Aaron Allen, a corporal from the Pennsylvania State Police Heritage Affairs Section; Lavonnie Bickerstaff, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police assistant chief and NOBLE Pittsburgh chapter president; Regina Scott, deputy chief, Los Angeles Police Department; and Paris Pratt, assistant special agent in charge, Drug Enforcement Agency. 

Spencer posed thought-provoking questions about improving community relations, the role race plays in job performance, the importance of greater racial and gender equality in law enforcement, and the balance of being a black law enforcement officer and a private citizen. 

For more information upcoming virtual Black History Month events, visit https://www.calu.edu/news/2021/black-history-month.aspx.

“Our fundamental duty is to serve the public,” Bickerstaff said. “A police officer should not put personal feelings or prejudices into our decision-making. We don’t have a right to bring those biases with us. We have to work through them through a constant process of self-assessment.” 

“We need to get out into the communities,” Allen said. “Growing up, I was taught not to like police officers, but positive interactions changed my mistrust. We try to get out into the communities, to learn what the issues are, get them out into the open, and build from that.” 

Scott and Bickerstaff, two role models as black female law enforcement officers, offered views on the importance of representation. 

“If you don’t have black people at the top, in leadership positions, how can issues be properly addressed?” Bickerstaff said. “If you know young people who would make tremendous officers, point them in our direction.” 

“Every decision has to be strategic,” said Scott, who is in Cal U’s Doctor of Criminal Justice program. “We always have to be mindful of the fact that we are constantly proving ourselves.” 

The panelists emphasized the ability to change the culture of law enforcement from within. 

“If you really want to change an institution, change it from the inside,” Pratt said. “Nobody can speak better for you than you. 

“Be the change you want to see.”