Anthony Roberson understands the complexities of police-community relations – his life exists at the very nexus of them. After joining the Providence Police Department at 23, he patrolled the same Hartford Projects where he grew up and later served as a school resource officer at Perry Middle School, which he attended. His approach to community policing is holistic, encompassing education and community action as much as law enforcement and arrests. He has a master’s in criminal justice from Boston University, and is pursuing a PhD in education at Liberty University. He founded the Community Inspiration Initiative, which brings professional role models to Providence Public Schools to greet students face-to-face as they enter the building, and the Community Policing Initiative, which tries to instill interest and appreciation to potential police recruits. Along with two other minority officers last year, he sued his own department over a sergeant’s exam they decried as discriminatory. It’s all part of working the beat for Roberson.
Why does it matter to have a police officer who understands the culture of the inner city?
You’ve been critical of the department’s promotional process. How can it be improved?
By making the process fair, so that it tests for intangible qualities directly related to leadership. Through a task analysis and assessment these are qualities that can be tested. The current process fails to look for the most qualified officer for promotion.
Comprehending such a dynamic allows that officer to be a better problem solver. Growing up as a man of color in a poor neighborhood I was able to experience firsthand the obstacles life placed in front of me. As a detective I now share those lessons with my community in order to help those in similar situations.
Why did you choose to pursue a doctorate in education?
Early into my career I realized that true community policing is multifaceted in its approach. Genuine solutions require looking beyond the arrest. A doctorate in education assists in organizational improvement, enhancement of my personal leadership skills, and preparedness. Encouraging academic achievement is a cornerstone of how I police. Simply put, the more educated a person is the less likely they are to be involved in street crime.
How will you put your degree to work?
That fact that I can teach places me in a better position to educate both the community and the police department on a variety of important issues ranging from police/race relations to criminal offenses. This upcoming spring semester I plan on teaching recently released incarcerated individuals seeking college degrees. The goal in part is to reduce recidivism.
What is your goal as a police officer?
My goal is to raise the quality of life for our youth by eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline, reducing their exposure to serious street crime, and proactively engaging them at their schools, churches, community centers, and homes.
In terms of police-community relations, what is something that the Providence Police Department does well?
The Providence Police does well in partnering with not-so-common organizations to address a host of community issues. One Neighborhood Builders
(formerly Olneyville Housing Corporations) and Family Service of Rhode Island
are collaborations that have produced great results.
Are there areas in which they could do better?
In any large, complicated organization there exists room for improvement. The Providence Police would be better served by incorporating more professional development for the men and women of the department.
How can we foster better understanding on both sides of the police-community line?
Communication is key in respect to both parties. The community should know that in addition to enforcing the law police officers must wear a variety of hats: homeland security, conflict resolution, social work, and a host of other practices. I wish the police better understood the dynamics of how complicated it is to live in a poor community – the fear of doing what should be considered routine things such as walking to school or going to a park, fear of being shot. This is why it’s of great importance to understand the culture of a city you are sworn to serve and protect.