Jaweed Kaleem / Los Angeles Times

Inkster Police Chief William Riley Joins Detroit’s Anti-Poverty Think Tank

William T. Riley, the police chief of the City of Inkster, and a veteran law enforcement official, who has been pushing for a new model in community policing and social transformation is joining The PuLSE Institute as a senior fellow at the Academy of Fellows.

At The PuLSE Institute, Riley, who previously served as the police chief in Selma, Alabama, the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement, before coming to Michigan to take over a once troubled Inkster Police Department in 2015, will focus on police reform and the intersection of poverty and criminal justice. He is the first law enforcement leader to join Detroit’s leading independent anti-poverty think tank, which is driving the debate on the need to challenge inequality in America’s largest black city.

Riley, is a graduate of St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia as well as the Hampton Roads Regional Law Enforcement Training Academy. He’s participated in many high level police executive trainings including the Mid-Atlantic/Supervisory Institute for Police Management at the Christopher Newport University, the Administrative Officers Management Program at North Carolina State University and the Senior Management Institute for Police Executive Research Forum at Boston University. He was also in charge of the Office of Professional Standards and Training/Recruiting Division at the Newport News Police Department earlier in his career.

“Poverty has a huge effect on our country. I am confident that being part of The Pulse Institute will allow for some robust conversation on that subject. Because poverty has such a negative effect on our community I feel joining The PuLSE Institute is right for me,” Riley said. “As a law enforcement officer who cut his teeth in community policing at the Newport News Police Department, joining The PuLSE Institute to tackle the issue of poverty is a no brainer.”

Riley noted that poverty is an issue that law enforcement officials must not be afraid to tackle.

“I have been in policing for over 34 years and I have seen how poverty plays a role in the communities that we police. In many communities within our country, children go to school hungry and ill prepared. It is essential for children to be properly nourished so that their brains can function in the academic environment. This includes head start and kindergarten especially because these earlier years are crucial in brain development. The lack of proper nutrition is one of the main issues that plague poverty stricken neighborhoods.” Riley said. “This situation is made worst due to the fact that many chain grocery stores avoid most poverty stricken areas thus the residents there do not have available and/or affordable access to nutritional food items. Behavioral and learning issues can be traced back to poor nutritional diets. This can have an effect on individual’s ability in the areas of comprehension, anger management, problem-solving and conflict resolution. These issues do not justify anyone for committing a crime that they knew was wrong, it just gives an insight in to how we as a society can make meaningful change. There are other variables that also cane play a role  in crime such as the home environment, education, family house hold make up, age of parents, social and economic standing of parents and/or guardian.”

Riley’s philosophy of community policing is a radical departure from the practice of many police departments around the country. For example, he flatly rejected the use of facial recognition technology for the Inkster Police Department, a point he reiterated Wednesday evening during a forum on police accountability hosted by The PuLSE Institute. He was also one of the most vocal law enforcement leaders speaking out in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an African American who died under the knees of a white Minneapolis officer.

“ Police chiefs and sheriffs across the country must  make sure that they send the appropriate message to their people that bad and violent behavior will not be tolerated. They must take a hard look at who is training their new officers. They must take a hard look at their training standards. They must vet their applicants thoroughly. They must take a hard look at the abilities of their supervisors . Yet one of the major things that need to be done is that they must form a relationship with the community,” Riley said after Floyd’s death. “The imagery of that white officer kneeling on that man’s neck with his hands in his pocket gave indication that the officer was very comfortable in doing what he did, was comfortable violating another human being’s rights, was operating in an environment where he feared no major repercussions, felt assured that no other officer would challenge him in his actions and showed contempt for the man he killed.”

Attorney Tina M. Patterson, who serves as The PuLSE Institute’s president and director of research welcomed Riley to the Institute.

“This moment in history calls for radical changes in our approach to policing in America, particularly when it comes to eradicating the longstanding terror of police brutality against Black people in this country. Because this police violence has been so comfortably integrated into our political culture and institutions, the calls for change must be heard and accepted from all spheres of society. No clarion call for transformation is greater than that of a senior police official, who knows that public safety must be the central focus of policing in order to fulfill the noble duty to protect and serve the citizenry,” Patterson said. “Inkster Police Chief William Riley personifies this vital philosophy and understands that consequences for police misconduct must be implemented without hesitation to restore the public trust in policing. He is an advocate for transforming the current toxic climate of policing from one that is an imminent threat to Black life to one that is a secure partner in the Black community that protects the sanctity of life, particularly of the impoverished and most vulnerable members who require more support.”

Patterson added, “Chief Riley is an authoritative and refreshing voice necessary in the battle to end police abuses against the public, and The PuLSE Institute looks forward to his contributions to this long overdue recreation of policing and public safety in America.”

The founding of The PuLSE Institute was inspired by the writings of nationally renowned Detroit journalist and author Bankole Thompson, whose illuminating and influential work on economic and racial justice issues has elevated the discourse around poverty and inequality in the city. Thompson, a twice-a-week opinion columnist at The Detroit News, serves as the editor-in-chief of the Institute and the chair of the Academy of Fellows.

“In my conversations with Chief Riley, his commitment to social transformation in policing comes out very clear and unmistakable. He believes that police officers must be defenders of human rights not violators. That is why The PuLSE Institute is looking forward to his engagement with us as a senior fellow, where he will get to use the moral platform of the Institute to speak to the kinds of issues that are preventing the radical reformation of our police departments,” Thompson said. “In Riley, we see a law enforcement leader who is unabashed about declaring that working to achieve racial justice must be front and center of community policing, and it goes beyond merely issuing a press release.”

Thompson added, “For example, his rejection of the use of facial recognition technology which is known to misidentify Black and brown people as suspects speaks volumes about where his heart is, and where his commitment lies. We push the debate around poverty and inequality at the highest levels of law enforcement and Riley exemplifies that drive.”

Last year, Washington Post nationally syndicated columnist Esther Cepeda, profiled the work of The PuLSE Institute in a column describing it as a national model for cities working to tackle poverty. Lawrence Technological University in Southfield also announced last year that it will inculcate the work of the Institute in its MBA program for students to identify business solutions to poverty.

Leading members of The PuLSE Institute include the National Advisory Panel consisting of Dr. Arun Gandhi, global justice advocate and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi; Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a top aide of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and National Coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign; Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK and a leading Catholic anti-poverty crusader; Robert Weiner, former White House spokesman; Herb Boyd, historian, journalist and author of consequential books on James Baldwin and Malcolm X; Luba Lukova, an internationally visual artist for social justice; Rev. Lawrence T. Foster, Harvard-trained theologian and mentee of Martin Luther King Sr.; and Janis F. Kearney, first presidential diarist under former President Bill Clinton. 

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