By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Despite the difficulties facing police officers, they are responsible for maintaining their professionalism and have a higher burden of responsibility, the Rev. Al Sharpton told almost 1,200 police recruits receiving multicultural training at the Apollo Theater Wednesday.
"You are expected to be professional and uphold a standard even when being confronted by people who are less than professional," Sharpton said. "As human as you are, the public has the right to expect more out of you with the uniform on. If you can't live up to the higher standard, don't take the uniform."
The four-day multicultural immersion course, "Advancing Community Trust," is designed to give recruits a raw taste of the attitudes and issues that they are going to be facing as they police the most diverse city in the world, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told recruits.
"Police officers don't win many popularity contests. The functions you perform are intrusive: From giving summonses to arresting an abusive spouse," Kelly said.
"You have an awful lot of power. Real power. You have the power to use force, sometimes deadly force. If these powers are used professionally, they save lives. But if we have one errant police officer who doesn't understand the appropriate use of power, it undermines the work of thousands of officers," Kelly added.
Joining Sharpton on the panel were the Rev. Herbert Daughtry and journalists and commentators Gerson Borrero and Errol Louis.
Despite the incoming class of officers, Kelly said the department is still down 6,000 cops from 2001 and below the 35,000 mark even with this class. About 80 percent of officers retire when they reach the 20-year mark. That number had subsided with the recession but is beginning to creep back up, Kelly said.
"I would love to grow but we are treading water right now," Kelly said.
Borrero and Daughtry addressed racial profiling and controversial cases involving the excessive use of force, but said the community also have pre-concieved notions of cops.
"There is a perception in the community that you, the police department is an occupying force. it is the perception that the rich send you to corral people in. There is a perception that yes, there are good police officers, but racism prevails," said Daughtry.
Borrero advised cops to do simple things like say good morning and address people, even young people with respect.
"You have to convince us," he said. "You have to be a human before you are a police officer."