Police officers in several U.S. cities are under orders to patrol in pairs for their own safety. Protesters are regrouping after a weekend of righteous anger, which saw demonstrations against police violence in more than a dozen states and mass arrests in Louisiana.
The U.S. remains gripped by tension following last week's killings of five police officers in Dallas and two African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota. President Barack Obama has appealed for calm and will visit Dallas on Tuesday. Later in the week, he plans to gather law enforcement officials, community activists and civil-rights leaders at the White House.
"I want to start moving on constructive actions that are actually going to make a difference, because that is what all Americans want," said Mr. Obama on Saturday.
What would such steps look like? There are no quick solutions to the problems plaguing the relationship between African-American communities and local police forces. Such issues, which have festered for decades, include persistent racial bias in policing and corrosive mistrust on all sides. But there are some interventions that have shown promise in certain cities and which deserve national attention.
Get it on camera
Just hours after Alton Sterling was shot and killed last week in Baton Rouge, La., cellphone videos emerged of his fatal encounter with police. The next day, when Philando Castile was shot in the driver's seat of his car in Falcon Heights, Minn., his girlfriend filmed his dying moments. In both cases, it is deeply disturbing footage. But the videos remain fragments, which don't show, from start to finish, the interaction between police officers and the two men.
For that reason, the shootings have given new impetus to a push to get police to wear body cameras which would record their actions while on duty. A limited trial run showed dramatic results, suggesting that such recording devices may rein in the behaviour both of police officers and the people they encounter. In Rialto, Calif., police officers were randomly assigned to wear body cameras over a 12-month period. During that time, incidents involving the use of force dropped about 60 per cent compared to prior years, while complaints by citizens dropped about 90 per cent.
Encouraged by such findings, numerous U.S. states are considering legislation to clear the way for the use of body cameras. "The bad news is it's not a panacea," said Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington. Body cameras still show only one angle on an encounter, noted Ms. La Vigne.
They also raise a host of practical and philosophical concerns: Will officers have the discretion to turn cameras on and off, and if not, is their own expectation of privacy violated? How do you protect the privacy of people captured on footage from body cameras, whether victims or crimes, witnesses, or suspects?
De-escalate and explain
A small but growing number of police departments in U.S. cities are training their officers in techniques for defusing tense situations without resorting to lethal force. And – in a tragic piece of irony – one of the pioneers in such training happens to be the Dallas Police Department. From 2009 through the end of last year, the number of complaints by city residents alleging excessive use of force by the police fell 90 per cent. The city's police officers have shot one person this year, down from 23 in 2012.
Such training includes ways to not exacerbate encounters – to slow down, or even pause, rather than rush into a situation; to back away from suspects rather than approach them; to avoid having multiple officers shouting orders; and to use stun guns rather than firearms. Seattle and Las Vegas are among the other cities that have incorporated these techniques into their policing. Last year, Philadelphia established an award for police officers who de-escalate conflict situations.
While these approaches are not new, they had faded into the background during an era in which aggressive policing was considered more effective. In January, the Police Executive Research Forum released a document recommending that police departments jettison "outdated" concepts like the notion that officers must resolve all situations as quickly as possible.
It also recommended discardingthe so-called "21-foot rule," which has been used by officers to justify shooting a suspect armed with a knife at that distance or even beyond it. In 2015, the research group found that new recruits receive, on average, 58 hours of firearms training but just eight hours on de-escalation techniques.
Some experts also advocate greater training in what they call "procedural justice" – treating citizens with respect and acting in a neutral and trustworthy way. After pulling someone over, for instance, a police officer should describe why the action was taken and allow the person involved to express an opinion.
When police act in a fair and honest manner, people are more likely to obey and accept what is happening to them, said Justin Nix, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Louisville. Such interactions then shape their overall impression of law enforcement, fostering trust and legitimacy.
Prof. Nix acknowledged that it's difficult to be optimistic after a week like the last one. But at least for now the attention of the nation is focused on these issues.
"We're more tuned in than we've ever been to police behaviour," he said. "We've got work to do, for sure. But we're turning in the right direction."