From Ride-Alongs to the White House
Sheriff Tony Childress is nearing his 30th year in law enforcement in Livingston County, Illinois. At around age 13, he became close with police officers in his hometown of East St. Louis, Missouri. “I was intrigued with the work that they did, and it wasn’t long before I was doing ride-along programs with police officers,” Childress says.
Elected as the sheriff in 2014, Childress has since been invited to the White House several times, most recently to take part in a roundtable discussion with law-enforcement leaders in early June (President Trump then signed an executive order on June 16 on police reform amid the domestic unrest across the nation following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota). “I’ve become very close to the White House administration,” he shares. “I assured the president when I was at the White House that I would always be available to sit down at the table with him and to make this country a better nation. I stand ready. When the president calls, I will be there. That’s what I intend to do.”
Childress suggested three ideas for police reform at the White House roundtable. The first is “mandatory de-escalation training for all officers, it needs to be across the board nationally.” He also hopes that citizens will be taught de-escalation tactics. “As a society, we’ve gotten to a point where citizens need to be trained, as well,” he says. Secondly, he discusses restrictions on the use of physical restraints, such as “maneuvers on or above the neck, and any physical act that restricts the flow of blood or oxygen.” He adds, “They should be outlawed except for in cases where force is necessary.” And lastly, he proposes “the rendering of medical aid to all people nationally across the board” in order to ensure the safety of those interacting with police.
Now, the question is, how do we hold police accountable for complying with these new reforms and regulations? “The executive order that the president signed, and the bill that we’re looking to have in legislation include a record-keeping system for use of force,” Childress says. “That is a necessary legislation and a necessary piece of checks and balances for use of force.”
Childress also recommends community programs that “create partnerships” with the civilians. Programs, such as Shopping with the Sheriff, allow children to “go shopping one-on-one with a uniformed police officer.” After buying them necessities and clothing, “we let them buy a toy for Christmas.” He then enthusiastically elaborates, “I have always said that if we can get to the children when they’re young, it just makes for a better relationship when they become adults.”
As a matter of fact, Livingston County has seen “positive change.” Childress says, “Some of the local kids join the military and become police officers as a result of these programs. So far, we’ve been successful in deterring riots in our communities, and just having people come out and protest peacefully.” Childress and his team feel that “the more that the children can have positive contact with law enforcement in our community, the better off our community will be in the long run and down the road.”
As a Black police officer, Childress recommends that other Black law-enforcement officers “make sure that everything [they] do is correct and right. You have to treat people right, you have to treat them well. And if you don’t, it’s going to come back to you. Good will follow good, and bad will follow bad.”
Writer: Sophia Mazurowski
Photographer & Videographer: Jeremy Byrd
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to Livingston County Sheriff’s Office (livingstoncountysheriff.com) & EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)