Ryan Tillman Hopes to Bridge a Gaping Gap
By Dianne Anderson
Most dialogue around police, misconduct and unjust practices are fighting words right now, and Ryan Tillman knows it all too well.
On the force now almost seven years, he joined the profession for altruistic reasons, because there is bad in the world, and he wanted to be the one to help stop it.
“I’ve even got messages that the only good cop is a dead cop, and my wife sees that stuff. I don’t want my kids to hear it. I know there’s good in this profession. I’ve saved lives,” said Corporal Tillman of the Chino Police Department.
For all the good intentions, for the most part, he is standing a thin blue line between Black and white.
Besides his day job, Tillman founded a national consulting firm after Michael Brown was killed by police six years ago, and aspired to change the department from within.
He said it’s obvious that racism and discrimination exist. When he goes out as a consultant, he speaks out on the right and wrong way of policing and tries to keep his platform balanced and trustworthy.
He hopes to bridge a gaping gap and see relationships repaired in the community. He also recalls some bad run-ins with officers while growing up in San Bernardino.
But once on the police force, he started to see things differently. Today, he always starts off with the elephant in the room.
“One of the first or second things I do is apologize for the bad officers that exist, acknowledging that we do have ways to improve,” he said.
Tillman goes out to police departments, and high schools and colleges, to talk about proper police practices, diversity training recruiting and retention. He admits that he gets flack for calling out some peers for not handling police situations properly.
Through his consulting, he also spotlights various filming and tapes on police practices. Some illustrations are on social media, and have called out officers on what was unjustified or involved bad tactics.
“They say why are you speaking out on other officers when you don’t know the whole story? For some, I don’t need to do research to know it was bad, but they are also some that justify police shooting or uses of force,” he said.
At least, in theory, better police practices that came out of numerous officer-involved homicides over the years seemed like it might reduce misconduct, such as cameras mandated on police cars and uniforms.
Even so, somehow they get turned off in the scuffle or at points during the chase and just before the deaths.
Asked if he had the chance to participate in the protests and stand on the other side, he’s not sure if he would have participated.
“In some aspect, I feel like I would, but at the same time, it’s about who I’d be protesting with and what is the cause because I’m literally right in the middle of it all,” Tillman said.
He did work the San Bernardino protests, and he said it was bad.
“Every store was broken into,” he said. “They broke into Big 5 and stole all the guns, graffiti everywhere, they lit the DMV on fire. They lit stores on fire.”
As for racial division, he has seen his white partners do good things or lay their lives down on the line.
“I still believe systemic racism exists as far as making it harder for minorities to get ahead in our profession, but I can’t say the majority of stuff [exists], I can’t say that,” he said.
He feels that police are painted with a broad brush, but notes that different departments deploy different approaches in different cities. If he were to pick an area to change, he said departments could use a more standardized approach nationwide.
He looks to California as a model of success for policy, training hours, and tactics.
Recently, he and his partner, another Black officer he helped get on the force had a frank conversation with their captain. The captain, a white male, told them that he doesn’t understand what they’re going through, but he empathizes.
“He asked my partner how he felt. He said he couldn’t comment because his emotions are all over the place,” he said. “My partner broke down because he expressed the same feelings that I have, and sometimes it sucks.”
For whatever policies could be quickly implemented to equalize policing, he said California leads the way for law enforcement, and “light years ahead” of other parts of the country.
A few months ago, Tillman was in Jacksonville Florida, where they are struggling to recruit, but they don’t provide academies often enough for lack of manpower. Those interested in the field can join when they turn 18 years old, and they get a badge and a gun.
“They let you start being a police officer without going to the academy,” he said, adding that when mistakes are made, it reflects poorly on police departments everywhere.
“I know a lot of policies on the west coast are pretty spot on, and de-escalation when it comes to mental health training, but we’re reactive to stuff across the country where it’s [police practices are] not the same.”
Mostly, he disagrees “defund the police” narrative, but he is more open to reallocating some funding and resources to where it’s needed in mental health, and homelessness.
Other policies and approaches could be implemented to address problems with policing, but ultimately, he sees it as a battle of good versus evil, even in his daily routine as he goes out to work the beat.
“There are a lot of evil things, whether sex crimes against children, triple homicide, whatever it may be, you need someone to guard the innocents against that,” he said. “But I’m optimistic and committed to the cause that by the time I leave this profession it’s better than when I came into it.”