By Amy Wadas

PENN HILLS, Pa. (KDKA) – Policing in America is a topic that’s been at the forefront for years. Time and time again, there are calls for police reform. Most recently, this topic has been in the headlines following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

KDKA’s Amy Wadas talked one-on-one Friday with Penn Hills Police Chief Howard Burton. He said good policing is all about building a rapport with people which then leads to trust and transparency.

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“Law enforcement is not a job. It’s a calling,” said Burton.

It’s a calling Burton followed 53 years ago, working his way up to chief. He said a lot has changed since he put on a uniform for the first time, particularly what he calls a lack of communication between officers and the public.

“As long as the people can talk to them, that’s all they really need. They just want to be heard,” said Burton.

This is something he feels has gone away with time, as officers have moved out of the communities where they work, foot patrols have dwindled and meetings with various community groups have lessened. However, it’s not only communication that’s changed the dynamic. Burton said it’s also technology like body cameras, and even training.

“When I was hired, you didn’t have to go to a police academy. You were put in a car on the street and had a senior partner train you,” said Burton.

Now, Burton said new recruits train at the Allegheny County Police Academy for six months. He said that’s just one of the reasons why new officers are getting harder and harder to come by.

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“When Penn Hills police hired in the 90s we had 300 people show up for a test. The last time we hired we had 46,” said Burton.

He said it’s a problem all police departments across the country are facing. However, he doesn’t correlate the decline just to recent incidents like the death of George Floyd. He also contributes it to society.

“The way kids are being raised today, it’s all about me. We talk about helicopter parents. Kids in their 20s, mom and dad still taking care of them,” said Burton.

Looking to the future, Burton said he’d like to re-launch the Citizens Police Academy in the fall as pandemic restrictions continue to ease and do more outreach.

“I think we are going to try to get back to normal and think we will have more people in meetings and different speakers,” said Burton.

Burton said the public also needs to do their part.

“There are certain things the public is expected to do. Have respect for each other,” said Burton.

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Chief Burton also said more people need to learn how to talk out their differences instead of resorting to violence. He said the last thing an officer wants to do is arrest someone.