Police officers work to mend relationship between communities, law enforcement

“Nightline” speaks to police officers in California about the two Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies who were ambushed as well as their efforts to build trust with the communities they work in.
12:46 | 09/18/20

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Transcript for Police officers work to mend relationship between communities, law enforcement
Reporter: South L.A. Still on edge just days after this video shocked the nation, capturing the moment two sheriff's deputies are caught in an ambush. Last Saturday night, a gunman seen approaching the cruiser before firing multiple times, hitting both of the Los Angeles sheriff's deputies in the face. Both officers sworn in just 14 months ago. One deputy, an it 24 year old shot in the forehead, his partner, a 31-year-old mother of a 6-year-old shot in the jaw but still rushing to her partner's aid. She goes around the car, applies a tourniquet to him to stop the bleeding. She gets on the radio, and she's calling for help but having a hard time because she can't speak very well. That shooting takes place blocks from the station. A deputy involved at the blue line. Reporter: While many of the details and motive of the ambush remain unknown, what happens here taps into unspoken fears for those in uniforms. After a summer of racial unrest, nearly nightly standoffs between protesters and police, calls for reform, look at the front line tonight, the fear on both sides. It's been a summer where attitudes towards police have soured after a series of highly-publicized deaths at the hands of law enforcement. In Minneapolis, in Kenosha. Tonight the people struggling to bridge a divide between some communities of color and those who wear the blue. There is much work to be but we can't do it alone. When I put that uniform on, my goal is to go out there and change the perception of how people view police officers. Reporter: On Sunday, minutes after those two deputies arrived for treatment, a small group of protesters gathered at the hospital to heckle the injured deputies. One protester live streaming the event. I hope they Die. Reporter: The tension between the sheriff's department and residents of south Los Angeles was turned up to high voltage after sheriff's deputies shot and killed this man, dijon Kizzee on August 31st, firing 15 shots. It was broad daylight, and witnesses say he appeared unarmed at the time of the shooting. Look, people wouldn't be out here, the outpour wouldn't be out here like this if this wasn't murder. Reporter: Reggie Cole was out there with him last month. He calls the heavy-handed sheriff's department what makes it especially dangerous. When sheriff's deputies roll through here, how do you think they see you? Pretty much as a criminal. The classic definition of a police officer, to serve and protect. Reporter: He is intimately familiar with the justice system, wrongfully charged and convicted of murder in 1994, exonerated in 2009. How much time did you do? 16 and a half years, ten in solitary confinement. In my opinion, the law enforcement should be held more responsible than the layman, than a person in the streets. You should be held at a higher accountability than the normal person, because you're there to uphold the law. Reporter: Do you think there's more tension in the streets than there was? Of course, our whole thing is we want justice for the family. I speak to his father all the time, know what I mean? And. There's an overarching feeling of not feeling safe with regards to law enforcement. Reporter: During a time of heightened distrust between communities and police, Compton city mayor Asia brown has led her city through recent police-involved violence, she, too, believes the answer is more accountability in law There are so many instances of unanswered justice for our community, and it's hard to tell someone to heal when there hasn't been any form of reconciliation or atonement. Our love for our communities and for one another, it must be greater than our pain. Reporter: Tonight in los Angeles, one of the officers remains in the hospital. The FBI join being the manhunt as a reward for information leading to an arrest set at about $300,000. When you are out there on patrol, you are a target unfortunately. They have a lot of money out there. I'm sure they're getting a lot of phone calls. That helps the investigation. Reporter: The incident capturing national attention. Former vice president Biden calling the attacks on the deputies absolutely unconscionable. President trump at one point calling the shooters animals and demanding the death penalty for cop killers. This guy walks up to a police car, and he starts shooting point blank range at two innocent people. You can't let that happen. Reporter: In San Francisco, police captain Williams worries that black men getting shot and police officers getting shot is getting politicized. When you kill someone, they're not going to come back. We need to remove the politics! It's not about politics! It's about the human beings and the lives that have been impacted. This is my old neighborhood. Reporter: We first met Yolanda two years ago, then like now caught in the middle of a precarious balance as an officer of color. This summer, Williams has found herself once again navigating between the hurt in her community and the frustration from her colleagues. There's a humanistic side to police officers that unfortunately, the general public is not really understanding. And we, too, feel like we want to be able to be safe in our work environment, and we want to be able to establish a much better relationship. But right now many officers are afraid of the unknown. Reporter: As demonstrations fill the streets of San Francisco, calling for police reform, Williams was there. Calls for change, she says are an opportunity for reflection. My brothers and sisters in blue need to recognize that we can't take this personal. However, we can use this moment in time where people are angry, we can use it as an opportunity to be better. Reporter: And across the state in chino, corporal Ryan Tilman is also putting that message of community engagement into action. When I put the uniform on, what really goes in my mind is really wanting to be a change agent for our community and rebranding what law enforcement it goes to old-fashioned police concept, getting out of the car, walking the streets, knowing their names and asking how they're doing. Reporter: He's with breaking barriers united, aimed at workshops and mentorship. The reason I started it is I was not a fan of police officers. Once I became a police officer, I saw the job completely different. One of the things I've done from early on is acknowledged our wrongs. I've told people I'm sorry on behalf of a lot of the bad policing you've seen out there, and it allows me to lay a foundation of honesty. We recognized this was something valuable not only for our community but the greater nation as a whole. It's give and face to members of the African-American community. They're able to see somebody that reflects them. Reporter: But even as they work to build trust, the ambush in Compton is a reminder of the fears and risks. They live with law enforcement every day. I'm Ryan Tilman first. My kids know me as daddy, my wife knows me as husband, my family knows him as brother. It could have easily been me. It is time for me and everyone to try and understand each other. Only way that we can pretty much change this whole situation is for us to change the way that they deal with us through legislation. Our thanks to Matt. Earlier tonight I spoke to los Angeles county sheriff, Alex Villanueva who's feeling the pain of those deputies who were shot and looking for answer, along with asking tough questions. Sheriff, thanks so much for joining us. It can't be easy watching two of your own targeted the way they were last Saturday. What can you tell us about the condition of both deputies as of tonight? Well, one of the deputies, the male deputy, has been released from intensive care unit. He's actually supposed to be released from the hospital, and that would be continuing his recovery and probably going to have additional surgery on his arm, unfortunately. The female remains in intensive care unit and has obviously some issues that have to be treated there. Understood. Are you worried that more officers could be a target and, if so, are you taking any precautions to keep them safe? Well, we're always worried about that, and just the political climate these days where weather vane politicians and opportunists are jumping on the bandwagon telling everybody all cops are bad. To your point about so much happening around the country. This ambush happened during a summer of demonstrations after the death of George Floyd and others at the hands of law enforcement, including protests in your county after one of your deputies shot and killed dijon Kizzee earlier this month. What has the department done to ease existing tensions in your community? We've been doing a lot. I've been reforming this department since I first took office in 2018. We have committee advisory councils meeting on a regular basis with the community. We have body-worn cameras that are finally going to be implemented starting in October. There's a lot of things that we're working to bridge that gap of mistrust. And I think having that open-door policy, communicating directly with the community, I think it definitely can improve our relationship. And sheriff, you and I both know in every industry, it is about leadership. I know you're a respected leader in that community. In your opinion, what is the path forward? The path forward is we have to continue reassuring the public that the criminal justice system works. And unfortunately, the social media that's 24 hours, news cycle operates a lot faster than the justice system. We have to get the news cycle to slow down a bit. And people realize oh, they did the right thing. Here's the result based on evidence and proper steps were taken. That includes deputy-involved shootings like dijon Kizzee. That case, we just finished a key interview yesterday, and now we're an in a position to release it. You mentioned social media, how do you bridge that gap to give people the information but yet give people due process? It's a tough balance. I agree with you. People see things on social media, they think it's the gospel truth. Any politician can say anything they want and they think there are no repercussions. More accountability on all sides. Sheriff, thank you so much. And I know people of faith are praying for your department and your deputies. Thank you, sir. Thank you, sir. Coming up, we'll shift gears.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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