Is There a Standard of Interaction Regarding Police?


            We live in a nation of big values and big ideas. Our Constitution proclaims certain rights to be inalienable – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, not all rights have been applied to all people at all times during our nation’s history. Nevertheless, our values are huge. The enormity of them is often breathtaking if not staggering.

So, I started thinking. What are “reasonable expectations” for those of us who live in this society? They certainly are ideas of justice and equality along with life and liberty. Big ideas to which we say we all aspire.

As a nation, we are a people in interaction – in families, neighborhoods, shopping centers, workplaces and communities. In those interactions, I believe we all share expectations of honesty, competency and courtesy.

This is especially true when we seek services from others whether they are medical practitioners, bankers, electricians or merchants. We expect them to be honest, competent and courteous in their dealings with us. And if they are not, we have a right to voice our disappointment and go somewhere else. A physician who doesn’t listen well, a banker who has investment advice that we find is not in our best interest, an electrician who overbills or never finishes the job, or the merchant who appears disinterested when we ask about a product we are interested in purchasing will not find us willing to do business with them again. Instead, we can find someone else who will meet our needs.

But what about services that are imposed on us? What about services the government has a right and obligation to provide such as construction permits, collection of taxes, how and when we set out our garbage for collection, and requirements to leash and license our pets? And what about those whom the government hires to enforce its rules? Should the expectations change here or are they the same?

Even though we may not have requested the “service,” such as police knocking at our door about a neighbor’s complaint, being stopped for a traffic violation, or being asked questions about a matter in which we have some knowledge, do we still not have a reasonable expectations that even though we did not request the “service” it would, nonetheless, be carried out by folks who are competent, honest and courteous? I think they are the same expectations. And when these expectations are not met in both spheres of our life (services we request versus those which are imposed on us) there is the great possibility of conflict and diminishing respect for the service provider.

As one of those non-requested service providers, I have always thought that there was an implicit duty for me to be competent in my chosen craft of policing, honest in my dealings, and courteous in my interactions with everyone.

I tried to capture that in my new book, Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police.

So, what prevents police officers from meeting our expectations? We must remember that in our society, almost everything is filtered through the lenses of race and class. What prevents everyone from receiving the same standard of interaction or service are those two factors. Police are generally courteous and do their jobs well when dealing with both equals and superiors and less so when it comes to those who are lower on the American “power scale” — which is always about economic class and/or race.

The conversation I am trying to generate today in America is about ways in which we can develop a standard of policing that assures everyone, witness, victim, or offender, will receive full and competent police services, in an honest manner, and with courtesy.

Is this too much to expect? If it is not, then let’s talk about how that could begin to happen in our nation. In my book, I provide the seven steps that police must take in order for this level of improvement to occur. They are things your community can start doing today.

The steps are:

  1. Leaders must envision a bold and breathing future for policing in which justice and equality are practiced values.
  2. Communities must select the “best and brightest” candidates to serve as their police officers.
  3. Police leaders must not only listen to their communities but also listen to the good ideas the officers in their organizations have about improving the work they do.
  4. Police leaders need to train and lead their officers in new ways; leaders train and trainers lead. This means both training and leadership must be adult-oriented and police departments de-militarize and be more collaborative and team-oriented with their employees.
  5. Police departments must continuously improve the systems in which they work and all that they do. Staying put is falling behind.
  6. Police must be able to evaluate what they do beyond counting the rise and fall of crime numbers. They must be able to answer questions about their competency and effectiveness by proving measureable data.
  7. Police then must be able to sustain their improvements and grow with their communities into the future.

Ultimately, it boils down to this: We have a right to have police who are smart, competent, restrained in their use of force, honest, and courteous.

For more about these and other ideas visit my blog at: http://improvingpolice.wordpress.com or purchase my book at a local bookstore or at http://www.amazon.com/Arrested-Development-Veteran-Corruption-Necessary/dp/1470102560/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335197097&sr=8-1

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About improvingpolice

I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.

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