Crazy Ideas about Police

Where did I get these crazy ideas about police?

Over 40 years ago, when I took over the command of my first police department at age 30, I wrote the job announcement you see below.

We were looking (then) for good men who would help us do something new… something great. It was a dream and I still have it.

(I have to confess that I was unable to convince my boss at the time to bring women into the uniformed ranks. But then the 1967 President’s Commission didn’t even think about that either…)

At the time I wrote this (1969) I had no idea the important contribution women would soon make to policing.

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JOIN THE DOMESTIC PEACE CORPS

A Challenge for today’s man with commitment

We are looking for college graduates who want to make a significant contribution to society by helping build a model organization of police professionalism. We want gentle men who are humanitarian, ethical, knowledgeable, and have a commitment to making our system of justice all that it should be. Within five short years we want you to help us demonstrate the efficacy and feasibility of professional law enforcement in democratic society. If you one one of our “new bree,” the kind of man that can handle responsibility and authority, make important decisions, and (most important) the kind of man that likes people, we will accept your application as a Public Safety Officer in our management training program.

This dream can become a reality today. Cities can attract committed men and women who desire to be part of something new, great, and innovative; to build a new and better police — a people-oriented police. Great ideas attract great people!

Policing can be an opportunity to be part of something great – a truly democratic and professional organization committed to problem-solving, people, a community orientation, and collaborative in both their work and leadership.

It came to pass that it was in Madison, a few years later, that I first had the opportunity to bring women in policing. It was something I never regretted and without women serving in the ranks of our nation’s police there would have been little progress during the past 40 years.

The question I have today is why are most of my dreams still not a reality — still “crazy”?

They are crazy ideas like higher education; that all we have arrest powers be required to undergo a broad liberal arts education before they are allowed to carry a gun? That police realize the importance of restraint in their use of physical force? That they be honest and courteous in all their dealings?

Why is it still crazy to expect police will work closely and collaboratively with all members of the community? Why is it still crazy to expect that police will respond to public protest with deliberative care and lots of conversation? Why is it still crazy to expect that police will be “color-blind”?

Why is it still crazy to expect that police leaders will lead their men and women respectfully and as adults? Why is it still crazy to expect our nation’s police will be on a path of continuous improvement?

I didn’t get these ideas by just reading a book, I got them because I blended what I was learning at the university with what I was experiencing on the street. You see, I believe in America. I believe in our dominant social values of equality, justice and fairness. I believe in those sacred rights that were given to each one of us by our Founders.

I once heard someone say that a community deserves the kind of police it has.

I agree. And that’s why we in America deserve the best!

And if that’s crazy, so be it!

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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.

5 Responses to “Crazy Ideas about Police”

  1. Even if you have police officers with college degrees, it doesn’t mean that they will be better cops. Look at the FBI. All their agents have college degrees; however, it did not stop them from violating people’s rights

    • Yes. You are certainly right, a college degree will not assure the kind of police of which I am calling for. But one thing I do know, it’s a lot easier to teach those who have a broad educational background to be those kind of police. It’s a general statement, but it has worked for me. Thanks for your input!

      • Dear Sir:

        What is your opinion about military people joining the police? From my own perseptive, military people don’t make very good police officers, since even though military people and police officers pride themselves on discipline and obeying orders, when it comes to obeying the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, they have no discipline for obeying those two documents. Too many of them in these groups think that these two documents should have been thrown in the trash can a long time ago.

      • I was a military man myself (4 years in the Marines) and I have to admit that little of my military training prepared me to be a community-oriented police officer. There are, of course, exceptions… but I caution wholesale recruitment of military personnel into our nation’s police as a antidote to unemployment and scaling down our wars in the Middle East.

  2. Unfortunately, it seems that the police prefer to hire military people as officers than hire people who have no military experience. There seems to be a culture taboo that if you do not serve in the military, then you don’t deserve to be a police officer or have some other job in America. I recall watching the TV show Cops and a number of cops stated that get some military experience under your belt improves your chances of being accepted as a police cadet. You have to admit though after World War II, it was impossible to find a male person who did not serve in the militar; however, it seems that the police keeps hiring military personnel during and after the Cold War was over.

    Thank you for your reply.

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