Open Letter to Our Nation’s Police Leaders

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Dear Fellow Police Leaders — Brothers and Sisters,

It sadly seems to take a Ferguson or other nationally-exposed incident to get us to think about ourselves and what we are doing, how we are perceived, how we present ourselves to the community, how we train, how we lead, and, most of all, how we need to be continuously improving everything we do.

But even in light of Ferguson, mistakes can be lessons strongly and indelibly learned.

I have served in and watched police closely for over 50 years. It has been an interesting journey but one that I sadly say has never quite met my expectations (which I know are quite high). I see police as the vital “glue” in our society. On any given day, police can hold things together or they can tear things apart. The young Turks had a saying in the 60s that if you wait for the judge to give you justice, you’ve waited too long. And that’s where we, the police, come in.

It is police who can assure that justice; highlight our nation’s values. And police do that on street corners — well before a date in court. It is our job to reinforce the core values of American life. If we cannot or will not do that we all are in deep trouble.

A couple of years ago I said that our nation’s police must be smart, educated, well-trained, restrained in their use of force, honest to a fault, and courteous to all. When that is known by our communities, we will build the trust and support needed to do our job effectively and the number of  Fergusons will be few, if any.

But let’s look at one more thing (and this comes out of the ’69 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice and the Kerner Commission Report a few years later): police departments in a multi-cultural society must reflect the communities they serve. And let me add: It is wrong to have a police force 90% white in a community that is predominately of color. Period. No exceptions.

How have we championed the diversification of our nation’s smaller police agencies? Who steps up and says this must be done — it’s a “professional standard”? (Moreover, a recipe for disaster if it is not done)?

A number of years ago while teaching a police leadership course in a large midwest city, an old grizzled sergeant came up to me during a break, and in response to my comments about the necessity of diversity in policing said, “I know what you’re saying. I am a night shift sergeant and all night long my officers and I go to disturbance calls primarily in the black community. We are all white. We can’t keep doing this. It’s wrong and it’s dangerous — for them and for me and my men. Things have to change.”

We need a “stand down” in policing today. It’s been well over a decade since 9/11 — the day fear took over America and its police and increased militarization was our response.

It’s time to get back to basics and those basics are what we once called community-oriented policing. Let’s dust off those important values and get back to building trust and building it together with those whom we are privilege to serve and to lead.

Democracy exists based on the consent of the governed. The same thing applies to policing.

Let’s quit talking about the things that don’t matter and start talking about those that do.

Peace and Godspeed!

 

 

 

 

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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.

2 Responses to “Open Letter to Our Nation’s Police Leaders”

  1. quote: ” need a “stand down” in policing today. It’s been well over a decade since 9/11 — the day fear took over America and its police and increased militarization was our response.
    It’s time to get back to basics and those basics are what we once called community-oriented policing. Let’s dust off those important values and get back to building trust and building it together with those whom we are privilege to serve and to lead.”

    I think we can agree…. now how? one community at a time…. that process takes a long time. where is the leadership? How is the Governor of each state to respond? With the polarization in Washington D.C. we need some outstanding leadership personnel to emerge in each state…. state by state.

  2. Madison WI has been a clear leader in education from the U. of Wisconsin… it is an ideal community.

    quote: “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. ”

    how do we forge the working relationships among the churches, schools, police departments etc in our communities….. re-building some of the things we lost in terms of values, traditions, and the post- 9/11 attitudes that spread more fear ????

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