Is this how improvement will come to our nation’s police — from the U.S. Justice Department — and not from our nation’s police leaders?
How is it that any leader worth his or her salt today would wait until his or her organization was sued before they would take needed action?
Here’s what’s happening. A recent two-year Justice Department civil rights investigation into the Miami Police Department was the 11th time in two years that the federal government had put a local law enforcement agency on notice that it needed to change or face a federal lawsuit. The New York Times found that:
“Cities from New Orleans and Seattle to Missoula, Mont., and East Haven, Conn., are grappling with similar federally mandated changes after investigations… In Miami, the Justice Department found a pattern of the use of excessive force — in an eight-month period in 2011, eight young black men were shot and killed by the police. This month, the Justice Department announced a sweeping settlement forcing Puerto Rico to change 11 areas of policing, including the use of excessive force, searches, stops and the handling of domestic violence. It was, the department said, “among the most extensive agreements ever obtained.”
Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha said these investigations send a message to police departments that “there are some minimal things you have to do to be professional, and here are the things you need to do in order to achieve that.” The result, said Walker, is that so many federal investigations have now been conducted that no American police department really has an excuse for engaging in practices that violate civil rights.
The current course of action — pursuing a federal court consent decree — is very time consuming and expensive for everyone. Let’s hear it again — what’s the job of a leader? The job of a leader is to improve things!
Today, these federal investigations are not just confined to wrongful deaths but also a host of other needed police improvements such as racial profiling, handling of sexual assaults, domestic violence, stop and frisk policies, and treatment of the mentally ill.
Is the handling of public protest next? It most likely should be.
Now many local governments and their police will dig their heels in regarding “outside interference. But is this not unlike the federal government taking action during the Civil Rights Movement? The point is that if things need improving when it comes to the quality of our nation’s life and the rights of our citizens, then why don’t cities and their police chiefs lead it?
I suggest that today’s police leaders should know what the best practices of policing a democracy are and train and lead their officers in that direction — now!
Ignorance is no longer an excuse.
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