Police Governance in Canada

imagesIn Canada, there is an Association of Police Governance (CAPG). It is the only national organization dedicated to excellence in police governance. Since 1989, the CAPG has worked to achieve the highest standards in policing as the national voice of civilian police oversight. They have grown to represent 75% of municipal police services throughout their country.

The CAPG exists to serve its members and collaborate with other police services sector stakeholders across the nation, including police leaders, police sector associations, provincial, federal and municipal governments and their departments, police learning organizations, and business partners. For more about the CAPG, visit their website.

imagesCA8WSTYCI was asked to contribute a piece which they published their recent newsletter. The Association seems to be very insightful, committed and professional.

Perhaps this is something we should take a look at?

Here’s my article:

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Improving Police: An Impossible Task?

            In 1960,  when I first pinned on a badge, I was a “college cop”—on the beat at night and in class during the day. That experience changed my life. By the end of the decade, I was chosen to lead the protest-torn police department in Madison, Wisc. primarily for my belief that police could manage urban conflicts. For over 20 years, I worked to make my vision of a great police department become our vision. I brought college-educated women and minorities into a department consisting primarily of white males with high school educations, dismantled an extensive police spying system, and repaired the acrimony of the anti-war and civil rights clashes between students, the minority community and my officers. Soon, most of the department had college degrees, one-quarter of my officers was female, and over 10 percent were officers of color. Along the way, we developed a method to respond to hundreds of public protests and community conflicts without resorting to violence.

Today, most police seem to be ignoring the vast racial and cultural changes that has, and is, occurring and what they can learn from them. Simply stated, our police need to be highly-educated thinkers.

There are discomforting matters at hand. Some are old, some new — excessive use of force, breaking the law to enforce the law, the manipulation of crime statistics, the mishandling of public dissent, and stonewalling the media and citizen inquiry. These matters exist because of the failure of police leadership. Police leaders are the only ones who can overcome these practices for the thin blue line is a formidable wall to outsiders.

And the type of leaders that can best do this are those who do not act like military officers. Neither of our nations need a police with a military mindset. I spent four years as a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Marines, and I can tell you that I had to change my thinking if I was to be an effective police officer — soldiers protect nations, police protect rights. There’s a big difference.

The job of police in a democracy is to gain the respect and support of those whom they serve – all of them without regard to class, race, gender, ethnicity or style of life. But as Sir Robert Peel, who established the founding principles of democratic policing noted over 150 years ago, the ability of the police to do their job is based upon public approval, cooperation, and their minimal use of force.

The lesson to be learned is that physical force by police in a democracy must always be used carefully and judiciously — even on the bad guys. This has recently been highlighted by the way in which many police departments throughout the world, some even calling themselves democratic, have responded to public protest. How well (and restrained) police do this in a free society is really a hallmark of good policing.

What needs to be done? Four major and historical obstacles exist today which prevent our police from getting better. They have, in fact, arrested their development. Each one needs to be dismantled. The first obstacle is the attitude of anti-intellectualism; from the failure to require police applicants to have a broad, four-year liberal arts education to distaining academia and its research. The second is the haste to use force when responding a problem. The third is on-going personal or systemic corruption. The fourth is blatant discourtesy towards not only persons arrested, but also those who are victims, witnesses, journalists, bystanders, poor, or “underclass.”

Police can be improved. Here’s how: confront the four obstacles, cast a bold vision of excellence, select the best and brightest to serve, listen to them and the community, effectively train them and lead them with respect, continuously improve all systems of work, evaluate progress, and sustain what has been accomplished.

In less than a decade, the police department in which I led was transformed into an organization which became more diverse, competent, restrained, and community-oriented. And it remains so today. It didn’t happen overnight. And it didn’t happen without passionate leaders who embraced the bold vision.

It’s about time we started thinking about what’s happening to our police and do something about it. If you’re white, middle class and don’t have an automobile, or have something stolen from you, the likelihood of meeting police face-to-face is slim. But when you do, or your children do, you should expect your police to be law-abiding, well-trained, restrained, and respectful. And when police don’t act that way, speak out and demand action. It’s one of the responsibilities of living in a free society.

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[David Couper is a former police chief in Madison, Wisc. and the recent author of Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police, April, 2012.