Open Letter to Our Nation’s Police Leaders


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!