An Open Letter to Members of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF)

imagesThe Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) will be hosting a meeting next week (September 16-17) in Chicago titled, “Defining Moments for Police Chiefs.”

Your organization has said it is “to discuss how police chiefs handle critical incidents and their defining moments… [Including] a discussion of some of the issues raised by the recent events in Ferguson, MO.”

Now, more than ever, this is needed.

But needed only if you will take action.

Many of you may know that I was one of the early members of PERF when it formed in the 1970s. It was the time when Gary Hayes was its director. In those early years, our organization was the think tank of American policing — committed to continuous  improvement.

I was also active in choosing your present executive director, Chuck Wexler, when Gary when suddenly died. It was much too early for a man of his great vision and intellect. But Gary’s spirit, still walks the halls of PERF urging us to better.

The year I retired, your organization presented me with your highest honor, the annual Leadership Award and highlighted my work in in Madison, Wisc. It was an award I still cherish because it came from my colleagues.

While I was not invited to the meeting next week, permit me to be so bold as to send this “open letter” to those of you who will be there. Given these times and these events, I must speak.

First of all, I hope you occasionally following my blog and have read some of my posts on police improvement. Maybe you also have read my book, “Arrested Development” and the seven steps necessary to improve our nation’s police. I have not be dormant since my police retirement.

But last week’s posts, for example, were about “elephants” in the chief’s office. You know, the issues known to be present and exist, but things rather not acknowledged or discussed.

I wrote about four major and immediate problems or issues (elephants) that are currently confronting our nation’s police leadership.

  • The response to public protest.
  • The use of deadly force to terminate standoffs not involving a firearm.
  • Discourtesy and disrespect toward racial minorities.
  • The lack of diversity in our nation’s police departments with regard to race, ethnicity, color and gender.

Let me be blunt: unless you are willing to seriously engage in and address these four issues and make a collective statement regarding what you are going to do about them, you might as well stay home.

You see, it’s now no longer possible to ignore these issues. Ferguson changed all that.

These matters must be addressed and responded to with a bold and creative action plan from you, our nation’s police leaders.

And you must publicly commit yourselves to improve these four areas of the policing function.

I wish I could be there with you. I actually have more things I would like to share with you as a result of my 25 years as a chief of police and another two decades observing police operations and leadership — the formal education of police, clinical relationships with academia, hiring and training police, leading them, being a total, community-oriented police department, and sustaining excellence beyond today.

Nevertheless, I wish you blessings.

And I urge you to stand up and be bold.

It’s what leaders do.