Years ago as a young police officer, I had a dream. The dream was about a new kind of police, a police who respected and cared for people, police who believed diversity was a strength, and who worked in organizations where creativity and innovation were encouraged and rewarded. In my dream, police are the glue that holds a well-functioning democratic society together.They are good, honest, well-trained, and caring people who are absolutely essential to making our way of life work for everyone.
These police work with citizens to solve problems, reduce crime and disorder, and help them live in peace without fear. They protect those without social power in our society and those who cannot care for themselves. They are trained to intervene in community disputes, and manage conflicts. They do this by working upstream with other social and governmental agencies to prevent or find workable solutions to problems.
In doing so, they have earned the respect and, most of all, the trust of those whom they police because they, themselves, are respectful and trustworthy. They are worthy of the public’s trust because they are impeccably honest, fair, and controlled in their use force. To them, the authority to use force is a sacred trust.
In my dream. police organizations are staffed by learned men and women who experiment with new ideas and better ways to do their job. It is a place that pursues and values learning and then teaches others outside their own organization what they have learned. It is an organization closely linked to a university in teaching, research, and applied policing methods.
Those who serve in a police organization are well-educated and trained, many of them possessing graduate degrees. They are committed to be restrained in their use of force, honest in all their dealings, close to the community, courteous, aware of racial bias in themselves and their society, and are committed to improving themselves and their practices.
Police leaders in these organizations are accomplished listeners, collaborators, and coaches. They are passionate role models and mentors to their officers. They know that their number one job is to grow the men and women they are privileged to lead.
The challenge today is to remember that organizational dreaming is necessary and important. Marcel Proust once wrote, “… a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less, but to dream more, to dream all the time.”
Will this dream become reality? In order for it to do so we must acknowledge the forces that could make this dream happen as well as those which could hinder it.
One of the forces hindering this dream is the growing gap between rich and poor in our country. As social and economic distance between us increases, pressure will be placed on the police to protect those who have from those who have-not. There is also the matter increasing militarization within police, not just in terms of SWAT teams and armored vehicles, but also in the working attitude of today’s police officer. In many cities, true community-oriented policing has been abandoned in favor of organizational militarization.
On the other hand, there are forces that could make this dream become a reality. The primary force today is the realization that the values of our great democracy can be reinforced and modeled by police committed to holding and practicing them; men and women who understand that they will never break the law in order to enforce it. Another positive force can come from officers who understand the messiness and often chaos of public protest yet realize the necessity of enabling and protecting it. These kind of police can hold and bind together our diverse and multicultural nation because they are trustworthy and act ethically.
The challenge for police today is to dream and continue to dream. From out of dreaming, comes vision, and vision leads to mission, and mission embraced and practiced becomes improvement.
It will not be easy because it is not something that has been valued in policing. Dreaming is dangerous because it births things new and better.
What is your dream for our nation’s police?
And, yes, keep dreaming… dream more!