Who Will Speak Up?

url1Back in 1968, there was a revolutionary spirit within America, a grand Civil Rights Movement and growing discomfort and protest regarding the war in Vietnam.

Within policing, there was the report of a President’s Commission on “The Police.” In it, was a new vision for educated officers who were connected with the communities they served. There was also something called “police-community relations.”

As a young police officer, I was excited about all this. I was on the street at night and in university classrooms during the day. We “college cops” starting congregating and talking about the issues of the day — primarily in two areas race relations and protest.

We formed a law enforcement fraternity in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region and started talking. One of the things we decided to do was to publicly state what was on our minds and that we were a “new breed” of police not beholding to the past but looking forward to a new era.

As the first president of that fraternity, consisting mainly of “college cops,” I was asked to write the following letter to the Minneapolis Tribune. While the terms have changed with regard to race and gender, I am afraid the issues have not.

Will there be such letters and comments written by young officers to our nation’s media to address the crisis we still find ourselves?

Will they stand up and say “no more, we will be different and this is what pledge?

++++++++++++

“To the editor: There has been much discussion of the presentation of police-Negro (sic) community relations on the Public Broadcasting Laboratory of KTCA_TV, channel 2, on Dec. 17.

“The program was designed to explore police-Negro (sic) relationships in a number of major American cities. However, the program more clearly illustrated the sociological process called ‘polarization,’ in which two major opposing factions in society draw and split into separate camps.

“The danger lies in that there remains no choice of a neutral middle ground for a person to objectively explore the situation. Everyone is forced to make a choice, either ‘them’ or ‘us.’ This impending polarization of our society is a threatening sign and indicative of the many complex social problems we have. They can be considered warning signs to a democratic government.

“Within this entanglement of social problems stand the nation’s police. However, the men who represent law enforcement that Sunday were, as a group, much to be desired and were not representative of today’s young, professional police officer. It is this police officer who will be making the important command decisions in the very near future.

“Those of us who consider ourselves professional law enforcement officers are very disturbed by the impending polarization of society. We recognize our role as representatives of government, but we also realize we have a duty to represent the Constitution of the United States. We recognize our fundamental duty is to serve mankind as set forth in our code of ethics.

“We recognized and understand the Negro’s struggle through history, his emergence today, and his longtime distrust of the police. We suggest that police officers and Negroes might change their attitudes by first changing their behavior towards one another. We are all slaves of our ignorance and prejudice, but racism, prejudicial attitudes, or even stereotypes have no place in any American community.

“Today’s police hope that the Negro community realizes that the police are professionalizing, particularly through college and technical training programs. We realize that education is the key to our advancement. We have not been the cause of poverty, housing segregation, educational problems, or occupational difficulties that has plagued the Negro. However, we professional police officers can pledge equal, fair law enforcement regardless of a man’s race, color, or creed. May this be a public pledge of good law enforcement to our community, Minneapolis (my emphasis).”

(Signed) David C. Couper, President, Local Chapter, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, Professional Law Enforcement Fraternity and Minneapolis police officer.

[Letter to the Editor, Minneapolis Tribune, published January 1, 1968.]

++++++++++

WILL THINKING POLICE OFFICERS STAND UP AND MAKE THIS PUBLIC PLEDGE TODAY?