Another Chief Gets It!

The Final Word from the PERF Report on Re-engineering Training

Police Chief Michael Chitwood of Daytona Beach is interviewed by PERF Executive Directory Chuck Wexler.

Chief Michael Chitwood, Daytona Beach, FL
Chief Michael Chitwood, Daytona Beach, FL

Policing Has Changed: And Our Officers Are Looking to Us to Lead Them

Wexler: Mike, you are what John Timoney would call “a cop’s cop.” You came out of Philadelphia, now you’re chief in Daytona Beach. As you’ve been listening to all this, have you been thinking, “Can I still be a cop with all this?” Is what we’ve been talking about consistent with being a good cop?

Chief Chitwood: They’re one and the same. We’ve heard about sergeants telling their cops that their top priority is to get home safely at the end of the day, and some are questioning that, but it is our responsibility to do that. And part of that responsibility is providing them with the training and the equipment so they can de-escalate, and everybody gets home safely. That’s what this is all about.

Wexler: Even necessarily the people who committed a crime?

Chief Chitwood: Even necessarily the people who committed a crime. It goes back to what somebody said earlier—the sanctity of life. This is what makes the nations with democratic policing different from the rest of the world.

Wexler: Mike, is this a difficult message for you to go back and give to your officers? We’re talking about changing a cultural mindset. Am I being extremist when I talk about this as the “Tylenol moment,” when police must go back to the drawing board and reinvent what we do?

Chief Chitwood: You’re on target, in my opinion. We have to drop back and say that what we did 20 years ago, or 27 years ago when I got out of the Academy, is not good enough. Things have changed. Society has changed, and our job has changed. People are calling us because of poverty, inequity, and all these other issues. And our young men and young women have to be able to deal with that.

It’s our job as leaders—what we’re doing here today—to come up with a way to accomplish that mission. I don’t think that any professional police officer, Chuck, can look at what happened in North Charleston and not be repulsed, because that’s not what we signed up for. I don’t think anybody can look at what happened on the side of that mountain in New Mexico and not think, “My God, what was going through their mind that they would do that?”

So I think that the overwhelming majority of officers in this country are saying, “Lead us. Show us what you want us to do, and we’re going to do it.”

Wexler: And isn’t the challenge that we have 18,000 departments doing different things? It’s not like Scotland, where they have one police department for the entire country. It’s difficult, isn’t it?

Chief Chitwood: If it were easy, we wouldn’t be sitting here, having this meeting.