Twelve Steps Forward

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I have recently had the pleasure to make acquaintance with John Mutz, a retired captain of the Los Angeles Police Department. John and I both came out of the quality movement of the 80s and 90s, instituting community and problem oriented policing, recognizing the need for police to continuously improve, and the absolute importance of building trust in our communities of color.

Yes, we are “fellow-travelers” on the troubling road ahead for our nation’s police. I am pleased that John agreed to my request to write this very important reflection on forgiveness, restoration, and redemption — a way forward. 

Let us know what you think!

John will, perhaps, challenge your thinking on the way forward which may be quite different from what policing has been in the last decade.



A Different Approach to Restoring Trust in the Police in Communities of Color

By John Mutz, Captain, Los Angeles Police Department (Ret.

Retired LAPD Captain John Mutz
Retired LAPD Captain John Mutz

Today and for sometime since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri there has been an effort in the media to respond to alleged police use of excessive force, discourtesy, and disrespect directed primarily at people of color. These shocking graphic photos or videos shown in the media are followed by experts who share their opposing points of view and debate one another about what is right or wrong.

There is no shortage of film clips or experts. Actually, it is staggering when you count the number of these clips. And now with social media as a vehicle to expose this content to millions we are, on new ground.  The exposure seems to continue in spite of the best efforts of law enforcement leaders.  Most experts share the “fixes” they believe will counter the unwanted incidents and regain trust in the police in communities of color.  Nearly all of these communities suffer from some degree of economic, emotional, and physical duress, and the police are called to contain the behavior that follows.

Many people are afraid of the potential for violence, vandalism, and further erosion of quality of life. We realize that this perceived threat is mobile, so it can no longer be contained in small geographic areas as in the past. It is also clear that the police are overmatched, outnumbered, and not making substantial progress in upgrading their image. Generally, law enforcement operates in a “firefighter role,” responding to the latest incident that questions their trustworthiness and evokes defensiveness, denial, or assurances those responsible will be punished. There are exceptions, however, not to scale with the scope of the problem. Nothing changes and sadly we can expect more tragic incidents.

We seek relief by calling for accountability and just punishment as a “fix” while we miss the critical element of changing the mindset of individuals and the institutionalized practices that are largely the culprits. Criminal prosecution or immunity from prosecution, civil litigation, federal consent decrees, and civilian oversight are frequently used to reform; however, these efforts are often not effective from a systemic view.

Also, “fixes,” as in a bigger budget for more officers, new community policing programs, improved equipment, more training or creating a new task force of acclaimed experts to review police procedures and make new recommendations, don’t bring sustainable results–at least they have not for decades.

The question is what are we investing in? What is the return on the investment? Does it lead to the most prominent need of restoring trust in the police, versus the focus on reducing crime as we have experienced with the war on drugs.
Instead of improvements in the existing law enforcement model, are we really calling for new thinking and a systemic approach wherein leadership enrolls all people in a commitment to work to reset the current community police discourse wherever it is needed.

There is plenty of cause to now embark on this path. We can point to some police officials who are “outliers” who have begun this journey. They have been found in the smaller law enforcement agencies, versus the big cities. A significant pitfall remains for most who believe they are already on the path or believe “it’s not happening here.”  In the words of a speaker from the Deming group, “We must stop trying to do the wrong things better.”

What is the first step for those interested in leading real change and rethinking institutionalized practices that undermine the police service? Let’s borrow from the wisdom of the 12 Step approach to sobriety and consider that our challenge is as gigantic and complex. We work toward “recovery” and consult a similar process that has been used for decades.

Our aim is then to seek a recovery process to engage in a new way and acknowledge we have woefully failed in the minds of many in creating a trusting relationship  between law enforcement and people of color. While statistics about the traffic stops indicate disproportionate stops of people of color, a deeper understanding of the effect upon people of color comes from their personal stories of being stopped. For most the stop is not a simple stop; it is much more.  Next, after understanding these experiences in a new way and how they undermine trust, a new commitment must be publicly declared to treat all people with dignity, respect, and fairness.

Many times I have been asked if this includes people who are arrested or even those who resist arrest and become combative? My answer is yes. While officers occasionally have to use force, the point is to be able to self-regulate their emotions, using a minimum of force and demonstrating a strong sense of humanness while performing any police action. The outcome is that the person in police custody or who is stopped can say regardless of the final disposition of the contact, the concerned officer treated them with dignity and respect. When the majority of people respond positively to this question, trust will begin to emerge and officer safety will be enhanced.

Step One – We as law enforcement admit that things are out of control and we are not going to be able to create meaningful and lasting changes on our own. We can’t do this solo and we admit it. More officers will not be enough. We need to change our mindset and understand our blind spots to address the gap between people of color and ourselves.

Step Two – We have come to the understanding that the current perception of people of color about the image of law enforcement and the entire criminal justice system has occurred over decades, and while it has been inflamed by media coverage this problem is much bigger than we have admitted and has occurred for many years. We now seek the help of everyone to fully recover our image of trust.

Step Three – Make a decision that we will approach this challenge to recover our image with a holistic approach and avoid the temptation for a temporary fix. We understand that while our effort begins now, we are committed to a long term journey and there will not be a final destination.

Step Four – We pause now to take an inventory of our past actions and identify individual biases and institutional practices that undermine trust and publicly share our findings.

Step Five – Now that we have come to understand and admit our errors, mistakes, and past conduct, we can honestly alter our behavior with a heartfelt commitment. We continue to apologize publicly for missteps and decline to defend our actions when they are wrong. We strive to demonstrate humility.

Step Six – Now that we have disclosed our faults for the first time, we urge the community we serve, especially people of color, to help us to demonstrate the new practices we have committed to.  We believe we need the community we serve to view us as a legitimate authority and trustworthy. We admit this is our biggest challenge today.

Step Seven – We know we will make mistakes on this new path and when we do we will be accountable and ask that those we serve also hold us accountable and provide honest feedback so we can improve. We acknowledge that we are in an often adversarial legalistic system  governed by specific statutory requirements, case law, and administrative policy in many situations; however, we will strive to be transparent in our work whenever possible. Our aim is to address the inequities in the system as they are encountered.

Step Eight – Make a list of people who have been killed, injured, or treated with disrespect
as a result of our actions and make amends wherever necessary. (FN)

Step Nine – Direct amends within the current constraints of the system expressing
compassion, empathy, and regret for the impact on others. Work to identify gaps and flaws in the system and implement improvements in our span of control and advocate others in the criminal justice system do the same. (FN)

Step Ten – We understand we will continue to experience breakdowns in our intended
Actions; however, instead of waiting to come clean, we will expose our part in all breakdowns. We will act in a cooperative and collaborative manner wherever possible.

Step Eleven – We draw on the latest neuroscience research and new resources that build
on a deeper level of consciousness and awareness of both ourselves and others.

Step Twelve – We join with others in law enforcement and other partners in the criminal
justice system in a collaborative effort to rebrand our image in the minds of people of color and others who have become distrustful and cynical of those working in the system and dedicate ourselves to be of service to others in sharing what we learned.

In view of law enforcement’s history that for the most part has called for change and cost a fortune in monetary awards due to litigation across the country, I wanted to add brief, important thoughts about change.

Experience has shown that the majority of law enforcement officers are extraordinary people who are trustworthy, brave, and committed to serving others. You all know many of these officers and can speak to their goodness. However, as the media exposure of some of the tragic abuses in policing have continued, these officers are experiencing the brunt of the criticism, resentment, and, in some cases, abuse. Our challenge is not that we have bad officers for the most part; it is that we have a broken system steeped in institutional practices that undermine the effort to create a respectful relationship with others.

Generally, we resist change because we are comfortable with the way things are. While things are not, good we remain attached to what we have been taught. Unless we see some benefit to the proposed change we will predictably resist it.  We in law enforcement fail to realize that if we don’t change today it will be imposed on us and we will likely be left out of the design. If we in law enforcement participate in the design that is intended to lead change, we will have a better product because those closest to the process that is to be changed are most knowledgeable and their buy in is important to sustain the change.

Today’s challenge for leaders in law enforcement is to understand what needs to change and how to lead it.


FN: William Bamattre was appointed Chief Engineer and General Manager of the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) on April 23, 1996. The LAFD has been considered by many as one of the best fire departments in the country.

In the past emphasis was placed on seniority; however, the mayor reached down into the ranks and appointed Bamattre who had only 20 years experience.  Bamattre had earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration and had been elected to the City Council and then became the mayor in another Southern California city. He was also a graduate of Stanford University. He invited me to engage his top command staff of chief officers in a leadership development process. While the LAFD was recognized as world class fire and emergency organization and its technical expertise unrivaled in the field, it lagged significantly in the leadership behavior needed to engage the new challenges with its rank and file members and creating trust in communities of color.

Bamattre led significant change while Chief. One example that no one will forget happened in the late 1990s. Bamattre made history when he gathered retired black firefighters many of them now fragile due to their age at the African American Firefighter’s Museum, a historic fire station that had been remodeled to hold artifacts and memories of the Los Angeles black fire fighters who worked prior to the integration of the department and the years following. Many had to work twice as hard as their white colleagues and experienced individual and institutional racial bias. Their stories of perseverance, bravery, and striving for equity are collected in numerous stories archived at the museum. As these men gathered in front of him, Bamattre acknowledged their contributions to the department and expressed his deepest regrets for acts of racism, injustice, and inequity that most experienced during their careers. Several  members of the group shed tears as Bamattre spoke.
Many were stunned that day hearing his disclosure and apology.  Many in the crowd that day wept.

For years the department had distanced itself from claims of institutional racism and its dark history. Bamattre’s actions that day represented a break with the department’s tradition of privilege and began its road to recovery to be the values it espoused. Bamattre retired years ago and the road to recovery continues. It is a journey and not a destination.