An Important On-Going Dialogue

Dr. Mark Bowman, former police leader and current professor of criminal justice at Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC.
Dr. Mark Bowman, former police leader and current professor of criminal justice at Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC.

Some interesting and important comments follow from Dr. Mark Bowman of Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC. regarding my post, “Who Serves Whom?”

His remarks are pertinent in light of the growing “pushback” or discontent regarding the implementation of PERF’s “30 Guiding Principles on Police Use of Force.”

I am posting Dr. Bowman’s comments here because this is the kind of open and  respectful discussion that needs to be constantly occurring within policing. Without it, we become isolated and apart from those whom we serve.

I am reminded today of a quote from Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird:’

  • “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

What is needed in this discussion is precisely that: the “we” — meaning police and citizens — need to do some “skin-walking” as part of this on-going discussion regarding reducing the incidents of deadly force.

Here’s Mark’s comments:

I asked: Wouldn’t it be better to reduce force if it builds trust and legitimacy in the community?

“Reducing force may or may not increase trust and legitimacy. The research tells us that we increase trust and legitimacy by increasing perceptions of procedural justice. Increasing perceptions of procedural justice ought to be our objective. We should use only that force necessary to achieve legitimate police objectives regardless of whether that increases or decreases trust and legitimacy. Coupling the two objectives limits the extent to which we can accomplish either.

I also asked: Are police to be treated differently than the community from which they are recruited?

“They are treated differently. My research has shown significant perceptions of injustice in a large police agency relative to pay and benefits, assignments, and promotions. From my experiences in dealing with police officers from all across America, the conditions in most police agencies are very similar to those I found in the large agency in which I conducted that research. Does the plumber’s rule apply? Other research has found that perceptions of injustice increase employee theft and mistreatment of customers. There is as of yet no empirical link between police officer perceptions of injustice and community perceptions of injustice. Of course there is not a long line of police chiefs at my door asking me to determine if the reason their citizens feel mistreated is because their officers are mistreated.

“You may recall a saying from the 60’s, ‘Before you clean up the world, clean up your bedroom.’ Police leaders in America have been ineffective advocates for organizational justice for police officers. Often through terrible practices police leaders are themselves the source of procedural injustice.

“So if the public wishes their police to reduce their use of deadly force in the community, that is, to raise the current standard, can the police chief simply say that changing the standard would compromise the safety of his or her officers and that’s the end of the discussion? Yes. If the Mayor (the representative of the people) asks the engineer to design the bridge with less rebar to reduce the cost can the engineer simply say it that changing the standard would compromise the safety of those who drive over the bridge and that’s the end of the discussion? Yes. Or the engineer could buckle under to political pressure and build a bridge that is unsafe.

“The difference between engineers and police chiefs is that engineers adhere to professional standards established outside the political process. Most professions have found ways to operate in government without abdicating professional standards to elected officials. Policing has not yet become a profession and police chiefs consequently have no professional standards to which they should adhere. The only standards that are reasonably apolitical are those enshrined in the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and subsequent case law. It should come as no surprise that many police chiefs cling to those legal standards in the absence of professional standards.

“I believe that PERF’s recommendations are a start down the road to professional status. Unfortunately those standards rest on a shaky foundation of little research in the extant literature that should inform those recommendations. I am doubtful as to the likelihood of a strong regimen of original research that would expand and/or modify those recommendations. Professional policing would be costly.”


 

*Mark is currently an Assistant Professor of Justice Studies in the Department of Justice Studies and Applied Forensic Science at Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC.  He is the Director of Methodist University’s Center for Excellence in Justice Administration. His research interests are police turnover and police leadership development. He retired as a Lieutenant from the Virginia Beach, Virginia Police Department in September 2009.  His last assignment was with the Department’s Operations Division responsible for leading operations in the Oceanfront Community Oriented Policing area. He previously served as a Sergeant in Professional Development & Training as the Department’s leadership development coordinator. He also managed the Department’s multi-rater (360-degree) feedback program and served as a leader coach.