Slow Learning in a Fast Age

Do you want to know what drives me to distraction in the field of policing? It’s our seemingly inability to learn, to progress, to improve.

This observationimages was one of the bases of my book in 2012, Arrested Development, where I argued that the field of policing had to overcome four obstacles in order to progress:

  • An attitude of anti-intellectualism in which new ideas and research were suspect,
  • The over-use of force to accomplish our mission,
  • Corrupt practices ranging from stealing to false reports and testimony, and
  • Disrespect/discourtesy toward those who we serve especially towards those who are poor or are of color.
This morning I received a tweet from the COPS office altering me to their interim report just released since the President’s Task Force on 21st Policing released their recommendations last year.

My initial feeling was “Is this the best we can do?” I felt this because I was under-whelmed by the number of police and sheriff’s departments that have implemented and championed recommendations made by a very intelligent, broad and well-informed national Task Force.

Even in my state, Wisconsin, after we had hosted through the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, one of the first (if not the first) conference on implementing the recommendations of the Task Force. Our conference brought together both police and citizen leaders and a second conference is scheduled for September 16th in Platteville. [However, one positive Wisconsin offshoot was noted in their report. The new police chief in Beloit, Wisc., David Zibolski, who attended our fall conference, changed the department’s promotional process “so that each candidate for sergeant must now write an essay on how any of the task force pillars could be implemented within the agency.”]

Yes, I know that I am impatient. I also have a deep heart for policing and its great potential to help bring about a free, diverse, more equal and democratic society. Police matter. Police count when they work toward reinforcing these values.
So why can’t we do better? Why haven’t more police agencies in America proudly adopted these important recommendations that will restore trust and support of our police? After all, let’s face it — American policing is in a crisis today and the Task Force has presented a WAY FORWARD — a way out of the crisis — but it seems only a few police leaders are buying in.
Now the COPS office has not contacted me, but let me be so bold as to suggest a way forward; a new program for them:
  • How about funding a number of regional centers, that is, model police departments, agencies that are implementing the Task Force Pillars so other leaders can find and experience 21st century policing? The centers can be places where police leadership teams could visit and the model department could “show and tell” what they learned, the problems they had encountered, etc., so that the visiting teams could go home and put these needed recommendations into practice?
The problem now is one that has always been there — not only WHAT police should do [the recommendations in the TF report], but HOW to do it [based on the experiences of others]. These regional centers would be able to provide information on both.
If we are using a “trickle-down” approach to police reform, it won’t work. Just spreading ideas around will not give them the roots they need to grow and sustain — thus police will remain “arrested” in their development.
As difficult as it is for me to read this report — given that I expected a stronger outcome from the field — it was still necessary. We all needed to know where we are after one year. Now let’s get going!
Maybe I’m wrong in my observations and opinions. So, take a look at the report. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.