How to Build Something Great

imageIn the historical novel, Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett describes the lives and struggles of those who built the great cathedrals of Europe. Those who first dug the footings of these immense structures would never see them completed. It was to be the great grandchildren of the footing-diggers who would come to see and hear the bells ring out of those magnificent towers.

While the construction workers replaced through the years from diggers and teamsters to stone carvers and scaffold builders, there was, initially, a master plan, a blueprint, which was passed hand to hand throughout a century or more of work. Each generation held a vision of the final structure.

It is such a vision that is so needed today in our conversations about police in America. My wife comes from the bold and pragmatic generation of the first uniformed women police. She keeps me on track when I get frustrated with the foggy vision we have today of policing a democracy. When I start off  track she will tell me, “Remember the master builders, David, the first ones never saw the cathedral finished.”

I am sure the construction of those immense cathedrals seemed slow and tedious for everyone concerned. I would imagine that many on the construction crew would bemoan the money shortages, bad weather, and lack of initiative that impeded their progress. After all, the footing diggers left this world most likely only seeing the raising of a partial wall. Did they pass out of this life satisfied? Had they ever seen a drawing of the great cathedral? If they did, was it enough to energize their life’s work?

I ask myself these questions because I see myself as as a digger of footings; a foundational worker. I have held for over 50 years a vision, a blueprint, of what policing should be. The problem I experienced was getting others to see what I envisioned.

Now today that is less of a problem with the report of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing being shared across the country. As a nation, we are developing such a blueprint. It is on the throes of becoming a shared vision. There now is a plan for constructing a great police in our nation.

The President’s Task Force has sketched out a blueprint that can be used by all cities to build a police organization that will rebuild the trust and support that has been lost. This has occurred primarily as a result of a recent, unprecedented, and intense look at police with negative conclusions by a great number of our citizens.

Over 150 years ago, the founder of modern democratic policing, Sir Robert Peel, wisely foresaw this would happen when he published his Principles of Policing. The fourth principle concludes that the more force police use will result in less support by citizens. As we go forward we should always remember that truth.

In keeping with the cathedral analogy, the Task Force listed its recommendations under six “pillars.” These pillars of policing are: 1) building trust and legitimacy, 2) policy and oversight, 3) technology and social media, 4) community policing and crime reduction, 5) training and education, and 6) officer wellness and safety.

The pillars contain 59 recommendations which describe actions local police departments and state and federal government should take. These collective actions are the foundational pillars for the construction of a great police in our nation.

In addition, the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization of our nation’s leading police chiefs, addressed the vital area of police use of deadly force in their recent report, “30 Guiding Principles.” These Principles, along with the recommendations of the President’s Task Force, are giant steps forward in building a better system of policing in America.

The Task Force, through the COPS Office, also developed a guide to help cities implement their specific recommendations. On top of this, the President has held a number of White House briefings for police chiefs on implementing these recommendations.

At my age, I know that I will not see the completion of this important structure we now call “21st Century Policing,” but I am given satisfaction by the fact that we are beginning to have a shared vision on what must be done and that it be done now and not later.

Perhaps there is a convergence of ideas today that are reflected in the Task Force report and those [including me] who gave them our thoughts. It is indicative to me that many of us who care about police and policing were thinking along the same lines. And that we are seeing our nation building a structure for a future in which police are seen as peacekeepers and not as a force of occupation.

The Madison community, having been a leader in modern policing throughout the years, needs to strongly implement and lead this blueprint. The failure to do so is no longer an option for this city. It is time for action.

So here’s what the Task Force recommends you can do as a community member:

1. Engage with local law enforcement; participate in meetings, surveys, and other activities.

2. Participate in problem-solving efforts to reduce crime and improve quality of life.

3. Work with local law enforcement to ensure crime-reducing resources and tactics are being
deployed that mitigate unintended consequences.

4. Call on state legislators to ensure that the legal framework does not impede accountability for law enforcement.

5. Review school policies and practices, and advocate for early intervention strategies that
minimize involvement of youth in the criminal justice system.

The implementation report of the Task Force also lists steps that local, state, and federal governmental officials can do.

By embracing this vision, each community, city, and generation of police master builders can work together to make this vision become reality; to make a good police great.