It’s About the SYSTEM!

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“A black cop shoots a black man who displays a gun while fleeing an arrest and black folks are upset? I don’t get it…”

What is it we who are white cannot understand? I hear this too often: “A black cop shoots a black man who displays a gun while fleeing an arrest and black folks are upset? I don’t get it…”

We are so far beyond this simplistic response that it stuns me. It’s no longer just about white cops shooting unarmed black youths. It’s about a system that needs to be greatly changed; to be reformed!

So what is this system? It is a system plagued with unfairness, disrespect, and excessive use of force. It is no longer about Darrel Wilson in Ferguson and Michael Brown – it’s now about what not only is happening in America but what has happened historically for a long, long time.

Our system of criminal justice needs major reform because it is unfair, it doesn’t work for everyone, and it does not do what it is supposed to do — rehabilitate offenders so they come back into our society as better and less aggressive people.

I have devoted my life to the art of policing. When I look at the system I see the same wrong things I saw over 50 years ago. At that time I firmly believed what I still believe today — police can make a huge positive difference. If a citizen must wait for a judge or jury to receive justice it is far too late. The opportunity to grant justice and fairness begins on the streets of America and the people best positioned to do that is our police.

An educated, well-trained, mature, honest, respectful, and emotionally controlled police officer can do more to assure fairness and justice in our country than any prosecutor or judge can ever accomplish.

What we need today is for police leaders to agree to take on that role: to be the justice leaders, to be the guardians and protectors of our Constitutional values and our way of life. What police leaders are positioned to do is enormous as they uphold the sacred values and principles of our great democracy.

At the same time, these leaders must continuously improve the systems in which they work; that their work systems and procedures are fair, non-discriminatory, and assure justice for all. This means constant vigilance in matters, for example, of force use, stops and searches, and citation use, and the practice of Procedural Justice throughout their organizations. In short, “what comes out the spout” in the delivery of police services, not what is promised. There should be hard data to support organizational claims.

So let’s not overly focus on bad cops as much as look for organization’s that do not, collectively, practice what the community desires their police to be and do.

And the only way we are going to know we are improving policing is by having real-time data available; that is, personally gathering information regarding the quality of police-citizen encounters. If we, as a nation, can know the state of our economy and job-availability on almost an hourly basis, we ought to know whether or not our police are doing a good job.