It’s Going to Take Continuous Improvement

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Community-Oriented Policing involves a  discussion, and ultimately an endorsement, of how and when police will use force.

One of the ways for police to continuously improve is to seriously and deliberately de-brief their critical incidents with the goal of learning from them. By “critical incident” I do not mean just those which involve the SWAT operations but every one which causes concern and question in the community..

Instead, many police leaders simply hunker down, categorically defend their officers, and refuse to be open to analyzing what happened and how the department’s response could be improved. Today, that is a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, liability concerns often cited as the reasons police fail to take corrective action and begin to do things better. It’s as if, fixing and improving things means an admission of failure rather than the actions of a wise agency. When this happens, not taking action is far more costly in the long run than paying for a mistake. The threat of legal action should never forestall the department’s effort to make sure the same mistakes don’t happen again.

The taking of a life is always a critical incident. But critical incidents occur on other occasions, such as when there is a question about an arrest or how a public protest is policed.

These might turn out to be classical “lawful, but awful” situations; that is, the district attorney finds the officers involved in the incident did not violate state law and an internal review finds the actions of the officers were consistent with the department’s policy, training and direction. It may be lawful, but is this the way to operate a police department in today’s world? Just because action are lawful does not mean they are acceptable.

Can there still problem, even if it’s lawful? Yes. The problem is that most, if not all, members of the community do not want their loved ones treated in a manner that violates their understanding of fairness, decency, and respect for life, even if it is deemed “lawful.”

The kind of review I am advocating is a barrier-free, open discussion FIRST within the ranks of the police department which analyzes the incident in question with the objective of improvement the department’s response and to deeply LISTEN to the community as to how they want their police to act. After that kind of review, the police leaders are in a position to bring their corrections or changes to the community for review, and ultimately, approval.

Many questionable incidents today are about how police use force to carry out their duties. Over 150 years ago, Robert Peel organized the first democratic police department in London and he knew police use of force would always be an issue. As a guideline to his officers he offered Nine Principles of Policing.

Peel knew that the cooperation and approval of the community was dependent on the amount of force police used in carrying out their duties – more force by police, less public cooperation; that the use of force should always be preceded by efforts to dialogue and persuade. Peel knew that the public’s cooperation with their police was essential for the proper functioning of a free and democratic society.

What would be better today than police and communities discussing how and when force should be used — especially deadly force, and then seeking the endorsement of the community?

A 21st century police organization should be creative in finding less forceful ways in serving and protecting members of their community. This will take some doing. Because when police find and use less forceful ways they are truly practicing community-oriented policing and they will greatly benefit in both job effectiveness and officer safety from a supportive and cooperative community.