Why Won’t Police Learn From Their Mistakes?

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Unknown-1The first week in August I posted a blog suggesting that the arrest by Madison police of a young woman currently under review by both the district attorney and department was a great opportunity for some learning.
 I had hoped that by deeply looking into this event, listening to their critics, and acting on what was learned, the Madison Police Department (Chief Koval) would change their use of force policies and tactics in situations such as this. It did not happen.
Later, I wrote about the importance of “walking your talk” when police leaders say you are committed the the quality method of “continuous improvement.”
In short, the chief’s response was essentially “What we did may look awful, but it’s lawful, and we’re not going to change;” no legal violation, no foul. While he committed to a closer review of incidents that cause public concern. question and criticism, he did not say what he was going to do to prevent such tactics from being used in the future to arrest young women. (See the arrest video and news article HERE.)
As I see it, there doesn’t appear to be much learning here. But thinking further about that, I find that it appears that I am the one to have learned something –and it’s pretty very important.
I now have learned more vividly and emotionally what aggrieved persons go through when those in power, like police, refuse to see events the way they do and then refuse to correct them.
Now the young women in question was not my daughter, nor was a life lost. This only comes from my perspective of a person who was not on the receiving end, but as an informed observer — a former police practitioner who deeply cares for and knows the good which police can do in a free society such as ours and the damage to trust that can happen when police are not responsive, don’t see things through the eyes of the community, and resist improving things because it might look like they made a mistake.
I simply cannot imagine how I would feel if I was the father whose daughter was arrested in such a matter. Also, how might I feel if I was the woman in question? Can any person honestly justify the manner in which police arrested this young woman?
All this has caused me to experience the deep feeling of powerlessness and sense of injustice that many in our society experience everyday.
It’s not that I don’t know what must be done. I’ve been there. As a young officer policing in the middle of the civil rights movement, experiencing distrust by person’s of color, reading the report of President Johnson’s commission on police, and the stunning findings of the Kerner commission stating we have become two societies in America: one black, one white; separate and unequal.
In the midst of all this, I was convinced that we police officers could turn this nation around; could significantly help assure justice, equality and fairness for everyone by what we did around the clock, every day, in every American city, town, and village; that is, treat people of color honestly, fairly, and respectfully and when force must be used to use it judiciously.
I knew from my own experience working in the inner city of Minneapolis that when I treated people respectfully, listened to what they said, and made fair decisions, I contributed to the healing that was necessary in our nation and the community in which I worked.
And that’s what I expected would happen post-Ferguson; that forward-thinking police would see public concern as an opportunity for learning, healing, and restoring lost trust. I would expect police today to see this as a chance to assure the community that the review these incidents has revealed areas which need to be corrected and improved.
Further, I expected that a 21st century police department would apologize when they did not do their best.
But most of all, when mistakes are made, I expect the chief to assure the community that this will not happen again.
This incident has shown me again that with power comes the danger of arrogance and the unwillingness to see the perspective of those who are less fortunate in our society.
The price of maintaining excellence in policing, like assuring liberty, is eternal vigilance; keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties — and then making sure those dangers and difficulties are fixed and overcome.
When police do not correct a wrong and protect their policies and practices at all costs and against the wishes of the community, they further erode trust and squander an opportunity.