My Column in USA Today

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After Chicago’s Homicide Spike, Review Police Problems

“Tomorrow’s cops must be college-educated and community-oriented. And we must be ready to work with them.”

I was at the meeting of police chiefs last year when FBI Director James Comey stated that a “Ferguson effect” was curbing cop behavior. Based on conversations with a few, he thought police officers were becoming more reluctant to enforce the law.

Comey — who has the largest repository of police data in the world — admitted he had no hard evidence to support what he said. The statement was certainly a misstep from our FBI director who should have had more than anecdotal evidence before making such a comment to the nation’s police leaders.

Now, after the release of homicide numbers from Chicago following an especially gruesome Labor Day weekend, the notion of a Ferguson effect has cropped up again. The city has reached 500 homicides for the year — a spike that puts it “on track to reach a murder rate it hasn’t seen since the drug wars of the1990s,” according to a USA TODAY report.

Since Comey’s statement, the idea of a Ferguson effect has been debunked. And despite emotional arguments about crime, personal safety and police actions, the murder rate in many of our cities is still a fraction of what it was in the 1990s.

I am hesitant to accept the idea that good cops are not doing their jobs. I will, however, accept that some bad cops, post-Ferguson, are not acting quite so bad since citizens now have the ability to capture these bad actors on video. If that is the case, then I’d say that any Ferguson effect (if we’re to say one exists at all) has been of great benefit to both police and citizens.

So what’s going on in Chicago and some larger urban areas that have experienced homicide spikes?

Our continued urban disaster has confronted and confounded our nation for far too many years, going back to the Kerner Commission Report of 1968. It studied city strife and concluded that the country was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” We, as a nation, must address social problems such as joblessness, the lack of good jobs, poor schools, and failing health and social services.

But I am not letting my former colleagues off the hook: Law enforcement can and should do important things that make a difference. Good policing changes quality of life. And it can make a tremendous difference in the lives of the poor.

By good policing, I mean the practice of respect, fairness, enforcement and restraint. Officers must make fair and equitable decisions; refrain from using physical arrest in response to petty offenses such as jaywalking and possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use; and exercise extreme care and restraint if and when physical force is needed.

When I look at Chicago and its history of racial conflict, I am not surprised that the police are ineffective when it comes to stopping violence. Most of the residents in these crime-ridden neighborhoods are against the very violence that is plaguing their communities. But there have been far too many negative, hurtful encounters between law enforcement and citizens of color for the good members of these neighborhoods to trust and support the officers who are supposed to protect them.

Bad social behaviors cannot be overcome in such conditions. While most cities in America, including Chicago, talk about community policing, few police are able to understand or practice it.

True community policing (or as I prefer “neighborhood-oriented policing”) is just that: people-oriented; eye ball to eye ball.

Law enforcement must also develop deep and generous listening skills, enlist the active help of community leaders and work with them while staying the course — a course that must be calculated in years, not weeks.

When police are respected and trusted and work hands-on with community members, they will be in the position to take the next necessary step — acting as a community organizer. Law enforcement can be a liaison between those they serve and the various units of government that are failing inner city residents. In such a role, I’d expect police to advocate for better schools, trash collection, social services and job opportunities.

Police must discard the militarized role they have willingly assumed in the failed war on drugs. That role has done more to erode citizen trust and foster anger in our neglected inner city neighborhoods than just about any other police action.

Instead, law enforcement must help transfer our nation’s war on drugs from jails and prisons to the medical establishment. They must begin to see drug addiction as a health problem.

We did that with another strong drug: tobacco. We engaged in a national program aimed at children and eventually adults, and it worked in reducing the use of tobacco and billions of dollars in future medical costs.

What I am suggesting is a major reform in who police are and what they do. We have tried using fear and incarceration as ways to control crime and disorder in cities. It hasn’t worked. Now, I propose another approach — an approach that focuses on police as a first step in the reform of our criminal justice system.

It is an approach that will demand that tomorrow’s police be college-educated, highly trained, controlled in their use of force, respectful, honest and excited about working closely with those in our nation who have been marginalized and, in some ways, forgotten. It will require police chiefs to be open, accountable, creative and extraordinary leaders.

In order for this to work, society must do its part.

We’ve got to do something to control the guns in our society. As a former police chief, I have seen too many deaths, too many innocent people killed by errant bullets, and far too many terrorist-style attacks in our schools and public places. The open-carry movement is a foolish response to crime problems. The only way we are going to prevent these unnecessary deaths is by strongly limiting, if not preventing, the possession of handguns and assault rifles.

If we are serious about reducing violence in our cities, and reducing police use of deadly force, we must also change our criminal justice, educational, health, economic and political systems. We can do this if we commit to working together.