Pondering the Future

“May you live in interesting times;” is an unsubstantiated and anonymous Chinese curse.

But is it a curse? Why would we not want to live in interesting times?

On November 9, most everyone of us woke with a certain amount of anxiety about the future. For those of us in and around policing, it may mean a future many of us did not anticipate or predict; especially when it comes to the slow, but still forward, progression of police reform that it seemed in which we were to embark upon.

If Donald Trump is true to his pronouncements, it possibly could be a major setback in police improvement and accountability. From what I have heard during the election race is that we need to support our police (which, of course, I agree as long as that support helps them to improve), control immigration return undocumented persons to their country of origin, vet incoming Muslims, overturn Roe v. Wade, support the 2nd Amendment, “stop and frisk,” and no longer use Federal Consent Decrees to control unconstitutional behavior by cities, states, or their police.

We might further anticipate that the current Supreme Court (with one seat open now) may support even more broadly-based searches and interrogations by police — even the “enhanced” interrogation of criminal suspects.

While the President-Elect has not specifically addressed whether he would champion carrying out the recommendations of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, my sense is that they will no longer be so by the White House, nor will police chiefs who are implementing its recommendations by lifted up and invited to the White House.

I think it may be more realistic to assume that Mr. Trump’s position on policing may be more akin to that of the conservative national police union — The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and that the current low standard for police use of force outlined in Graham v. Connor will be maintained

So, for those of us who have worked for decades to improve the education and training of police, their professionalization through methods such as licensing, accreditation, and national standards, this has, in fact, been “interesting times.”

For me, it is the second time I have watched a national effort to improve and reform our police falter. The first was in the late 1960s and early 70s as another Presidential Commission made recommendations and the American Bar Association, along with a commission on the prevention and causes of violence (Kerner Commission) and “Standards Relating to the Police Function” were established along with the powerful concepts of Community and Problem-Oriented Policing.

We may also be entering another era in which public protest becomes a major way of political expression more than 1/2 of those who voted in the past election disagreed with the other half. If this happens, it would mean that police will need to make sure that their responses to protest are both constitutional, appropriate, and proportional. They would literally, have to be the men and women in the middle who peace our nation’s peace.

During my 30+ year police career and two decade long observation and study, I have seen improvements: the educational level of police has increased, the women and minority group members are part and parcel of most every modern police department, and a tidal wave of equipment and technologies from personal radios, body armor, ECD’s, and forensic advances are commonplace.

I have always held that police greatly matter (blog) and their leadership is essential to their advancement. At the same time, it is absolutely necessary for both the effectiveness and safety of police, that they practice respect, are fair in their decisions and actions (Procedural Justice), honor the sanctity of life, and use of force only when it is proportionate and controlled.

This, of course, can happen without any action by the President or Congress. It should just make sense. But it cannot happen unless police and their leaders decide this is the way they will police our great and diverse nation and intimately connect with those whom they serve.