Thinking About the Coming Year

images-1As a student and practitioner of public leadership for many years, I find the election of Donald Trump, to be quite troubling; especially for those of us who strongly believe leadership matters and our nation’s police and system of criminal justice can be greatly improved.

I have taught leaders throughout the years that what they says, and especially do, matters — and matters greatly. That’s why President-elect Donald Trump troubles me when it comes to policing.

When I evaluate a leader, whether he or she serves in a private business, corporation, or governmental agency, I have a certain image in mind. I wrote about that image and how it applies to police leadership years ago. I find it helpful today:

“The police chief should be a visible and accessible leader who thoughtfully strives to improve the effectiveness of police services… But because all police agencies need to constantly monitor the fairness and effectiveness of their services, a willingness to change, to continuously improve, is an essential characteristic for all police chiefs. To make those improvements, the chief must have a clear vision of the agency’s objectives… the vision, self-confidence, persistence, and passion to chart an improvement course and see it through… [T]o the list of essential characteristics for a police chief, add personal integrity, the respect of the community and elected officials, and the ability to inspire and motivate his or her officers to share the vision and work to the best of their ability.

“The chief sets the tone for the agency through both actions and words. An aggressive tone could translate into physically and abusive officers, insensitive to citizen’s rights to due process. Or the chief can emphasize restraint, requiring all officers to exercise civility at all times and to meticulously observe the legal rights of all citizens they encounter.

“In a large dimension, the police chief also sets the tone in the community for discussion of all public safety and law enforcement issues… striking a balance between the conflicting demands of freedom and public order, majority rule and minority rights, government authority and individual rights, and resisting the pressures from various powerful interest groups. For example, to ‘do something’ to remove an annoying group of protesters, or ‘clear the streets’ of poor or homeless people who are not breaking the law.

“A thoughtful chief must defend the right of unpopular groups to exercise their Constitutional guarantees to freedom of speech and assembly, as well as safeguard the physical safety of those who choose to exercise these rights, protect powerless, unpopular and disfranchised groups from police harassment or intimidation, and insure that all citizens, regardless of gender, class, race, ethnicity, citizenship status, or sexual orientation, receive the same respectful level of police services.”

What I have written about police leadership applies to anyone who has the responsibility to care for and direct others – including our nation’s President.

As a man, I am also deeply disturbed by the words the President-elect uses. I come from a generation that believes words matter – “Your word is your bond,” “You’re only as good as your word,” and “You are personally responsible for the words you say to other people.”

I admit that if the words used by Mr. Trump were said to most any man in a face-to-face encounter they would result in immediate conflict — even one that was physical.

I apologize, but in the world I inhabit, the world in which I served as a Marine and street cop, men don’t talk like this without physically endangering themselves or others. We consider bullying, insulting, demeaning, or ad hominem attacks very reckless behavior.

I am reminded of a conversation some years ago with one of my sons in the midst of some teenage angst. He uttered some strong, insulting language at me. “Son,” I carefully responded, “I am going to give you a break, and some good advice. You’re considered to be a man now, and if you say to another man what you just said to me, I can assure you that you will get punched in the face or worse. So be careful with your words.”

My interest is not on effective foreign policy, controlling global warming, or Wall Street regulation. My focus is on how our system of criminal justice works for ALL of us – everyone.

I believe the federal government must monitor and take action when states and cities are not protecting a citizen’s constitutional rights and not behaving in the best interests of those citizens who are most vulnerable or unable to care for themselves.

For me, that’s where the police come in. That’s what I have spent most of my adult life trying to urge. When states and local governments are not working for everyone, Washington needs to step in just like they did in the past when states did not act in the best interests of African-Americans. We are a constitutional democracy; yes, majority rules but with protection for those who find themselves in the minority.

We are a diverse nation and it is important that all of us receive the benefits of this great country — “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In order to assure these values, I believe we need to demand a high standard of performance on the part of states, counties, cities and towns with regard to our civil rights — how fairness and justice are meted out.  And I believe the best way to achieve that high standard of fairness and justice is on the frontline of America — and it is our police officers, prosecutors, judges and correctional workers who populate that frontline.

While I am wary about the coming year, I am hopeful we all will come together and do what’s right; that’s who we are.

My “top ten” wishes for 2017:

  1. That the federal government will continue to take corrective action whenever a local unit of government engages in a pattern of violating its citizen’s civil rights.
  2. That the recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing will continue to be acted on and the federal government will continue to support those improvements.
  3. That our Supreme Court will balance the need for safety and order with the rights of individual citizens.
  4. That reasonable efforts will be undertaken to manage firearms in our society; such as background checks for all sales and transfers, limiting assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, and encouraging more public education regarding firearm safety measures.
  5. That police will respect the sanctity of everyone’s life by setting policies and training programs that reflect this value, stress Procedural Justice in all their contacts, de-escalate incidents involving weapons, and develop less-deadly methods of responding to disturbed persons with sharp-edged or blunt weapons.
  6. That model police departments be developed throughout the nation which are linked to a university and available to teach other police how to work smarter and better.
  7. That our nation’s problem with drugs be approached more as a medical problem and less as one police must solve.
  8. That alternatives to arrest and imprisonment be set into motion to keep non-violent offenders of out prison and release many non-violent offenders who are currently in our over-crowded prisons and that correction and rehabilitation, not punishment, be the goal of our prisons.
  9. That we will begin to understand and correct the unfair, and un-American ways that race, class and gender negatively affect our system of criminal justice.
  10. That we will become more kind to one another in both word and deed in the coming year.

What worries me most in what most assuredly will be a new era in our nation’s history is the President-elect. So far, I have witnessed a style of leadership that, to me, is unacceptable. It is a leadership style that will not benefit him in his public life or those in our nation who will look to him to lead our nation forward.

In the meantime, may we all have a Happy New Year and may God bless America.