Since Ferguson, we have all experienced growing tension between police and citizens of color ranging from disrespectful behavior to lost lives.
For some years past (beginning with the civil rights era) federal authority has been used by our government to intervene whenever a pattern of civil rights abuses have occurred in a city or state.
Subsequently, we have seen a number of police agencies in our cities and states police under federal “consent decrees” to encourage protection of a citizen’s civil rights. This has resulted in many changes in police practices throughout the county. Hopefully, they will be sustained by competent leaders.
Two years ago, President Obama formed a task force to encourage positive, constitutionally and community-based policing, and recommended a series of improvements that police agencies could undertake.
Now all that most likely will change. I pray it will not be ignored. For example, during his confirmation hearing last week Senator Jeff Sessions, President Trump’s choice for Attorney General, essentially stated he did not believe in using the Department of Justice in the manner used by his immediate predecessors.
While the federal court and Department of Justice was a slow and sometimes cumbersome way to improve our nation’s police, it has been fairly effective and has been sustained even though mayors and police chiefs have come and gone over the years. Over the past two decades, the federal government has launched over 60 police department investigations. [See Washington Post review HERE.]
What’s next? Improvements in policing, from now on, will most likely have to be a local initiative. In response, city and states must think big and act locally; that is, to “think big” is to think about our Constitution and its values. We, as a nation, have values that, pursuant to our Declaration of Independence and embedded in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, are “unalienable,” and essential human rights like – life, liberty, protection of speech, and due process.
As a nation, we taut these American values and expect to see them practiced by our governmental agencies and its officials. And it would seem to me that one of the best ways to do this locally is when we expect our police to act accordingly.
A number of years ago, I wrote a short monograph called, How to Rate Your Local Police. It was to be a user’s guide for civic leaders, governmental officials, concerned citizens and police. I updated it in 2015.
Now I am suggesting that those among us who are concerned about police and their behavior take a good look at it and use it as a template to measure your police.
It recommends you ask the following questions about your chief of police and police department — and then seek verifiable answers.
How to Rate Your Local Police: A user’s guide for civic leaders, governmental officials,concerned citizens and police
- A. Leadership Characteristics
- What kind of leader and person is your chief?
- Does your chief have a clear vision?
- Willingness to challenge the status quo?
- Take risks, be innovative, build a coalition of support for change?
- Self confident?
- Has personal integrity?
- Has the respect of community and elected officials?
- Has the ability to inspire and motivate others?
What tone does the chief set for the agency?
- Is there a coherent crime control strategy?
- Is there a concrete crime prevention strategy?
- Does the chief defend rights of unpopular groups?
- Does the chief provide equal delivery of community police services?
- Does the chief articulate the policies of the agency clearly and understandably?
- Speaks out and takes a stand?
- Is the spokesperson on crime control and public safety?
- An advisor on personal security?
- A preserver of due process Constitutional guarantees?
- The defender of minority rights?
- Protector of the weak and injured?
- Able to manage a complex bureaucracy?
- Guardian of the rule of law?
B. Policy Characteristics
- Does your police agency and its officers have a clear sense of its objectives?
- Do they fulfill the American Bar Association’s: “Nine Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function”?
- Are there written policies for all operational practices?
- Does your police agency select the best qualified individuals to be police officers?
- Does your police agency provide high quality training for its officers?
- Does your police agency reinforce the minimum requirements for a good police officer?– Effective with integrity?– Civil and courteous?– Healthy and physically fit?
- Does the police agency guide, train, and supervise its officers in the restraint of the use of force?
- Is the police agency willing to investigate and discipline officers engaging in misconduct?
C. Organizational Characteristics
- Do your police officers respect individual rights?
- Does your police agency address crime and order problems by using all community resources?
- Does your police agency cooperate and coordinate with neighboring law enforcement agencies and with other agencies in the criminal justice system?
- Does your police agency communicate well with the public?
- How does your police agency approach the media?
Each characteristic of a modern democratic police department and its leader could become a topic for a local conversation between police, elected officials, and other leaders in your community – including those who, in their opinion, think the police are not doing such a good job.
While in many cities this could easily become a love fest between police and their supporters, it would not be an effective nor worthwhile effort without the presence of those who have concerns about their police.
But even if everyone agrees that their police are equally, effectively, and respectfully serving everyone, there is a need in every locale to encourage organization those engaged in public service to continuously improve what they do.
A private or public organization that is committed to maintaining the status quo will, of course, see no need to change anything they do. However, such an organization, including a police department, will soon find itself out of touch and in trouble.
Improving a police organization is especially everyone’s business. This will not and cannot happen if no one speaks up when they believe their police are not doing a good job — and, just as important, to speak up when they do!
Thomas Jefferson said that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” That is why the job of a citizen in a free society is to be alert! And Samuel Adams said, “If we love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace.”
So let us engage in the “animating contest for freedom” and press on together – help us move poor governmental behavior to that which is good, and good behavior to that which is outstanding.
As a free and democratic people, we deserve no less.
- [You can obtain a copy of How to Rate Your Local Police HERE for $5.00 using the discount code Q4ATYSNA.]