Reflections from a Retired Chief

Reflections on a Long Career — Chief Donald G. Hanna

[Chief Don Hanna’s career in policing was well blessed: working the street four years, police chief 24 years in three departments, adjunct university teaching 12 years, full-time instructor three years at a police training institute, management and law courses as adjunct at a training academy for 14 years, full-time training officer a year for a police department, one day instruction in law or leadership and six consultation management reports for police departments in four states. We were contemporaries, served in the same era, yet never worked together. We share many of the same thoughts and values about the correct way to police a free society.]  

Pensive Contemplation

Chief Donald G. Hanna, Retired

This paper places on paper some thoughts before slipping my aging octogenarian mind: thoughts about policing 1960–1970 during its most turbulent, violent decade—thoughts after 32 years in policing that began in 1960 after graduating with a degree in police administration that really didn’t prepare for the other side of policing: or education. This paper is shared with a select few who paid their dues and touched the flame as police officers during this decade. Policing is a noble calling—and its personal reward is proportional to contribution. My extraordinary privilege was to work the street four years, and then manage police affairs in an urban setting with a large university during this disruptive decade of dissent and demand for police change.

Concise summary of the disruption and violence: the civil-rights movement, the anti-war movement, urban riots, and campus disorders. A little more elaboration: freedom bus riders to confront segregation, marching protesters, mass arrests, fatal church bombing, urban snipers, assassinated police officers, thousands of students on voter registration drives in the South with three murdered, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in anti-war demonstrations, and several attempts to disrupt the 1968 Democrat National Convention. On the campus scene: sit-ins, administrators held hostage, student strikes, burning draft cards and the American flag, meeting disruptions, bomb threats, stink and fire bombs, arson, vandalism, mass arrests—and it started to unravel when two student protesters were killed at one college and four at another resulting in 500 arsons on campuses. The urban-riot scene turned ugly with 43 deaths, 2,000 injuries, and 7,000 arrests in Detroit; 34 deaths, 1,000 injuries, and 4,000 arrests in Watts; and 26 deaths and 1,500 injuries in Newark. Following the King murder in 1968, rioting occurred in 40 cities with 46 more deaths and 21,270 arrests. Nationwide 55,000 national guard and federal troops assisted police.

My good fortune during this time was to dodge the missiles and survive crowd confrontation involving hand-to-hand combat twice except once when a caustic liquid sprayed into my eyes from behind and under my face shield placed me in the emergency room. Crowd psychology and control training at Ft. Gordon and Ft. San Louis Obispo were invaluable, viz., during a two-day deposition when sued as a result of a crowd disturbance.

Concise summary of the judicial call for police change: Model Penal Code, new state criminal and procedural codes, evidence codes, bail reform, and Supreme Court decisions that changed police procedures regarding search, seizure, interrogation, and identification of suspects. Concise summary of the congressional response: Civil Rights Act of 1964 and funding for police assistance and education (LEAA and LEEP) that attracted academicians for consulting and research—who spilled more ink on paper than all previous years combined about policing: most mediocre, but an exceptional few, viz., William Muir (Police as street corner politicians), Egon Bittner (Police Functions and non-negotiable force), Arthur Niederhoffer (Behind the Shield and police personality and cynicism), and Elliott (The New Police and team concepts): George Kelling and J.Q. Wilson’s Broken Windows arrived 30 years later. National commissions submitted findings and recommendations: The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society, The Police, Civil Disorders, Campus Unrest, and the American Bar Association’s quintessential Standards on Urban Police Function.

Fifty years later after all is said and done, police change—beyond diverse recruitment, training-certification-education standards, deadly-force policy, pursuit and PIT stop policy, technology, pay and benefits, unions, civilian-review boards, and community programs—has been relatively limited. Monikers have passed off the stage: team policing, blazer uniform, and police agent to name a few. Been there and done that with all of them. Myths about police persist in the public mindset—with residual mischief, misconception, and misunderstanding.

Regardless of certification standards and increased training, policing remains an occupation: not a profession with extensive education and intern preparation—an anomaly for an officer armed, badged, and clothed with great discretion to make decisions that have significant effect on a person’s liberty, reputation, welfare, and/or life. Policing remains more a craft than a calling, more a benefits-laden commodity. Most officers would leave in a heart beat if they could take their benefits with them. The job engages the mind, but seldom the heart—a psyche preoccupied with suppressing crime, but occupied with providing service. For most officers, policing is a commodity—not a calling above and beyond a unionized vocation of privilege, pay, pension, and perks of the job. Advice: learn from and associate with those whose work is a calling. My life has intersected with some—hopefully, to the benefit of both of us.

Police education usually fails to prepare an officer in the exercise of tremendous discretional authority within the context of justice. Authority is the right and capacity to impose obligation. Behind the police badge exists a quiet implication of non-negotiable force to impose obligation: usually under difficult, provoking circumstances in the public arena that require self-control, patience, discernment, discretion, and decision to approach, inquire, stop, restrain, release, arrest, search, seize, or charge—discretional authority, indeed!

Justice is true, right, and fair in giving another his or her due. Common denominator: impartiality! How does a person do justice? It consists of five elements: factual, lawful, reasonable, fair, and right. These five protect an officer from civil liability in duty decision or deed when based on relevant fact, applicable law, objective reasonableness, fundamental fairness, and morally right under the circumstances. Justice is that due a person as a right. What is due reveals what is to be done—with its corollary what is not due reveals what need not be done: the moral basis for deception in policing when appropriate, viz., in crime detection and covert efforts.

Training maintains knowledge and skills necessary for duty performance, self-protection, and protection of other persons. Education prepares for exercise of discretional authority: law, logic, ethics, and casuistry. Hopefully, education develops a commitment to lifelong learning.

Agency accreditation may be well intended, but a plethora of policies and procedures can confuse more than clarify—especially for the officer working the street. Beyond technology, productivity improvement is the exception—and then it invariably involves bean counting instead of more important evaluative considerations. The politics of crime reduction invariably encourage or rationalize the reclassification of violent crime and burglary downward whenever possible. Special-weapons teams are the necessary, residual effect of terrorists, snipers, and bombers for a reasonable response—not a reactive result that becomes part of the problem.

A community invariably receives the policing it desires—and deserves. After all is said and done, this is the distilled essence of it all. This has implications for a police chief. How so? Some cities desire, explicitly or implicitly, a caretaker chief—business as usual with little change and controversy. Other cities, by necessity, desire change for the better—the challenge: do so with consistency and cohesion. Caretaker or change agent, the police chief needs policy direction from city council—direction, not directive: the distinction is significant: for directives do not provide latitude for discretion. Achievable, appropriate direction is the exception, and fortunate the chief who has it.

Unfortunate the chief whose policy direction is the residual effect of committees consumed by compromise and consensus—more confusing than clarifying in city council and city manager effort to deflect personal responsibility for the results. Police chiefs aren’t paid for time and labor, but for their influence and to make difficult decisions that must be made. Consequently, they are sued by officers about as frequently as by other citizens. Leadership is critical in a police organization. A leadership primer (190 pages) is included in my book Mastering Self

[Ed. Note: I have taken the liberty of adding highlighting and links into Chief Hanna’s reflective essay. Lest we forget!]