The Great Silence

Ever wonder who speaks for our nation’s police? Is it the Director of the FBI? The president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police? I wonder, because I don’t hear much from anyone about the need to improve our police.

Years ago, a friend of mine, Gary Hayes, was instrumental in forming what we thought would be a police “think tank” — the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). I was a member for years and remember the excitement of those early years when we all were working to improve police and bring research into the police field.

Then, like most change-oriented, creative organizations, it became mainstream. And mainstream in policing is not pushing the edges of, or thinking outside of, the box.  Instead, it is maintaining the status quo. The same thing happened to the Police Foundation. Good intentions at first, then poor carry-through. And, oh yes, those federal dollars — they sure can turn a fellow’s head.

Any improvement we see today seems to be coming not through the actions of police leaders, but rather through the actions of the  federal court. They are taking action in response to what has been demonstrated to them as patterns of abuse and questionable conduct by police. Currently, New Orleans, Seattle, and Oakland are under court review. Other cities, like Newark and New York, are also being considered as needing federal court oversight. This process is slow and costly and gets mayors and police chiefs “off the hook.”

What we are experiencing is what I call the “Great Silence.” It is the reticence of police leaders in our nation to stand up and speak out — an abdication of their professional responsibility. The job of a top leader like a chief of police is to lead needed change and improvement rather than wait for outside action to occur and then, when it happens, to resist it.

I have worked in the police field for over 30 years and have observed it for another two decades — a half-century of leading and watching police. I have always strongly believed that top leaders should speak out as to what needs to be done — to be the leaders of necessary change. Police could be so much better.

A top leader envisions a great future; hires the best and the brightest to serve; properly trains, leads, and listens to those in the ranks, as well as members of the community. Leadership is about continuous improvement — forever. Evaluating the work of a police department is more about developing and nurturing positive and trusting relationships with the community than juggling “reported crime” numbers and blocking open records requests.

Police chiefs must remember that while they are appointed to be the head of the police department, they also are to be the people’s chief of police as well — to represent and serve them as well. And that means speaking up and breaking the “Great Silence” when they know things are not as they should be, taking responsibility when things go wrong, and fixing that which is broken.

For more on the seven important improvement steps that police must take to move forward, see my new book which both personal journey, police history, and improvement manual for change.


  1. What is amazing how the LAPD manage to avoid federal oversight and that almost all the Southern police, sheriff, and state police avoid federal oversight for much of the 20th century compare to many unions who were under federal control because they were controlled by the mafia. Many law enforcement agencies should have been under federal receivership because they were corrupted because they were racists, they were running their own criminal rackets and/or were in league with the mafia, and finally constantly violating people’s rights What would have been ironic if the FBI was put under federal receivership even though it represent the American federal government considering the fact J. Edgar Hoover was violating people’s rights.

    What I would like to see is police chief leading the fight against white collar, corporate crime and treat it the same way they treat street crime, labor and environmental activists and people who are exercising their rights whether on the streets or off the streets.


  2. Chief
    I don’t always agree with you, int his case however you are right on. We must, in the words of Chuck Colson, “break the spiral of silence” in policing, in the “C”hurch and in society.

    Not sure bending over for the Feds is the right answer, they don’t know local policing and it’s been in my view, a disaster everywhere it’s been done.

    Local chiefs need to take the lead, from NYC to LA and everywhere inbetween. We might not all agree as to what’s needed (it is local after all) but change should be the watchword. Not sure research is all that either, but it can help.


    1. The feds don’t know anything about unions; yet, they took over them, so if they can do it to unions, they should do it to the local law enforcement. Furthermore, I do not see the local police doing a good job when it comes to effective policing and in many cases, it has been a disaster for the community no matter how hard the cops tried (or don’t tried) to clean up their own mess.and constantly improve their departments.

      I read a story a long time ago, on the website Officer.Com where the FBI had to take down an entire small city police department (18 officers for the entire department) in Illinois or Indiana because it was so corrupt. Whey didn’t the Sheriff Department and/or the State Police take down that police department? Sometimes you have to go to the feds because the the locals can’t or won’t do it themselves.

      I would like cops to do research to help keep on the latest technology such as lab work and fighting white collar, corporate crime and computer crimes. It may not help but it is better than being a backwards department compare to other countries like France, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc., who put a great deal of time and effort in improving the abilities to fight those two items..


  3. In Southern California, you had the mayors’ pension scandals in the cities of Mayflower and Bell. The Los Angeles Times reporter who broke the story told the LA County DA, the LA Sheriff Department, and the FBI about the corruption and was blown off.. Where were the local city police chiefs in investigating the allegations? They were no where to been seen. In addition, the California State Controller’s Office which is suppose to be monitoring the various California cities and counties’ pensions was not doing its job either. It took citizens protests at the two city halls to get the authorities off their butts to go after the mayors and their subordinates.

    Back in the 1980s, you had the Orange County pension scandal in California Where were the law enforcement agencies when all this was happening? Finally, you didn’t see the NYPD and the New York State Police and the respective DA offices investigating the Wall Street Scandals back in the 1980s and between 2000 and 2007 when the economic meltdown occurred. Finally, reporter Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now receive the George Polk Award for exposing the $80 Million Bloomberg Administration Scandal. Yeah, trusting the local police to do their jobs when it comes to fighting white collar crime both in the private and public sectors at the local level (city, county, and state level) is a joke and the local community plus the rest of the nation is suffering for it (including many cops who have been layoff because of the economic mess).


  4. The local police for years didn’t come up with ideas on how to take out the local crime syndicates in their areas. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a federal Canadian police force, came up with many ways and laws to fight organized crime at the local and federal in their country compare to the local Canadian police departments that were notoriously corrupt, so you can’t say that the national government is not capable of doing things right..


  5. Unless the police chiefs, the sheriffs, state police commissioners, and those at the federal agencies, have the backbone and the moral courage to stand up the corporations, rich people, and politicians, they will never lead.


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