Why Improve police? They Don’t Bother me!

Improve our police? Ho-hum. Why does it feel like I am paddling upstream when I talk about the great benefits we all can share by having improved policing in our communities?

So, who is concerned about this? The fact is that few people are. After all, most police in our nation are not stupid, corrupt, racist, brutal or insensitive. I know. I have worked with, and now observe, police in our nation and in other countries for over 50 years and I can tell you that I have great love and respect for the men and women who continue to nobly serve as police officers.

As a society, I have often said that we deserve the kind of police we have. When we are active in our communities, strive for justice for all, and look out for those on the lower rungs of our economy, then we seem to have good police. When we don’t — we don’t.

What I am talking about in my book is not about individual but systemic performance. As a system, police could be much, much better. If problem-solving, community/neighborhood policing became the way all police departments operated and honesty, right behavior, continuous improvement, collaborative leadership, and sharing what has been learned became the culture (the system) of our nation’s police departments there would be no need for my book or this blog. But overall, this is not the way our police departments operate. And those that do are not the majority.

The problem today in generating a nation-wide discussion about improving police is that most people in the country care little about police improvement because they have so little contact with police. Those who have the power and position to improve things have little contact with police. Now it’s a different situation if you or I are a member of a group considered to be without social power and position in today’s world. Those are the folks that seem to have the most negative contact with police and who also are least able to change the situation. After all, is not a society to be measured by how it treats the least of its members?[i]

Therefore, those voices can easily be ignored or disregarded (as the voices of African-Americans were until the Civil Rights Movement and women until the last century. But when it comes to police controlling those whom society wishes to have little or no contact with (those who are poor,  homeless, mentally ill, or addicted) aggressive behavior can easily be overlooked.

But I would suggest that the noble opportunity of police function in a free society is that they truly know who is oppressed by our society and its economic and social systems. And this gives police officers the unique opportunity to and serve as a protector for each one of us. Who else is positioned do this noble function in our society?

Those of us who inhabit the higher social levels in our society and who live outside our city’s ghettos and barrios may, at first, not understand the importance of such a function. But for things to best work in America, for all of us to be able to pursue our dreams and potential, we must have a high respect for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — and wish it for everyone. It is our nation’s police that can best do this.

That is why I wrote my book and maintain this blog.


[i] This statement has been attributed throughout the years to Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and President Harry Truman. More recently to Cardinal Roger Mahony (1998) when he said, “Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members ; the last, the least, the littlest.”

7 Comments

  1. A lot of white milddle class people had little or no contact with the police unless they were doing protests in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and they came under illegal police survillence. Furthermore, the adults, children and grandchildren of today are now finding out about police abuse and misconduct during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions when they were protesting at those events which is continuing today with the Occupy Wall Street events across the nation. You bet after what happen to them they will no longer bindly support the police when the police come to them for street information or when the police asks for increases in manpower, new laws and new technology. They will grilling the police about if the police will be using the above items appropriately or not.

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    1. Gandhi was one of my heroes. I have a picture in the center of my new book of me with two large posters that graced my office for 25 years — Gandhi’s caption was “In a gentle way you can change the world” and the other pic was of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. “No man is free until all men are free.” Jyotiswaroop, thanks for reminding me of this and Gandhi’s influence on me!

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  2. So far you have my attention enough that I have read three of your posts and am about to post this comment, my second one.

    I am having a hard time with your message because we have some of the same heroes — Gandhi, King — and I like some of your problem ID’s and proposed solutions but we veer off on our estimation of the state of policing. I think you are inflating its existing health and I think we need bolder solutions than you may be proposing.

    You said: “After all, most police in our nation are not stupid, corrupt, racist, brutal or insensitive.”

    Stupid is not a word I would use, but it is true that some departments deliberately exclude officer candidates who score high on intelligence tests. And the educational levels of police remain woefully low.

    Racism is on the wane, thankfully, but not gone.

    Brutality is not ubiquitous but still there.

    Corruption I believe is extremely prevalent in various forms. There are corrupt practices and conventions that are so woven into the culture of policing that it is going to take great strides to being it to a minimum, to render them the exception rather than the rule. I consider policing to be in a national crisis right now. And some of the solutions can’t be effected by reforms of policing alone but would have to entail changes in our courts and prosecutors’ offices as well.

    The marginalized portions of society you say are most expert in what is wrong with policing and least listened to or counted — it needs to be said that among the ranks of the marginalized are innocent targets of police who were became marginalized through the very acts of police. We have to recognize the police as a powerful instrument of oppression as well — there is no easier or more powerful a way to marginalize an unwanted voice than to trump up even a minor charge against it, especially today in our data-sharing environment. People are permanently excluded.

    I live in an small urban environment where many middle-class and upper middle-class residents come into contact with or have reason to comment on policing more than in other places and I can tell you that there is only a handful of officers on our force that an educated person would want to share a coffee with. So many are abusive, or aggressive, or just loud or mean-spirited, or argumentative or uncaring or just bad company that can’t engage in a normal conversation or able to spend time with anyone different from them. To be policed by people who are far less kind, far less honest and far less committed to a great society, who are contributing far less to society than you is very, very, very hard to tolerate.

    (If I told you the name of the city where I am I think you would be shocked or immediately ascribe to me little credibility because the department here is so good at spin you’d think it was on the cutting edge. )

    I have spent lots and lots of time with police officers, having coffee and so on over the years.

    Recently I spent a day with a friend and her new boyfriend on a visit here from the UK where he is a police officer. It was night and day for me. What a joy he was to talk to and very interesting as well. He talked about feeling much more a part of the community he was policing — that there was not even the distance that the concept of “partnering” with the community represents. He is a part of the community and feels it is his job to protect it. The protective sense was more developed in him than I had ever encountered in American policing.

    I have never been a snob about education, though I have been lucky enough to have received a good one. Some of the nicest, most competent and honest cops I have ever met did not have college degrees. Because of that, I have been reluctant to call for higher educational standards but I have changed that position and believe we need to push for it very hard. We need to start demanding it.

    I don’t even like looking at the impact this has on detective work. The average college student applies more due diligence in a college paper than I have seen in the approach and results in conventional police investigations. I am not sure it is widely known how substandard these investigations can be and the production pressures — admittedly part of it — that are part of what allows it

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  3. Your comments are spot on Jame. However, I must point out that many upper middle class and rich people are argumentative, mean spirtied, foul-mouth, abusive, aggressive, raciist, sexist bigots, etc., and do not want to deal with the rest of the American population, despite the fact that they are highly educated and also many oif them are very religious people.

    Regarding the English police, when Maraget Thatcher became prime minister, she use the police to break up strikes and protect the business owners. You also had the race riots in England because of police harassment of minorities particulary those of a darker color.

    England had its own version of Occupy Wall Street and you also had an elderly English man being knock down to the ground by one of the policeman even though he was not part of the protestors and he died from it. You also had a black woman trying to the police and she got knock down and then, one of the cops put slam his foot on top of her neck. It seems that English police are adopting the heavy handed, military style of American policing.

    The average American student puts in more time in writing his/her paper; however, it seems that there is more cheating and plagism on the college campuses than ever before because of the dire competition to get that scholarship, intern job, or entry to a law or
    medical school.

    The only reason why the police get away with their things is because the judges and DAs themselves are corrupt despite the fact that they are highly educated. Even the FBI personnel are college graduates; however, it did not stop them from betraying their oath as law enforcement officers.

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  4. Another thing Jane, is that many rich people and upper middle class people only like the police when the police are use to protect their economic and political interests at the expense of the the rest of American population. Other than that, rich and upper class people view the police as slaves just like the rest of society.

    There is this website called Officer.com where if you frequently leave opinions, ideas, and comments about the police that is perceive as an attack on them, the owner of the website will use his filter software to prevent you from voicing your viewpoints. Not to mention, the cops and their supporters will label you as liberal, communist, socialist, tell you to leave the country, get off their website, don’t voice your opinion unless you are a cop, and if they cant’ find someone to critize you, they will tell you to take your drugs and/or comment about your grammar, spelling, pargraph structure, etc. Yeah, even in cyberspace, the cops are isolating themselves from the rest of the community while at the same time are using cyberspace to illegaly spy on the people.

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