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.”