Policing in the 21st Century

Back on August 31st, I mined up an old piece I wrote back in the ’90s about the future of policing called, “A Note From A Cop the 21st Century.” Primarily it was about the workplace, the new leadership, the autonomy given to community-based police officers and the existence of leaders who used collaborative, team-style leadership — no more of the top-down coercive style. I wrote that over 20 years ago and tried to envision a grand future for police officers. Or so I thought. The coercive model still exists and still is the dominant way of leading. Most police academies still look more like “boot camps” than institutions of higher learning.

Back in the days when I was hard at work to diversify the police department I led (Madison, Wisc.), some of my officers (and even citizens) would complain and ask me “how many more?” — how many more blacks, Asians, Hispanics, gays, and lesbians was I going to hire?  To answer that I would ask them if they had recently visited a fourth-grade classroom in our city. I said that because I had been watching the elementary school in my neighborhood. My two youngest children are five years apart in age. The youngest was white and his sister of Asian heritage. When my youngest daughter attended the school, she was the only minority child and we were able send her to a more diverse elementary school. Five years later, when my youngest son became a fourth-grader, he was in the minority — over 1/2 of his class were students of “color.” A big change in five years.

This fact that I shared with my officers soon convinced them to add this to our vision statement: “Diversity is our strength!” (to counter an attitude detected among some in the community that diversity was a weakness, not an organizational strength.)

So when a friend of mine alerted me to the “Generation – WE” video” I knew that this was a good example of the ind of community my 21st century cop would be working with and for. I think it’s important that all of us who are “baby-boomers” or older, watch this video and think about it and what it means to our future together.

On the Generation WE website , they describe themselves as “millennials;”  the largest generation in American history. Born between 1978 and 2000, and 95 million strong (compared to 78 million “baby boomers”). They are independent—politically, socially, and philosophically—and are about to spearhead a period of sweeping change in America and around the world. (Whether you voted for Obama or Romney, the demographics from last week’s election ought to get you to think about what happened.)

No one knows the millennials like Eric Greenberg. In his book, Generation We, (2008) Greenberg explains the emerging power of the Millennial Generation, shows how they (and their supporters from other generations) are poised to change our nation and our world for the better, and lays out a powerful plan for progressive change that today’s youth is ready to implement.

A competent, smart, educated police will be able to respond to and enlist the support of this generation and everyone else. The police, must do this in a highly engaged and competent manner. And to do so will require great listening skills, problem-solving ability, competence, openness, honesty, and fairness from today’s (and tomorrow’s) police.