Leaders, Where Art Thou?

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Is this how improvement will come to our nation’s police — from the U.S. Justice Department — and not from our nation’s police leaders?

How is it that any leader worth his or her salt today would wait until his or her organization was sued before they would take needed action?

Here’s what’s happening. A recent two-year Justice Department civil rights investigation into the Miami Police Department was the 11th time in two years that the federal government had put a local law enforcement agency on notice that it needed to change or face a federal lawsuit. The New York Times found that:

“Cities from New Orleans and Seattle to Missoula, Mont., and East Haven, Conn., are grappling with similar federally mandated changes after investigations… In Miami, the Justice Department found a pattern of the use of excessive force — in an eight-month period in 2011, eight young black men were shot and killed by the police. This month, the Justice Department announced a sweeping settlement forcing Puerto Rico to change 11 areas of policing, including the use of excessive force, searches, stops and the handling of domestic violence. It was, the department said, “among the most extensive agreements ever obtained.”

Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha said these investigations send a message to police departments that “there are some minimal things you have to do to be professional, and here are the things you need to do in order to achieve that.” The result, said Walker, is that so many federal investigations have now been conducted that no American police department really has an excuse for engaging in practices that violate civil rights.

The current course of action — pursuing a federal court consent decree — is very time consuming and expensive for everyone. Let’s hear it again — what’s the job of a leader? The job of a leader is to improve things!

Today, these federal investigations are not just confined to wrongful deaths but also a host of other needed police improvements such as racial profiling, handling of sexual assaults, domestic violence, stop and frisk policies, and treatment of the mentally ill.

Is the handling of public protest next? It most likely should be.

Now many local governments and their police will dig their heels in regarding “outside interference. But is this not unlike the federal government taking action during the Civil Rights Movement? The point is that if things need improving when it comes to the quality of our nation’s life and the rights of our citizens, then why don’t cities and their police chiefs lead it?

I suggest that today’s police leaders should know what the best practices of policing a democracy are and train and lead their officers in that direction — now!

Ignorance is no longer an excuse.

[To see the entire article CLICK HERE.]

7 Comments

  1. The most pressing question I see is this: why do we see a tendency of police organizations to drift away from the upholding of civil rights? Is this just a question of leadership, or is it something inherent in the relationship between those who are sanctioned to use violence to curb violence and those who are not? Where does the alienation of the police from the policed come from?

    One guess is that the sense that the community is “other” stems largely from a lack of participation in that community. Police that commute to their districts from afar and interact with individuals from vastly different socio-economic or racial backgrounds would seem to have a harder time feeling invested in the holistic health of that community outside of a narrowly defined metric focused on crime reduction. If that is the only connection to the policed community that an officer has, it seems almost inevitable that their priorities will become quite heavily distorted by the narrow lens through which they view that communities members.

    And since effective crime reduction cannot simply rely on arresting the “bad guys”, the lack of connection to the broader forces at work in that community will frustrate an officer who has not been given the time or the mission to integrate police work into a larger community health strategy of which their efforts are but one part. If this frustration is felt long enough, my hunch is that a creeping cynicism develops that hardens an officer to the community as a whole and begets an “it’s us against them” attitude, with the results being the stuff you cite in your post.

    The challenge, it seems is, to find ways to prevent that cynicism from developing, even while admitting that police are always going to be put into some of the most dangerous and dehumanizing relationships with their fellow man. How can that critical flame of empathy be fostered and protected?

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    1. Nathan, a very insightful response. Yes, how is it a police officer can keep his or her “balance” when they not only help folks but have to enforce the law and see folks sometimes at their worst. First of all, preventing an “us v. them” mentality is essential. That’s why I always sought to try and hire the “best and brightest” and that means having the kind of organization and pay structure these folks will flourish in. My book talks a lot about having a strong vision, adult-oriented training, quality, servant leaders, and an organization committed to improvement, working with the community and having in place support and on-going training systems that stress health and wholeness. On top of all this, there must be a collaborative team of top leaders who believe police exist to protect others and they have some sense of who we are as a multicultural, diverse people committed to a free and democratic society. Good policing, like liberty, demands eternal vigilance.

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  2. As David and I talk about in the prior thread, it is hard for cops to live in areas that are high crime with gangs and drugs because they will be targets. If cops could live in those areas without fear of getting attacked, then they would have to become involved in those community groups that are trying to turn those neighborhoods in a decent place to live instead of patrolling those areas because that is their place of work until they died, retirement, or transfer to some other parts of the city.

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  3. Greetings Chief Cooper. I am a faithful follower your blog and I appreciate your wisdom and experience. For a non-law enfocement type, like myself, it’s akin to drinking from a fire hose.

    I am a resident of town whose crime stats are among the highest in the state and the nation, (among populations in the range of 22,000). I am greatly concerned with the look and feel of the quality of policing in our community, as are most law abiding residents. To be clear, I am not faulting the police men and women who, at times, seem as flummoxed by their roles as residents are by the increase in crime.

    Perhaps one disadvantage, as Nathan described, is that with the exception of one or two officers the police do not live in the community that they serve and, as you have mentioned, the pay scale is imbalanced with only a few having the most opportunity for the best shifts and overtime pay.

    When I observe officers in action, (my neighborhood affords me plenty of opportunity), I can see that being unfamiliar with the diverse culture they serve puts them at a disadvantage. Many officers, despite their good intentions, seem unfamiliar with local ordinances and/or enforcement “know-how”.

    This led us to wonder, (even before reading your blog and the NY Time article), if it is possible they are being instructed to exercise such extreme caution, with regards to civil rights, that they’re effectiveness has been diminished. We do know that the municipality is deeply concerned about being sued.

    While the average 12 year crime index is 161 times higher than the U.S. average our elected officials saw fit to promote the long time police chief to municipal manager and the long time police captain to chief, eliminating immediate potential to attract “new blood” with new insights about the challenges and solutions.

    Communication between the community and leadership was strained prior to this decision, and now, has reached an all time low as management continues to distance from the loss of safety and quality of life issues faced by people living here.

    Homeowners are leaving in droves, often taking losses on their property. Those of us who remain are in a frustrated quandary as we watch our town decline.

    I would like to ask if you or any of your readers have suggestions about how we can become proactive, how and where do we start under these circumstances? We sorely need guidance.

    Thank you!!
    Katy

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    1. Katy, I hope some of our readers get involved here. The trouble is that change/improvement takes time and effort. It’s so much easier to just chug along with the status quo and not wrestle with what needs to be done. Somehow there needs to be a community dialogue about the problems and that these problems can be solved and overcome. Unfortunately, those who have the power and authority (and money) do not see it as a problem that affects THEM. Those who know best about the problem (and often are on the receiving end of it) are those in our society who are relatively powerless. I am afraid that things in America will have to get a lot worse before folks start demanding the high quality police services to which I believe all Americans are entitled. Get some copies of my BOOK sent around town and then ask those who are interested (both police and citizens) come together and discuss it. Are the four obstacles I identify arresting the development of your police? Most likely.

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  4. Thanks so much. I will order copies of your book – I want one for myself anyway. I love your suggestion. BTW I have blogged on my own blog – about your blog, LOL, and how your experiences and the information you share can apply to our own situation. I am planning to post, in the next couple of days, my own thoughts about your post and the NY Times article. I have a pretty decent following in our small community. All the Best to you!

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