Police Change in Ferguson and Portland — Are There Better Ways?

images-1In Ferguson, police are trying to improve while operating under crisis conditions.
In Portland, police are trying to improve while operating under a Federal consent decree.
Is one way better than the other? Or are there better ways? These are two ways in which police can begin the improvement process, but there is a better way. I would maintain that organizational change through crisis and by court order are not the best ways for our nation’s police to improve. Let’s look at an example of change through crisis, change by court order, and change through leadership.
Here’s what  of the Washington Post wrote in part on September 30, 2014 about some new changes in Ferguson.
“An intense standoff between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., late Monday led to at least one breakthrough for the young people who have screamed, chanted and marched for the arrest of Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown. Demonstrators were allowed to continue protesting in the streets so long as they remained peaceful, Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol told the crowd. He noted that no one would enforce a ‘five-second rule,’ in which officers arrested protesters who stayed in one place, a move that had been challenged in federal court earlier that day… Police also arrested residents when they moved their protest from the sidewalk into the streets. Those types of arrests should end, Johnson said.”‘I want to listen to what you have to say,’ [Johnson] told a group of young demonstrators linking arms along the double yellow lines of South Florissant Avenue. ‘Our methods are a little different, but I am going to tell you that I’m not here to fight you.'”Johnson’s offer of conciliation, made about midnight Monday, was starkly different from the encounters officers had with protesters just minutes before.”Officers had stood in line, pulling out handcuffs, brandishing shields and holding batons…​”Every few minutes, police walked three steps closer to them as an officer on an intercom said, ‘Remove yourself from the streets immediately.’ The protesters stood unfazed, daring police to unlawfully arrest them ‘for standing up for our constitutional rights’…”To read more CLICK HERE.

On the same day, Shelby Sebens, from GoLocalPDX reported the following change going on in Portland:

“Portland police officers are handing over their cell phone numbers to the homeless and mentally ill in an effort to improve relationships.

“Police officers in the Portland Police Bureau’s Behavioral Health Unit are taking people to the doctor’s office and the grocery store, for examples, and simply helping them get on their feet.

“’They’re really going way, way beyond what the traditional role of a police officer is,’ said Lt. Cliff Bacigalupi of the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU).

“The BHU was established in 2012 after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found the Portland Police Bureau ‘engages in a pattern or practice of unnecessary or unreasonable force during interactions with people who have or are perceived to have mental illness’…

“Bacigalupi said the BHU is working to improve relationships with people who might be homeless or have mental illnesses and are continually running afoul of the law. He said police officers giving out their cell phone numbers is just one example of how that’s working.

“’In the past, where they would use just 911, now they have somebody that they can make contact with,” he said. ‘In the bigger picture it’s (police officers) becoming somebody steady that they can trust and call on.’

“Watchdogs of the police department say the changes in community policing are welcome.

“’I think the police are trying the best they can to engage people on the street,’ said Israel Bayer, Executive Director of Street Roots, a bi-weekly publication that addresses poverty and homelessness. But Bayer cautioned there’s still room for improvement…

“It will likely take the city at least five years to meet all the requirements in the settlement with the DOJ, according to court documents.

“But Bacigalupi said he thinks the department has already made strides.

“’I absolutely believe to the center of my core that we have improved on every level the way that we address people with mental illness, people that are homeless, people that are in crisis,’ he said.

“All Portland police officers have to sign a statement saying they have read the full DOJ settlement agreement by Oct. 29…”

For more CLICK HERE.



Leaders in a competent, quality police agency act just like the wagon master I mention in my book. The best leaders LOOK AHEAD and anticipates what’s coming down. Through the turbulent 1960s and into the 80s, I knew that in order to effectively lead my department AND my community I needed to be alert to what was going on around me and in the city and even nation.

“A new and growing movement was on the American horizon. It was a movement to increase the quality of our products and services. Government was an agency that provided a service—not a product—however, taxpayers didn’t seem like customers. But the American economy was in recession, and ideas like continuous improvement, reducing our costs, and increasing customer/taxpayer satisfaction looked like possible solutions to our problems.

“This was the environment in which I found myself mid-career in Madison. During this time, an image came to me. It was that of the wagon trains which carried homesteaders west during the 19th century. On their journey, they had to cross oceans of virgin prairie. When approaching this sea of grass, the wagon master would intentionally stop the wagon train, stand on top of one of the wagons, then look, and listen. He would scan the horizon, then get down and put his ear on the ground. He looked and listened for signs of danger. He looked for telltale smoke of a deadly prairie fire raging through the high grass. He listened for the sound of a stampeding herd of bison that could capsize and crush the wagon train and cause injury or even death to those in his care. Good wagon masters did this because they needed information in order protect those who followed him. I found myself in the same place in 1980 when I thought about my career in Madison and the future of the department.”

Leaders are look-outs, trend-watchers, preventors, and anticipators of trouble.

Change is a lot easier for police officers when they are part of the movement to change and not stationary objects. Change that is imposed top-down, from the Federal Court or DOJ is change that is easily resisted — why not? Rank and file police officers were not in the process and have little or no ownership in the end results.

Police and their leaders can improve today either through the difficult and often-failing way of outside imposed change or they can get on board and start acting like true professionals — look-outs, trend-watchers, preventers, anticipators of trouble, and guardians of those whom they swore to serve


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