Learning From Ferguson — Preventing Others

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Manimages-1A good question for the people of Ferguson and St. Louis County is “Where do we go from here?” An answer, a plan, must be demanded.

Too often, in the rush to improve things, there are unanticipated consequences and the desire for a quick fix.

I have spent a good share of my life trying to improve police and, for the most part, was successful in doing so; therefore, I feel qualified to write this prescription for Ferguson (and others which have recently suffered the loss of trust and respect from the communities they police).

First of all, there are NO QUICK AND EASY FIXES. And many unintended consequences lying ahead. Transforming a complex organization like police takes time, effort, open discussion, and strong, collaborative leadership from both police and city officials.

In my book, Arrested Development (2012), I lay out the seven necessary steps that a community needs to take to improve its police. They are not easy, some may even be costly, but they are the steps that need to be taken.

Seven Steps For Ferguson were posted on this blog last August. It identified a plan for moving forward.

Let me now be more specific.


Each of the seven steps involves a dynamic change in the culture of policing – no more anti-intellectualism, violence, corruption, or discourtesy – the four obstacles that, historically, have prevented police from improving. The obstacles that have, literally, “arrested” the development of our nation’s police.

To do so involves a deep, inward journey by police officers and their leaders into the very core of policing – Who are we? What is it we do? What is our role in preserving life and the dignity of others? How do we do it best? The nature of such an discussion will no doubt reveal many misunderstandings about the role of police. Are we to warriors or guardians? Do we understand the Constitution and the rights that are guaranteed to citizens? What is our role in listening to those whom we police? How can we gain the cooperation of those whom we police? How do we manage the use of force? How important is trust and respect to us? What do we think about deadly force — taking a life? In what situations will we use it?

I would suggest here that the police study (or re-study) Sir Robert Peel and other’s Principles of Policing (circa mid-1800s), the American Bar Association (ABA) publication, Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function (1974), Herman Goldstein’s, Policing a Free Society (1977), a paper Michael Scott and I wrote, Policing Our Nation: Qualities of Police in a Free and Democratic Society, and Sam Walker’s recent (2014), What a Good Police Department Looks Like.

From these publications police can get better ideas about what it is that they should be doing and sharing it with their communities.  The process should look something like this:


STEP ONE: ENVISION – A Great Future with a Great Organization

From this comes the first very vital step – casting a vision for the future – who and what police wish to become. This vision, this dream, should drive all that police do, that which they strive for, and become a moral and ethical anchor for them.

STEP TWO: SELECT – The Best and Brightest to Serve

The next step is to set the hiring standards for new officers, require a 4-year college degree for all future employment, and put in place a strong educational incentive program for current officers. If you want to hire the “best and brightest” in your community you will have to pay an attractive salary. The community must come to realize that their future and their children’s future, will be in the hands of these newly-hired, educated police officers who should, overwhelmingly, be women and minorities in order to bring more diversity into the department.

STEP THREE: LISTEN – Inside the Department and Outside in the Community

Once the vision has been agreed-up (and the community needs a role here, too) then the next step for a more deeper, generous, and open dialogue can be initiated with the community. All methods of communication need to be explored. That means face-to-face community meetings, tolerance of anger and dissent, use of social media, and “police shoes on the ground” in the form of foot-patrol and turf assignments to critical neighborhoods.

STEP FOUR: TRAIN AND LEAD – Adults by Adults

To lead is to train and to train is to lead. How new officers are trained and how current officers are re-trained, is vital to the success of every effort to improve. Both the old training and the old leadership must be out. I invite leaders to see what I have experienced and written in my Principles of Quality Leadership  (here and early on this blog) and what I have said in the past about the necessity in the police ranks to offer “adult-model” training. No longer can local police rely on state or regional training academies – it will simply take too long for them to change and change must begin NOW. For the immediate future, a local training academy needs to be developed and quickly be operational. I would also urge police and community members to read an old book of mine, How to Rate Your Local Police (1983). It is still very relevant and could become not only a checklist to evaluate your police department, but also to set criteria the top leaders.


Needless to say (but still necessary) is that everything, and I mean each and EVERY police system, needs to be in the process of continuously improving — staying in place today is to fall behind.

STEP SIX: EVALUATE – What You’ve Accomplished and Share It

Along with continuous improvement, there must be methods to determine that improvement. And that’s where evaluation comes in. It doesn’t have to be costly, overly empirical, or lengthy; it can happen with home-grown surveys using, for example, anonymous on-line survey instruments Survey Monkey or even police themselves asking citizens, “How can we improve?” You cannot move forward unless you know where you are. That’s where evaluation and surveys come in.

STEP SEVEN: SUSTAIN – Your Improvements

The improvement steps that are taken must then be sustained. No slipping back. Continuous improvement means having the data to show it has occurred, and the people in place and will to sustain it.


IF FERGUSON AND OTHER POLICE DEPARTMENTS wish to prevent these kind of tragic mistakes they must ENACT these seven steps. If they do, there is a chance to accelerate the forward movement of policing in their cities and prevent a Ferguson from happening.

If nothing is done, or half-baked ideas become quick fixes, conflict, disorder, and ineffective policing will continue along with predictable and periodic awards of million-dollar damages that will greatly affect the rate of local taxation.

In short, it goes like this: You can either pay now or pay more later.

It is my belief that mandatory body cameras are in the category of “quick fixes.” They might help somewhat in the short term, calm some fears, but technology will never create or maintain honest and ethical police. Morality and ethical behavior comes from the inside of a person, it is sought after and developed throughout a career. And it first comes about by selecting the right people, providing them the right training, and supervising them by the right kind of leaders.

Would a community out of simple stubbornness pay seven-figure civil suits rather than prevent them from happening in the first place? Sometimes I wonder.


  1. If police and the rest of American society were like the Japanese industry using the Edward Deming’s methods on a daily basis, we not be in such a mess.


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