The Road Ahead




THE ROAD AHEAD: Ferguson and Beyond

I was recently asked in an interview what was the ONE THING that could be done that would help improve our nation’s police. I said that it was NOT body cameras, or better technology, or even more training. No, it was the improvement of the character and intelligence of the police officer that would help bring about the change we need.

And the way to do this would be to broaden the world-view of those officers.

That was my experience when after a couple of years on the beat, our government passed legislation to fund college educations for working cops like me. The combination of being a university student by day and a cop by night confronted and expanded my world-view about people, race and culture. It could do the same for prospective and newer police officers today who do not have a four-year college degree (as many of you know from following this blog is that my bias is for a liberal arts education).

Improving our police and making them more democratic and responsive to their communities will take time and leadership. It won’t happen quickly. There are no short-cuts. But it can be done!

But if it is to happen it will take a new breed of police leaders who are well-educated and trained; have a broad world-views, understand and practice the principles and values of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and respect the dignity of every human person.

The way ahead for our nation’s police is higher education – not police science or criminal justice programs, but a traditional and rigorous liberal arts curriculum consisting of courses in sociology, psychology, anthropology, history, literature, languages, and sciences.

The road ahead must develop the intellectual abilities of our nation’s police officers and teach them a modern, collaborative, and non-coercive leadership  style (see Quality Leadership).

The next level would be to put this brain-power and leadership skills into operation.

I would like to see a national commission re-visit and re-affirm the American Bar Association’s Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function and then have the government give incentive funding to police departments who exemplify a style of democratic policing consistent with a free society such as ours; in short, Model Police Departments. These departments (hopefully scattered throughout the country and consisting of both large and small-sized agencies would be designated as Police Centers of Excellence. They would be expected to be teaching organizations whose officers would be available to help other police departments learn and improve through various on-site visits.

What do you think? What are the one or two things that you think need to be accomplished?

What would you tell President Obama and the 21st Century Policing Task Force he recently created?


  1. David, I have a rare disagreement with you on one point. In my opinion we now have a rich literature and body of scientific knowledge of and about policing. It’s infused with lots of sociology, anthropology, psychology, political science, philosophy, etc. but it’s focused on police, policing, leadership, effectiveness, accountability, etc. — the things we care so much about. So in my view, probably at the graduate level, what we most need and are most lacking is serious POLICE education (caps just for emphasis).

    Today, I believe, we have a generation of police and police leaders who mostly don’t know the literature and scientific body of knowledge of their own profession. We didn’t have that 30-40 years ago, but we do now. But criminal justice and criminology programs give it only superficial attention, because their emphasis is elsewhere and they’re a mile wide and an inch deep. So, on the foundation of a good solid liberal arts education, I think we should build an actual serious police education.


    1. Gary, I certainly would NOT disagree with that seeing how well you make this point. So we could, in effect, create both undergraduate and graduate programs that within the context of policing that do as you suggest. I just know deep-down that if we paid attention to the education of our police as much as we do in other “professional” fields we might be far ahead of the game today. I still remain hopeful that police can be the Constitutional/Human Relations Officers that of which we dream… Thanks for this reply!


  2. I agreed with Gary. America has all this education and yet, it seems that our police leaders don’t take advantage of it to improve themselves or their officers. Despite the fact, that many police officers officers are graduates of the FBI Academy and possess college degrees in law enforcement, they still have a high school mindset about the world and this country and/or a limited knowledge of their own profession. Heck, many officers don’t know the history of their own department or how some departments like Contra Costa Sheriff Department or Los Angles Police Department were a major political, social, and economic force in the communities that they serve..

    I believe that Singapore and Hong Kong sent even their lowest ranking officers to other countries to learn from their organizations such as white collar fraud etc; however, even those officers can or have learn about other countries cultural, political, social, and economic perspectives. If you go to the Singapore Police website, several of their high ranking officers have taken advantage of what their departments have to offer and because of it, became high ranking officials in other agencies in their government and they also have been seconded to other Singapore government agencies to learn about how they operate so at least, the Singapore cops are not wearing horse blinders when it comes to thinking about their own department..

    When I was reading about the RCMP during its first 100 years, I was amazed how their leaders in the late 19th and 20tth century had were thinking long term about improving their police force and learning from their experience like how to deal with organized crime during the American Prohibition era and determine to make their force an impartial one and free of political interference which can not be said for the American police departments.


  3. I talk to Gary Cordner on his website regarding the police and their dealing with the population. One problem I pointed out was that at the police academy is that the recruits are trained to give orders, not take lip from someone and take control of the situation. They are not trained to listen to someone nor do not want to hear about the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

    In addition, many of the cops come from the military where they are high ranking NCOs or officers and the enlisted personnel can’t argue with them; otherwise, they would be charge with disrespect and insubordination and the officers and NCOs think that they are above the military law. That kind of attitude carry over into civilian life when they became police officers and they expect the civilian population to jump to attention when they speak.


  4. One additional variable to consider is if we want highly educated, bright, mature candidates then we need to pay accordingly. If you consider starting wage for some police departments in this country is still $10 an hour, how are we ever going to improve the quality of police officers? Departments that pay well can attract and retain candidates that we need in our profession. Also, police budgets must be part of this discussion. I’ve seen community policing funding from the federal and state level dry up. Federal and state money for training, equipment and personnel today revolved around homeland security; a direction set by our elected officials…..


    1. California has some of the best paid police forces; however, it didn’t guarantee that the officers got along with the communities that they serve even though those officers were high quality people The LAPD under Chief Parker was a good example. It kind of like giving CEOs high pay and benefits but they didn’t do anything good for their companies.

      Some officers will just tell you that they join up for the money when applying for some of the best paid departments and really don’t care about anything else and still manage to stay on the force until they retired..


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