What I Wrote To the 21st Century Policing Task Force


Comm. Ramsey, Pres. Obama, and Prof. Laurie Robinson
Comm. Ramsey, Pres. Obama, and Prof. Laurie Robinson

TO: Co-chairs Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Professor Laurie Robinson and 

Members of the President’s Policing Task Force

Date: January 8, 2015

Subject: Recommendations for Improving our Nation’s Police

Some Background

I entered policing 50 years ago. Some of us believed that this was the dawn of a new era of policing. We had the report on police from a presidential commission, then the findings of the Kerner Commission, and the work of the American Bar Association on policing standards. It was an era of criminal justice research. Surely, a new day was ahead for a cop on the beat like me.

I worked at night as a cop in Minneapolis and when the sun came up, I studied at the university. I was on the street the night Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. I went on to graduate school and was selected to be the chief in Burnsville, Minn. I was 30 years old. We tried new things in Burnsville: required a 4-year college degree (today Burnsville continues that standard, held by only one percent of our nation’s police departments), wore non-military (blazer) uniforms, and assigned police to area, rather than time of day responsibility — “turf, not time.”

Four years later, I was chosen to lead the police in Madison, Wisc. I was there for over 20 years and learned a lot about organizational transformation, assuring diversity in the ranks, and handling public protest.

After my retirement, I attended seminary and was ordained into the Episcopal Church. My pastoral work focused on forgiveness, restorative justice, and leadership. Nevertheless, I have still kept up my interest (some say “passion”) for the improvement of our nation’s police. Along that line, I have written news articles and op-eds, given talks, published another book, and, for the past three years, maintained a very active weblog called “Improving Police” on WordPress. Currently there are over 300 posts on police and their improvement.

Looking back on a long career, I feel ready to make the following recommendations. The first four recommendations I have discussed and written about in Arrested Development. My last recommendation is new and will be controversial — yet it must be done.


We are at a crossroad in America following the tragic events in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, and others. As a nation, we have a choice. We can choose whether or not to take the path most travelled which is to maintain the status quo and hope for the best. Or we can take the opportunity presented to us to choose the more difficult path which is to act; to act on a path that has the potential to restore trust and support of our nation’s police. What is at stake here is having police in our nation who are mistrusted and not supported. This cannot be tolerated because the effectiveness of our nation’s police is directly dependent upon the trust and support they receive from those whom they serve.

We must realize these two maxims:

  • Technology, including body cameras, will not save us. It will not improve police work, nor restore the trust that has been lost.
  • What will save us is good, educated, and well-trained men and women who have leaders who are committed to modern, collaborative leadership and who have within them the noble vision of police in our society: guardians of our values and way of life, problem-solvers, and protectors of those who cannot care for themselves…

Having said that, these men and women must be thoroughly trained in effective police tactics in an adult learning environment. In that environment, the values stated above must be strongly identified and reinforced not only in their training but throughout their career. They must be thoroughly trained in effective police tactics within an adult learning environment – no more boot camps, no more stress training that is not related specifically to the demands of the job. In that training environment, the values of our society and the principles of our Constitution and Bill of Rights must be strongly addressed and imprinted. Our police must be among the best of our citizens and they need to be financially compensated accordingly.

Furthermore, police in a free society are to be guardians of our republic, not warriors. The present trend toward militarization must be turned around. Image matters.

My specific recommendations:

  1. TOP LEADERSHIP. The number one issue to we face today is the lack of top leadership development within our nation’s police. Too often, police departments are run by those who know little about human nature, psychology, or what we have recently learned about leadership. Top leaders must be people who are learned! For example, I would add my “12 Principles of Quality Leadership” to the LPO program now being offered by the IACP as the way forward. I said this in the 1980s about top leadership in How to Rate Your Local Police: 

“The police chief should be a visible and accessible leader who thoughtfully strives to improve the effectiveness of police services. The leadership ability of the chief is the single most important ingredient in a good police agency… Improvements can be made only if the person at the top is willing to challenge the status quo, take risks, be innovative, and build a coalition of support for change. Improvements are not automatic with a committed police chief, but they are impossible with one.”

Years later, I again emphasized the importance of top leadership in Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police (2012).

  • Recommendation: Police must be led by highly educated and developed men and women that are committed to a leadership style that is collaborative and avoids coercion and disrespect.
  1. DIVERSITY. Diversity alone will not solve the trust problem. It will take smart, formally educated, well-trained police who are also diverse in gender, race, national origin, and sexual orientation to have a truly representative police.
  • Recommendation: Police personnel must be as diverse as those they serve.
  1. COMMUNITY-ORIENTED POLICING. Community-oriented policing necessitates active engagement, presence, and dialogue with the community. Over the years, the term “community policing” seems to have replaced the more descriptive and original term “community-oriented policing.” As a reminder, this post of mine captures what it is and what it is not. Delivering community-oriented services means community members will be listened to, treated with respect, and seen as partners in controlling crime, neighborhood disorder, and solving police-related problems.
  • Recommendation: The original ideas and concept of community-oriented policing must rise above all other methods of delivering police services. It can no longer be an optional way of delivering police services. It must be the primary method of service delivery by our nation’s police.
  1. LABOR RELATIONS. For over three decades the Madison Police Department and, for the last decade, the Boise Police Department have had their police union president sit on their management team. In both organizations they experienced a significant reduction in time-consuming, costly, and contentious formal grievances. This is beneficial for everyone and builds internal trust.
  • Recommendation: Police chiefs should appoint the head of their bargaining or representative police organization to their management team.
  1. REPAIRING BROKEN TRUST. Police officers and their leaders must realize and understand that there are historic and contemporary reasons why they are viewed by significant numbers of people in our society, especially people of color, as untrustworthy. The repair of trust that has been broken will take a long time, perhaps decades, but the move toward reparative acts needs to begin now. I make this argument in a recent weblog: “The Case For Apology.”
  • Recommendation: Police must apologize for the past and work to seek forgiveness for their past behavior.

Good luck and Godspeed in your work.


[Sent via email as a PDF on the above date to: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services; Attn: Jennifer.rosenberger@cops.usdoj.gov and PolicingTaskForce@usdoj.gov.]


  1. I totally agree with you on your two maxims and your specific recommendations for gaining trust back. Have you ever thought about writing an article specifically on trusting your local police force and maybe what steps could be taken by community members themselves to have greater trust in the police force?


    1. I have a lot of that info in my book at http://creatspace.com/5019451 “Arrested Development: A veteran police chief sounds off about protest, racism, corruption and the seven steps necessary to improve our nation’s police.” I am also re-issuing at book I first wrote in 1983: “How To Rate Your Local Police: A User’s Manual.” They should help, Isaac!


  2. This is from a Madison, Wisc. police officer:

    “Thank you for sharing your comments from this morning. These are indeed challenging times for many communities, but not as challenging for those communities who started preparing for today’s challenges decades ago.

    “Over the years, when given the opportunity to tell our story here in Madison, I always look back on the 1984 “Committee on the Future of the MPD” you created, how that group was created, and the report they ultimately produced looking out into the year 2000 as to what might be the challenges confronting the MPD and the Madison community once that day arrived. In their report, the “Committee on the Future of the Department” identified three main themes in which MPD leadership should align any future improvement strategies:

    1. Get closer to the people we serve.
    2. Make better use of technology.
    3. Improve the health and wellness of our organization,(e.g., leadership, morale, physically,
    mentally, etc.).

    “These three themes, I would argue, are as relevant today as they were in 1984. As I read over your blog this morning, and the challenges confronting many communities and their police departments this morning, rather than react to the crisis of the day… looking well out into the future… and
    preparing for that future.”

    My note: I have a post on this kind of future and “out of the box” thinking at: https://improvingpolice.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/thinking-outside-the-blue-box/


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