Another Police Leader “Gets It!”

images-4[A recent op-ed in the Baltimore Sun by Doug Ward, a retired Major from the Maryland State Police. He is the director of Public Safety Leadership at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Ward especially gets it when it comes to defining the role of leadership in these times. It is highlighted below.]

“There is a major fracture developing in American policing. Reaction to an array of very public incidents, many on video, have polarized many in law enforcement. On one side: officers who feel underappreciated, falsely accused and demoralized over accusations of racism, brutality and even murder. On the other side: those who recognize the systemic adverse impact of criminal justice policies on the poor and powerless.

“Both factions are struggling with what to do about the current state of public discourse, how to move forward and how to have a meaningful conversation without being shouted down by the opposition.

“It’s difficult to see a solution when the issue is so charged…

“Until cell phone cameras and police dash cameras, many people had never seen real police work, especially violent confrontations. Sometimes police work is a nasty, sweaty, smelly, roll-around-in-the-gutter business — and legitimately so. The law allows police to employ the force necessary to make an arrest. That is not always pretty. Now that a number of very troubling and questionable actions by police officers have gone viral, the public square is abuzz with discourse that is becoming more polarized, louder and angrier. Angry people often can’t hear views unlike their own. Those blaming the police should realize that most officers uphold the law and Constitution and perform their duties in a fair and impartial manner. Where the police act outside of the law, they should be held accountable.

“The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing — a who’s who of experts, including law enforcement leaders, academics, community organization members, civil rights advocates and others — came together to produce over 30 recommendations to improve police-community relations and trust.

“Two of them are particularly relevant now:

     • Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian mindset to build public    trust and legitimacy. Toward that end, police and sheriffs’ departments should adopt procedural justice as the guiding principle for internal and external policies and practices to guide their interactions with the citizens they serve.

     • Law enforcement agencies should acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination and how it is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust.

“Perhaps all of us should take a deep breath, start concentrating on areas where we agree, and start to do something positive to change things. The polarization, although great for making headlines, does little to get things done and serves to promote anger and defensiveness, both obstacles to productive dialogue. Most police officers start their careers to help people. Most police and community residents agree they want to live peacefully, hold a decent job, raise their children and be hopeful for the future.

“Police chiefs and sheriffs serve one predominant purpose: leadership. They need to take a stand for justice, fairness, trust and legitimacy, confront injustices of the past and clear a path to a better future. Everyone should take a hard look at race in our society and how it influences our systems and examine poverty, powerlessness and hopelessness. All should listen without judging, make needed reforms and move forward together (my emphasis).

“…Let’s find common ground, foster the debate in a reasonable tone, provide a hopeful picture of the future and work toward justice reform, eliminating institutional racism, supporting our police and providing safe communities in which all can thrive.”


 Ward’s email address is His full op-ed can be found HERE.


  1. I agree that procedural justice as embodied in our nation’s founding principles should be the core purpose of any police organization. I was not particularly impressed with the outcome of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. I found the recommendations to be rather timid. Some lip service was paid to the notion that procedural justice within police organizations was important. The recommendation made was that members have input into policy formulation.

    Until members of police organizations believe they are treated fairly it will be nearly impossible to instill procedural justice as a core operational principle. Video trumps audio. The four areas that need to be addressed are pay and benefits, assignments, promotions, and accountability processes. My research in a large southern police department found that officers perceive these processes and outcomes to have low levels of procedural and distributive justice.

    Until police leaders lead in achieving justice for all, we will not be able to police justly. This will be difficult because no mayor or city manager hires a police chief to hear that it will cost a considerable sum of money to treat police officers fairly. If we expect a great deal from our police then we should be willing to pay a great deal for policing. Great achievements require great sacrifice and we cannot persist in asking only a few to sacrifice.


    1. Very well said, Mark. I have some considerable personal experience on this when, mid-career, I decided that I needed to change the way i was leading the police department. I had to make the first change (those principles of quality leadership were the bedrock). I had to start getting down into the organization and listen, form an elected officer’s advisory council (and the first elected members were there to “hold my feet to the fire”.) It was difficult and then I had to hold first line supervisors and managers to it as well — it caused problems in my long-term relationships with many of them (my book tries to capture that in “the boat story”). When we who were privileged to lead started seeing our jobs as coaches and facilitators committed to the growth of our employees I can say that MAGIC happened. We always had good pay and that can cause a big problems in PDs where officers fueled under-valued because of their pay. But now is the time to move forward. I hoped it would happen in the 60s with the President’s Commission Report… but it didn’t and now I will stay the course, agitate, write, talk, and try to convince both police and citizens (and especially those of color) that police can do better… much, much better.


  2. There was nothing about them dealing with corporate, white collar crime by corporations and wealthy people. Until that happens, people will not care about what the police officer no more than what the police officer cares about poor people, workers, mentally ill persons, minorities, and people of different religious, political, social, and economic backgrounds.


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