[The following proposal is the kind of actions professionals do. While the police field struggles with anti-intellectualism issues, I still have hope that either the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Police Foundation, the Police Executive Research Forum, or some philanthropic organization will take up the following idea and put it into practice.}
As a young police chief taking over the helm of a police department in need of reform, I had the opportunity to have counsel from two leading voices in American criminal justice and policing: Professors Frank Remington and Herman Goldstein. I was also one of the early members of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and a close friend of then-director Gary Hayes. Counsel from outside my department was essential to my success as a police leader for over two decades.
As the years went by, I developed a few close, personal friends with whom I could lament, consult with, and bounce ideas off. These men became my national “kitchen cabinet.”
I also built a local “kitchen cabinet” I could call upon who represented the University, local business interests, and minority interests in my city. Their wisdom and counsel did two things: it helped me with the problem in which I was struggling, and it connected these top community leaders to me and what I was trying to accomplish. We agreed that our local meetings would be confidential. They never broke that pledge.
I believe that a coach/mentor alliance is important for police leaders desiring to move their department’s into the 21st century. More than ever today, police must protect Constitutional rights, be highly-controlled in their use of deadly force, and be able to practice unconditional respect to everyone they encounter. The problem as I remember it is that most police chiefs are too busy “putting out fires” to be able to craft the kind of response their community expects.
This is where the collective wisdom of an alliance of formerly successful and creatgive police chiefs can play a major role as advisor and sounding-board for today’s police leaders. Leaders who wish to improve things and restore the trust that has eroded away from police since the days of Ferguson and the advent of the citizen-reporter-videographer.
I am sure there are a number of former police leaders who have a successful track record in organizational improvement. I believe their collective wisdom can greatly assist the improvement of policing in the coming years. For the most part, these retired leaders would have been engaged in the ideas of continuous improvement, collaborative leadership, and community and problem-oriented policing movements. They would have literally “cut their teeth” on how to effectively move police in positive, community-oriented directions.
While we struggle as to what went wrong as we entered this century, there is a sense among many of us that the community-oriented policing strategy began to unravel after 9/11 when our nation’s police slowly slipped toward increasing militarization of not only their equipment but their thinking.
But now is a new era whether today’s police leaders like it or not. With the widespread appearance of video phones, America has come to see policing in a less-than-trustworthy light. Trust of our nation’s police has significantly been eroded as a result of far too many questionable police shootings and internal cover-up schemes. This is especially felt so among our communities of color. Work needs to be done as the President’s Task Force on 21st Century ounlined last year.
The major problem that must immediately be addressed is the use of deadly force. Following closely is the lack of connective-ness with all people, the need for transparency, accountability, and honesty, the erosion of trust in communities of color, the need for procedural justice, and racial bias.
Truly, this is a big order, but through effective leadership and the implementation of real community-oriented and problem-oriented policing, it is possible for police to significantly improve that which they are sworn to do and regain the trust and support they have lost.
However, to ignore and not act on the collective wisdom that could be available to present-day police leaders would be a tremendous loss of intellectual capital and force today’s police leaders to Try and “reinvent the wheel.”
One of the objectives of this alliance would be to offer coaching and mentoring to police chiefs who are interested in specific organizational improvements – many of which have been recommended by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. These former police leaders would offer their wisdom, experiences and organizational strengths to current police leaders.
With the growth of the Internet today, this kind of coaching and mentoring could easily be accomplished through video conferencing (like Skype) and would not, necessarily involve travel; though that also could be arranged.
Years ago, I used to go throughout the country teaching a course called “Quality Policing: The Madison Experience” that shared the lessons I had learned as a chief. One thing was strongly lacking, there was no follow-up built into the teaching. And that is what can be said about all police training efforts: we teach, they allegedly “learn,” and that’s it.
Following-up and checking in on how the coached person is improving is absolutely vital and necessary to the improvement process and the sustainability of organizational reforms.
Now is the time.