Can We Agree On This?

images-4One of the objectives of the Midwest Conference on 21st Century Policing at the University of Wisconsin at Platteville was to get community activists and police together and conversing in the same room.

We were hoping there would be a collective understanding of the kind of police officer that is needed today. After all, what better time than today for a young man or woman to come into  policing! These are exciting times.

I have tried to illustrate in my teaching on on this blog what this officer looks like:

  • College-educated, well-trained, able to regulate his or her emotions and be controlled the use of force, honest, procedurally just (obeys the law, unconditionally respects others), and willing and able to work with community members on problems they identify.

However, this kind of police officer needs a leader who is not a drill instructor, but rather  a coach and model who helps these officers be successful in the community they police.

If we can agree on what both the police and community need, then we can talk about the direction we must go.

The fall conference stressed the recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing that are applicable to local police agencies. (I distilled them down to what I call “The Top 14.”

In Platteville, I outlined a way for both police and community leaders to begin this way forward:


  1. Conduct a brutally honest audit of how your organization is meeting or not meeting the Task Force recommendations.
  2. Involve and get input from rank and file officers.
  3. Assess how your “citizen-customers” rank your services: randomly sample persons arrested, those who are complainants, witnesses, and those who run supportive services like ERs and detox centers and work with the mentally ill in your community.
  4. Share what you have found out with elected officials and community leaders. Pay particular attention to the black community and its leaders both civic and religious. Act on what you learn.
  5. Improve the areas that need attention. If resources are needed contact those who can help you.
  6. Continuously improve all that you do and have on-going data on citizen satisfaction levels and share them with the community.


  1. Review the Task Force recommendations that apply to your police department.
  2. Seek to meet with the chief of police and ask him or her to conduct an thorough internal audit and share the results with you.
  3. Sit down with the chief and elected and community leaders and be willing to praise the police for areas in which they are doing well and offer help in areas they may be falling short or struggling.
  4. Be willing to work with the police and others in meeting and exceeding the recommendations of the Task Force.
  5. Encourage the police to have or gather data to support what they found out in their internal audit and current community attitudes regarding police and their services.
  6. Continue to work together.

The use of deadly force by police continues to be an area in which much conversation is needed between police and the communities they serve. The “objective reasonableness” standard for use of deadly force gleaned from the USSC decision, Graham v. Connor is simply no longer acceptable to many community leaders.

Instead, police need to review both internal attitude of officers and their training and develop a higher standard with regard to using deadly force. In Europe, for example, the standard is “absolute necessity” for police to use deadly force and they strongly encourage active de-escalation, conflict management, and even alternative ways to use a firearm (two styles of shooting in some countries: center-mass to kill and shooting at an assailant’s legs to disable).

Police must continue to encourage the development and use of new less-than-deadly-force technologies such as the Japanese Net Gun to restrain individuals in stand-offs who have a blunt or edged weapon. There are also a number of projectile weapons already on the market that are not designed to kill but to disable a subject.

  • Always remember, the future will be better if we all work together.


  1. “The ‘objective reasonableness’ standard for use of deadly force gleaned from the USSC decision, Graham v. Connor is simply no longer acceptable to many community leaders.”

    This is one example of why police leaders get frustrated with some activists. They’re not satisfied with constitutional policing, yet offer no realistic alternative. There are some who believe force is excessive simply because the subject was injured or killed, without any analysis of the incident’s facts, and it’s difficult to have reasonable discussions with that mindset.


    1. Maybe that’s not what you are hearing, but in my world I am hearing a very loud request for police to tone down their use of deadly force. Is that not right, Ashley? And can we not meet that discussion with open minds and hearts and take a deep inquiry into how we are using deadly force — especially in these stand-offs with suspects with blunt or edged weapons. Isn’t there room for movement here? Isn’t that what the de-escalation conversation is all about? Am I missing something?


  2. I have a fair amount of experience facilitating workshops between police and diverse urban communities, so I understand the importance of maintaining open minds and hearts. I fully acknowledge there’s always room for improvement in how we deliver service to our communities, including how we use force. I’m an advocate of waiting out a person in mental health crisis who isn’t posing a threat to anyone else. After all, I work in the Third Circuit, where pre-seizure conduct is part of the use of force analysis. There’s accountability if a cop causes a confrontation and then has to use force to resolve the situation. However, I have little patience with those activists who demand change despite being willfully blind to constitutional standards or operational realities.
    And being loud often has little to do with being right.


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