Some More Thoughts About Attitude (Ethos)



Since 9/11, we have descended a slippery slope regarding the value of life: capital punishment, fear of the “other” (terrorist), and the continuing existence of two separate and unequal societies in America (as the Kerner Commission reported in 1968), and inability or unwillingness to merge these two Americas through education, opportunity, jobs and housing.

Police leaders must answer the question Black America is asking: “Will you stop killing us?” As emotionally weighted as that question is, I have continued to counsel, cajole and even berate police leaders for not having the moral fortitude to stand up and answer that question with integrity and action.

The job of police in a democracy is to model fairness and protect those who are most vulnerable among us; to save lives. The use of deadly force should be avoided at all costs by police. Police officers will only be able to do this if their leaders lead and they understand the importance of this from the community as their “peace officers.” Their leaders must  teach and support alternatives to using force and remind them the most effective weapon they possess is their brain.

I am reminded of two stories a good friend of mine and police academic related to me about police in Europe. While in Amsterdam, he viewed an immigrant person waving a knife in a crowd within one of that city’s many public squares. A police officer calmly walked up to the man, firmly took possession of the knife, and said, “Sir, we don’t do things like that around here.”

That’s what needs to happen within our police culture. Discourtesy? Unfairness? Killing? We don’t do that around here. 

The other story has to do with a British police constable  who was questioned whether he wouldn’t give an insulting and unruly suspect a knock on the head if he was sure no one would see him. The man thought a moment, pointed to his badge with “ER” inscribed on it, and said, “No sir, I would not. For it would embarrass the Queen!”

When police engage in misconduct, who is embarrassed?

It may be time for an assessment of the attitudes (the ethos) of our police with regard to people, service, and use of force and if found wanting, move to improve those attitudes.

That’s why this national discussion in which many of us are engaging may not be about what we think. It may have little to do about body cameras, new policies, or better training, it may have everything to do with how our nation’s police understand what we now need them to do.



  1. You made my day with this! What if police went through trainings where they actually do practice these kinds of interventions? Return demonstration kind of things? Of course, that would have to be in context of attitude adjustment, seeing how this makes a difference, seeing that this is a POSITIVE action and not a Wuss action. If you’re dealing with a staff of police that have high percentage of ex-military, there is that whole layer of re-learning also that has to go on. They are brutally trained that certain populations are scum, etc. Their programming puts up a lot of blockades for more humane treatment, esp. if they’ve actually participated in brutal treatment of others including, or not, killing, torture, etc. Have been watching segments of THE WIRE at the strong suggestion of one of my Afr/Am clients; if that’s how being a law enforcement officer is, they have a LONG way to go to see people on the streets as people worthy of respectful treatment; they can’t even treat each other with that kind of respect, it seems. Sounds like being a policeperson is in itself……..brutal. I”m guessing that is precisely what you’re trying to change, along with others representing viewpoints shared at your last conference. BTW, are you opening your next conference to people other than police like last time? I gleaned a great deal from attending and would very much like the opportunity to attend another. >


    1. You got it, Kris. That’s big part of the problem. Yes, the 2nd conference will likewise seek a balance between police and community — we need to get folks back together again and talking! See you on Sept. 23!


  2. I disagree with your assertion that deadly force should be avoided “at all costs.” You hold out European policing as a model we should emulate. In Europe the use of deadly force is used much less frequently than in America, but is not avoided “at all costs.” We should certainly use deadly force only as a last resort and can through leadership, training, and education influence how often we reach that point of last resort.

    Culture is destiny. European cultures are different than American culture. We can reduce the incidence of police use of force, but it is highly unlikely that we will ever approach the levels found in European nations.

    Police leaders must also have the moral courage to examine the possibility of an anti-police bias in America’s minority communities. Bias is not a one way street.

    The incidence of police use of deadly force tends to roughly approximate firearms violence in a given region, and is generally not biased in application. The extent to which members of minority communities are involved in firearms violence influences the extent to which they are killed by police. Reducing firearms violence will help to significantly reduce the incidence of police use of deadly force.


    1. Mark, hear you. But consider this: And I repeat — the primary question (and it is a very loud one) is “Can police reduce the number of unarmed people shot and killed?” I believe we have within the field of policing today the knowledge and experience to tackle this problem (which is caused most often by mentally ill or highly emotionally disturbed people carrying a weapon [not a firearm] and who fail to respond to police commands. I worked on the street in a major city, and I taught police defensive tactics for over a decade. Remember when we used to train the use of a stick in responding to a knife — not a firearm? We need to find, develop, train and lead less-than-deadly force methods in these situations if we are to regain the trust of those whom we serve.


  3. I agree that we should endeavor to reduce the incidence of police use of firearms. That will take considerable effort. In most states more education and training is required for a barber’s license than to be a certified law enforcement officer. All roads lead to the budget, which is the appropriation of public values.


    1. Yes, Mark, as so true — where we put our money is where are values reside. What sustains me is that “the journey of a 1,000 miles begins with the first step. My sense is that the PERF report is that first step.


  4. More education and training is required of teachers than of police officers; however, it is amazing that many teachers get paid far less than police officers plus they don’t get overtime pay considering the fact that teachers put in 60 hours per week and work on Saturdays to prepare for Monday.

    The problem with American cops is that they relied too much on their guns despite the fact that you have police brochures stating that they are looking for candidates who have great communication skills. Another problem with American cops is that they are by and large conservative groups who have no respect let alone tolerance for people who have different political, social, and economic backgrounds considering the fact that many cops come from poor and working backgrounds. They have been brainwashed that conservative values are the only things that stand between America and the end of civilization and can not be educated on how they are being used as a private police force for the wealthy people and corporations since this country was founded.


  5. “Police leaders must also have the moral courage to examine the possibility of an anti-police bias in America’s minority communities. Bias is not a one way street.”

    Mark, police need to look at their own bias on why they should have good pay, good medical and retirement benefits and union representative; however, they feel that the rest of the American population are not entitled to those things. In addition, the police leaders must have the moral courage to investigate white collar, corporate crime and tell the wealthy people and corporations that they will no longer become their private police force to keep the rest of the population under control. The next police conference must need to address those matters. They are way overdue.


  6. One more thing, Mark. Police need to look at their own bias about government since they are government employees; however, they hate government since they are conservatives and it makes you wonder why if they hate government so much, why did they take a government job in the first place.


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