Where Is Your Police Chief?




We have witnessed mayors organizing police-community relations committees, city councils seeking outside police consultants, and the Department of Justice imposing court-ordered consent decrees – all of them seemingly to improve their police – and particularly to control their use of deadly force. This will not work.

As a former police chief, and now a concerned citizen, author, teacher, and blogger, I have, perhaps, a different perspective as to what needs to be done.

While these efforts are laudatory, they, unfortunately, will have little or no effect on police and their improvement. Simply said, outside efforts cannot and will not improve police.

Instead, what is needed is passionate, experienced and committed police chiefs who can envision the road ahead and accomplish what the community desires and expects. So we might ask, “Where are these reform chiefs who will lead and improve our police?” It is a very good question, and within it a reasonable expectation – is not the job of a leader to fix and improve things? And fix things continuously and not just haphazardly when people complain?

In the absence of passionate and committed police chiefs, it is understandable that community leaders and elected officials will turn to the world outside the police for help. But, as I warned before, any changes imposed externally will not be sustained. They will, in effect, be futile. That’s a hard truth, but it is a true one.

Today, more than ever, policing needs men and women of passion throughout the ranks who are committed to, and have a heart for, the difficult road ahead — which is to restore lost trust and effectiveness. This has been the historical legacy of change in policing.

  • Passionate, visionary police chiefs, who have seven to ten year contracts, with positive support from the community. This is the way forward to navigate the difficult road ahead.

The way forward for any organization is never easy, never without internal conflict. The above may seem to be a simple prescription to a hard situation, but it is true — outside efforts will never improve police, only police can do this. And the person to lead this effort is the chief.

Those chiefs must have a high regard for what police must be and do in our society. We must expect, even demand, that our police be controlled and proportionate in their use of force, completely honest, and treat everyone they encounter with unconditional respect. And it begins with their leader.

The preservation of human life should be at the heart of everything police do – that is the difference between police who see themselves as guardians rather than warriors.

The first principle on use of force according to a recent report of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) is that a police department should boldly state that the sanctity of human life is at the heart of everything we do.”

The problem of controlling police use of deadly force will not be fixed by body cameras or other technologies. It can only be fixed by strong policy direction, sufficient and realistic training, bold leadership, and, thereby, creating a new attitude and heart within the ranks of our police. This is to be an attitude and heart that honorably guards and preserves lives, manages conflicts, and peacefully de-escalates critical incidents — all this while zealously adhering to our nation’s laws and the Bill of Rights.

imagesIt will take some time to make this happen, maybe a decade or more, but it can be accomplished with high quality leadership from the top, willing guardians in blue, and strong support from community leaders when the going will surely get tough.

When this is accomplished we will have an effective, trusted and supported police who work closely with citizens in more livable cities.