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.



  1. I guess the lack of concerns by those Chiefs of Police and their silence or involvement in some of these serious issues facing North America might be the real red flag that we have all missed and it might be pointing to the real resistance to change we are all asking for and are facing.

    Exposing a genuine concern, or a heart to do things the right way, is probably a much bigger issue that what we all thought it was.

    How things were handled in my case reveals a pattern of police work no one seems to care to look at. To my amazement and surprise, even 34 years later, all efforts seemed to have been directed in keeping the assailant’s identity a secret and making absolutely sure it was profitable to everyone involved, even to the local mob and their outside interest, rather than to help clear the victims was more an issue for the politicians and police forces that to uphold justice and fulfilling their oaths.

    What we need in both countries is departments to make sure this stops and as most political departments experience a department not made up of retired RCMP members placed there to protect the force but a department with power to actually be able to do something.

    First of all if we were to see such a departments created we would certainly see all those others we spend and waist money go the way of the dinosaurs. But this time don’t even dig up the bones.


  2. We would add the word “alone” to your statement, “… outside efforts cannot and will not improve police.”

    Consult Hardesty interprets ‘community-based policing’ to have – at its core – a key reform element of broader public influence. Portland, Oregon has all the features you above describe: a police community relations committee, a fifteen-year history of consultants reporting to City Council, and a DoJ Settlement Agreement to resolve illegal use of force. In all of these spheres of influence, police and civilian managers (the latter, actual defendants in the DoJ plea deal) are entirely too self-referential.

    The Bureau determines who sits on the relations committee, training advisory council, etc. Prior to release of their report, police control who is to be notified of round-table discussion of consultants’ recommendations. In many ways police and local authority cultivate an insular environment. (Promoting a replacement Chief from within the ranks of a bureau deemed defective comes to mind.) We contend these long-term institutions have failed to change conduct (racism, failure to adhere to training and policy on de-escalation) because leadership is far too attuned to their own “high regard for what police must be and do in our society.”

    We have long promoted structural alliances with community resources. Calling upon local chapters of training and organizational development professional associations, to take a vital, training advisory role seems a no-brainer. We find disconnect between your goal of trust building and blanket assertion that outside influence upon police culture is unwarranted: we call for direct participation by community members in the design and roll-out of training. Should the citizen volunteers who so participate be drawn from populations of those long denied justice, should their influence be seen to take effect; we aver the community will see police responsiveness as indicators that community trust should be extended: policing has become responsive to societal expectations.

    “Policing needs men and women of passion throughout the ranks who are committed to, and have a heart for, the difficult road ahead …” We aver that culture change becomes more likely when new recruits are assessed for reform tendencies, and then empowered with whistle-blower authority over the Old Boy network. We then offer a decades-long contract extended to the same individual, for delivery of pre-hire, psych evals and screening. The contract is perpetually re-extended by the Chief, with no contest for bid. Two recruits who brought cases against superior officers were very publicly hounded from the force.

    We are heartened by the prospect that reform is on the table, and that others consider what stymies police culture from adhering to their constitutional oath. We don’t expect culture change to be an example of ‘physician, heal thyself.’ We expect reform to come from broader cultural influence and interplay. We see as the challenge a police subculture too strongly attached to command and control decision-making. We assert dictatorial roles have not worked (our Training Unit is actually employed to contradict a Chief’s order of officer termination for cause).

    We assert there is a trust gap WITHIN police culture: that they now need to devolve authority to citizen-based oversight.

    By relying on the consent of the governed, the role of trusted public servant will be returned. What will it take for police managers to build trust in such ‘external’ leadership? Performance of cops’ public service is actually embedded in a mutually held social compact. Are The People, generally, to be feared, when in possession of direct means to provide guidance, assess for implementation and impart discipline when at variance?


    1. Well said and good examples of how reform can go awry. Truly, men and women of integrity on both sides of the police line are desperately needed. The future is now and what we do with now will greatly matter in the years ahead. Thanks for this reminder!


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