I wrote the following op-ed in the Minneapolis Tribune in 1967 when I served as a police officer in Minneapolis.
At the time I was also a student at the University of Minnesota and was the president of our local chapter of Lambda Alpha Epsilon*, a national law enforcement fraternity (now the American Criminal Justice Association).
The day the article appeared, I was told by my captain that I was in trouble and would soon be called to the chief’s office. The call never came because of an out-pouring of support from the academic community of which, as a graduate student, I was a member.
The time I wrote this op-ed was a time of trouble and turmoil between police and people of color in the city I policed. Not much has changed. This also was the era of urban violence and a national movement for civil rights.
The sentence that got me into hot water was this: “Look, analyze, and decide whether the system needs immediate revision. Try to imagine what ‘excellent law enforcement’ is and whether you are getting it!” I would say the same thing today…
A year later, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder (called the “Kerner Commission” after its chairperson, Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner) issued its stunning report in which they concluded America is becoming a nation of two societies, one white, one black; separate and unequal.
More recently, “The Kerner Commission Plus Four Decades” revisited the work of the 1968 commission and concluded:
“The significance of race has not been eliminated. Gaps in educational attainment, income and wealth holding are persistent and substantial. Many of them are attributable, in part, to Jim Crow practices in the past and the lingering effects of racial stereotypes. The educational attainment of children is closely linked to the education of parents. Today’s young blacks come from homes where parents complete fewer years of schooling and earn less than the parent’s of today’s young whites… Economic gaps in the past and at present and the once pervasive pattern of racial residential segregation help to account for current racial differences in educational attainment, income and wealth holdings.
“Has racial discrimination been eliminated? Perhaps not, but it may now occur in a subtle manner, not recognized by the perpetrator or victim. Many whites once held prejudicial views of blacks, seeing them as less intelligent than whites, prone to criminal activity, preferring to live off welfare rather than work, as speaking English poorly and doing a poor job of raising their children…”
POLICE APPEAL TO THE PUBLIC By Dave Couper (Published in the Minneapolis Tribune, 1967)
“As policemen become more educated as a group we are forced to ask, will law enforcement break the bonds of historical inefficiency and ignorance? Currently, a life and death struggle is taking place within the ranks of law enforcement between the new order of professionals and the old order. If the new order fails within the next three years, local law enforcement as a profession will be dead.
“It will be dead within the confines of the ‘old ways’ and with its death the old system of police inefficiency and ignorance will perpetuate another 80 years.
“Knowing this fact, the new order is justly appealing to the public for help. They are asking the public to take a good look at law enforcement; its administrative structure and system, planning and research, academic and technical education, salary structures, and career development and opportunities.
“Look, analyze, and decide whether the system needs immediate revision. Try to imagine what ‘excellent law enforcement’ is and whether you are getting it!”
- In a parallel article the same day, fellow officer and good friend Bill Mavity opined, “There are two statements that describe the need for good police-community programs:
- “The better the rapport existing between the police and the community, the better the police will be able to protect the lives and property of the citizens.
- “Public support is the No. 1 problem of law enforcement today.”
*To finalize and operationalize the “new” LAE, Hugh Owsley was elected National President March 3, 1969… Interim Vice-Presidents were appointed by the Executive Board for the five regions: Region 1, Al Nottingham; Region 2, Ron Rogers; Region 3, Dave Couper; Region 4, Jim Hooker, and Region 5, Jim Merritt.
Great insights, and empathetic instincts. Thank you.
It seems that your underlying assumption is that the public can make an informed judgment about the quality of its policing. I believe that strategy will move professionalism even further from our grasp.
In his work The Soldier and the State, Huntington identified one of the characteristics of a profession as developing and sustaining professional jurisdiction. A hallmark of professionalism is serving the public good, and the public submits to the authority of that profession because it has developed the expertise to effect that selfless service. Most of us do not question the decisions of our physicians. Even if we do, we usually just seek the judgment of another physician.
Policing will evolve from a technical occupation to become a profession when its members choose to do the heavy lifting of establishing professional jurisdiction. Many police texts assert that policing evolved from the political era to the professional era. Policing actually only developed a bureaucratic veneer over the political process. Appealing to the public is appealing to the very political process that inhibits professionalism.
Well said, Mark, thanks for your insight on this. Work to do!
Great article and extremely committed in caring for those you Believed you were hired to Serve & Protect but unfortunately in our society we kind of murder those who will not follow what we are told is the status quo and don’t question that order.
The real class you are called to Serve & Protect are those at the top who want those at the bottom controlled and punished when they themselves created the problem many years ago when they planted the sead of slavery and equality into North America.
It’s a curse on all people, even today, when money is valued highter than a human life.
I read in a book once that the life of a person is found in the blood. You get shot and even the strongest man on earth will become like a rag doll. It kind of loosing pressure in a hydrolic line and everything stops working. It doesn’t care it just stops.
I know I was shot five times and can testify that the rich are still actively disposing of people for gain.
I call it the two-tier system.
Great article I would love to come in and read more about police that risked all to make a difference in someone else’s life.
The day I was called into the Chief’s Office:
In Canada in 1980 there was a magazine from the Quebec called ALLO POLICE. Well the cab drivers saw a blurred picture of a man that had robbed a bank in Montreal a year ago and published what they had. The man was wearing a Captain John Norwegian hat and had a round chin.
They passed the picture to a constable who took it to the chief and said doesn’t this look like the writer of this article, all because of the hat.
The chief who is ignoring Organized Crime at all levels act on this lead to take down one of his officers without looking closely to the blurred picture to see if the contours of the face features even came close as they did not.
The chief moves into action because of a hat:
HE calls the City of Montreal’s police force and tells them He has his guy and he’s now working on a police force in New Brunswick.
Finally, Im called to report to the Chief’s office:
When I get there I’m ushered into the Chief’s Office where two seasoned Metro Montreal detectives introduce themselves and ask me where I was a year ago at a certain time.
Didn’t know how to answer and I didn’t like the ideal of going back to Montreal on what I could see was some serious trouble brewing up from this new town chief.
All that came out of my mouth was, I don’t know was I working that day. The detectives said go check his work schedule and see. The chief called in the secretary and off she went.
The investigation that didn’t happen and the results of the Chief’s accusations that he had their man:
The Secretary returned with the results:
The bank was robbed at approximately 3:10 P.M. that day and I was working from 4-12 and I was there usually 15-30 minutes early and out by 4 doing my job.
They were shocked. Looked at the chief and at me and said; well I guess you couldn’t have robbed the bank and worked at the same time.
The senior detective appologised , not to mention his time and all the cost to fly two detectives down, but the chief did not but continued in his endeavours.
The night I was shot five times the chief was the one who ordered me to work that double shift or I would be fired.
The RCMP Investigation:
The Cover-up & The Conflict of Interest
I was eventually removed from the force. The case was removed from both police forces and the investigators refused to investigate this matter and destroyed all the evidence but with time and pressure from the media for action and answers the chief & Town Manager reigned, the dispatchers were removed and a new chief was hired with the mandate to rid the force of all police officers working when I was brutally shot and the force was closed and disbanded when it looked the best to make the changes.
Why we need change in Police Forces:
My name was never cleared and the case remains unsolved.