Critic in the Ranks: When I Got Ordered into the Chief’s Office

UnknownI 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:
  1. “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.
  2. “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.