“What’s Happening to Police?”

UnknownI have been asked this question repeatedly since Ferguson.

Before Ferguson, most folks weren’t too interested in police and what they were doing. For the most part, prior to Ferguson, folks gave police a pass.

Now those days are over and questions abound.

Generally, this is how I see it with a career perspective of over three decades and an outsider’s view during the past 20 years.

Just keep these two things in mind: there are 17,000 police agencies and over half a million police in our country and NO national policing standards. The closest we’ve come over the last half-century is a couple of national task forces (1967 & 2015) and some work from the American Bar Association the 1980s.

In my view, this is how I see things today.

Try to understand it this way: think of police as being in one of three general stages – pre-adolescent, adolescent, and mature/professional; entire organizations may be like that, too…

I. Pre-adolescent Stage

  • Education: High school or less.
  • Selection: Minimal requirements; little life experience.
  • Training: Little or no formal pre-service training
  • Values: Externalized, articulated but not practiced.
  • Diversity: Grudgingly accepted with some resistance.
  • Leadership: Follows the existing subculture and past precedents.
  • Service delivery: When citizens call/apart from community.
  • Transparency: Only what is lawfully required.

II. Adolescent Stage

  • Education: High school, some college.
  • Selection: Above minimum standards.
  • Training: Academy training meets state requirements; but values are overlooked.
  • Values: Can be articulated but practice does not reinforce them.
  • Diversity: Accepted but not highly regarded.
  • Leadership: Mission statement is known but the subculture still dominates practices.
  • Service delivery: When citizens call plus some problem-solving with the community.
  • Transparency: Some openness, but generally closed to public inquiry.

III. Mature/Professional Stage

  • Education: 4-year college degree or better.
  • Selection: High standards; very competitive and seeks candidates with broad life experiences.
  • Training: Far exceeds state requirements.
  • Values: Internalized; it’s what they do and how they do it.
  • Diversity: Highly valued; necessary to their mission.
  • Leadership: Exceeds and improves the subculture; leads officers to continuously improve, respect others, seek personal growth, and to guard and protect human life.
  • Service delivery: Collaborative community-oriented policing is predominate service delivery method plus major use of problem-oriented policing.
  • Transparency: Is actively open and initiates community inquiries and oversight.

The job of a police chief is to lead his or her officers into a higher stage and eventually to the stage of Mature/Professional.

Top leadership is not easy. It takes time, persistence, passion and commitment. Leaders must walk their talk and model the characteristics of the mature/professional at all times and in all places.

UnknownIf we want mature/professional police in our society to be the norm it will take not only the leadership of top police executives, but also those of concerned community members who support them in setting higher educational standards, attracting and selecting the “best and the brightest” applicants with a strong commitment to organizational diversity, developing and funding a police academy that is of sufficient length to imprint the values of the organization and those of policing a democracy, and developing a cadre of leaders who “walk” the values of a just and merciful society.

The next time you see police doing something you question, especially some of the highly questionable actions that citizens have videotaped, you may want to think about what stage the officer(s) is at: pre-adolescent or adolescent because professional/mature police officers tend not to make those kind of mistakes!

1 Comment

  1. Those are individual characteristics. I believe part of the problem we confront is a failure to focus on organizations and their leadership. It’s always easy to throw a cop under the bus. When in the last few years have we heard a Police Chief stand in front of the cameras and say, “I am the Police Chief and I am responsible for everything that happens or does not happen in this Department.” The Police Chief who says that should be followed by the Mayor and/or City Manager, and every City Council member and each of them should shoulder that same responsibility.


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