Slow Learning in a Fast Age

Do you want to know what drives me to distraction in the field of policing? It’s our seemingly inability to learn, to progress, to improve.

This observationimages was one of the bases of my book in 2012, Arrested Development, where I argued that the field of policing had to overcome four obstacles in order to progress:

  • An attitude of anti-intellectualism in which new ideas and research were suspect,
  • The over-use of force to accomplish our mission,
  • Corrupt practices ranging from stealing to false reports and testimony, and
  • Disrespect/discourtesy toward those who we serve especially towards those who are poor or are of color.
This morning I received a tweet from the COPS office altering me to their interim report just released since the President’s Task Force on 21st Policing released their recommendations last year.

My initial feeling was “Is this the best we can do?” I felt this because I was under-whelmed by the number of police and sheriff’s departments that have implemented and championed recommendations made by a very intelligent, broad and well-informed national Task Force.

Even in my state, Wisconsin, after we had hosted through the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, one of the first (if not the first) conference on implementing the recommendations of the Task Force. Our conference brought together both police and citizen leaders and a second conference is scheduled for September 16th in Platteville. [However, one positive Wisconsin offshoot was noted in their report. The new police chief in Beloit, Wisc., David Zibolski, who attended our fall conference, changed the department’s promotional process “so that each candidate for sergeant must now write an essay on how any of the task force pillars could be implemented within the agency.”]

Yes, I know that I am impatient. I also have a deep heart for policing and its great potential to help bring about a free, diverse, more equal and democratic society. Police matter. Police count when they work toward reinforcing these values.
So why can’t we do better? Why haven’t more police agencies in America proudly adopted these important recommendations that will restore trust and support of our police? After all, let’s face it — American policing is in a crisis today and the Task Force has presented a WAY FORWARD — a way out of the crisis — but it seems only a few police leaders are buying in.
Now the COPS office has not contacted me, but let me be so bold as to suggest a way forward; a new program for them:
  • How about funding a number of regional centers, that is, model police departments, agencies that are implementing the Task Force Pillars so other leaders can find and experience 21st century policing? The centers can be places where police leadership teams could visit and the model department could “show and tell” what they learned, the problems they had encountered, etc., so that the visiting teams could go home and put these needed recommendations into practice?
The problem now is one that has always been there — not only WHAT police should do [the recommendations in the TF report], but HOW to do it [based on the experiences of others]. These regional centers would be able to provide information on both.
If we are using a “trickle-down” approach to police reform, it won’t work. Just spreading ideas around will not give them the roots they need to grow and sustain — thus police will remain “arrested” in their development.
As difficult as it is for me to read this report — given that I expected a stronger outcome from the field — it was still necessary. We all needed to know where we are after one year. Now let’s get going!
Maybe I’m wrong in my observations and opinions. So, take a look at the report. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.


  1. One has to wonder if we are simply expecting too much from our police agencies David, after all we can’t escape the fundamental truth that any police agency, like local government itself, is a mere reflection of the community it serves. At the National level we need to ask ourselves if society as a whole is improving or further deteriorating. We have room to complain in the case of the former but with the latter I believe we need to think more deeply.

    Consider this, is it true that “in most youthful circles, to be ‘bad,’ to be a ‘bad ass,’ (as discussed by Jack Katz in his 1988 book ‘Seductions of Crime’) or otherwise overtly to embrace symbols of deviance is regarded as a good thing?” Today I would maintain that this label is actively sought after by those in our urban ghettos, even by those who inhabit our suburban streets and schools.

    If this is, in fact, the case; what then should be the appropriate police response to the “badass?” How would any street wise cop respond to this question? And, does this explain why the President’s task force recommendations may be falling on deaf ears?


    1. I don’t mean to simplify matters but with regard to the “bad ass” who encounters a police officer, I merely ask, “Who’s going to act like an adult?” Police are a community’s reflection which also brings to mind the adage, “You get the kind of police you deserve.” Hate to be so negative but I truly had expected more from the COPS one-year report on Task Force recommendations. But then I am still impatient after being engaged here for a half-century. I simply expected more. Thanks for the input!


  2. It’s no longer fashionable to act like an adult. It’s more important to impress our peers, as another author points out in the book “The Collapse of Parenting.” Kids and young adults today seek the approval of their friends much more so than any adult and this is most easily acquired through deviant behavior. There is a high prize in this world (the alternate reality of the badass) for confronting the police, as in the case of the young man in Ferguson. There is simply no incentive left to act like an adult so this must fall to the police who have a duty to do so.

    I believe the problem arises when the police seek to be the tougher “badass;” the bigger ass, as my wife would say, because they don’t see any alternative to saving face. Perhaps we can find clues to alternative strategies great cops can use to combat the ‘whachulookinat’ challenge to their authority. A way to respond that is smart, respectful and adult that may raise the level of discourse and, build trust. Can we find that in the Presidents task force report? If so, can we extract it and get it out there to the cops who desperately need it?

    Don’t loose patience yet my friend, you built a foundation for this in Madison and I think we can find some powerful clues there.


    1. Thanks for this discourse, Pat. I am led to think about conflict management techniques (verbal judo?) and a heck of a lot of maturity for police who work in challenging neighborhoods. What can we learn from seasoned cops who can and do this effectively — that is, be seen as fair and, yes, even unflappable in the face of “street challenge?” Perhaps there’s a dissertation here? We have both worked with those kind of cops and, at our best day, been one!


  3. Here is some bad news from Louisiana passing a new law that gives the police officers even more protection: .

    This new law will give the police more incentive not to reform themselves.

    Regards to being a bad ass, this cultural aspect has seems to accelerate starting in the 1970s up today with the Nixon’s war on drugs where every judge, sheriff, police chief, and district attorney trying to outdo each other in proving who was the biggest bad ass when it came to holding onto their jobs.

    In addition, American business people during the 1980s thanks to Ronald Reagan’s deregulation of the economy, were trying to outdo each other in terms of busting up unions, sending job overseas, etc., so they could get bigger bonuses, stock options, and prove that they the biggest, badest asses. This extended to the politicians trying to prove that they can create jobs by giving tax breaks and/or tax subsidies while busting up unions but all they have done is wreck their communities.

    The military is the worst of when it comes to the bad ass culture ever since General Patton came into existence and many of the military people carry that attitude into the civilian world as a business person, politician, and even as a police officer


  4. The older adults for the last 36 years have also seems to spend more of their times trying to impress their peers, their friends, and their bosses. Many of them never really grew up mentally and still act like a bunch of spoiled brats.


  5. Gunther:

    I recommend you spend some time scanning the articles that appear in this periodical.

    Parameters is the professional publication of the U. S. Army War College. Very few institutions invest as much in professional development and innovative thinking as does America’s military. If you peruse the archives you will find that many articles are written by civilians. For as long as I can remember reading Parameters (over 35 years) there have always been articles very critical of past, current, or proposed doctrine and practices. Some of those articles were written by civilians and some by serving members.

    America’s military is an exemplar of diversity. In no other institution are people of color and women as common in leadership. That has been accomplished through a laser focus on competence, because in the military competence is a moral imperative.

    American policing suffers not because it is para-military, or as some believe becoming militarized, but because it is nothing like America’s military.


    1. Policing suffers because it has no “Parameters.” I have urged the IACP magazine to stop being a trade magazine and start publishing professional, academic article on policing — even our best known practices. We have a creeping malady in policing and I call it “anti-intellectualism and it is literally killing us!


      1. And I will echo Mark’s comments about race and diversity. LIke it or not, our military is the forerunner on being an example of a post-racial world. It’s the best we’ve got and I bet Mark’s experience is similar to mine — as a young white kid from Minnesota, when I joined the Marines I was literally impressed in this world. In boot camp, I was a minority — an experience I have never forgotten.


  6. Mr. Bowman, I recommend you watch 2012 movie The Invisible War which talks about the widespread, systematic rape of both military male and female personnel and how they were treated by the military chain of command: Furthermore, the rape victims are being denied benefits because they dare to speak out: This wide pattern of systematic rape has probably been going for who knows how many years because you have veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam coming out and talking about how they were raped and they kept silence for years.

    Yes, the American military has made tremendous strides in diversity; however, it took a lot of time and effort by individuals and organizations within and outside the military to make it that way considering the resistance they had to deal with from the military and political leaders. There is still a strong element of kicking butts and taking names in the military and belonging to certain units that pride themselves on being bad asses. You can’t climb to the top or belong to those units without being ruthless and leaving dead bodies.

    Many people particularly minorities still believe that the American police are like an occupying army for many, many years even though 50 years police were only armed with shotguns and six-shooters. Here is a story about the kids in a Los Angeles school district about demanding that their school police get rid of their military weapons and they succeed in doing so:

    If you recall the demonstrations in Anaheim, California, the scene in that area looked like it was about to become a battlefield the way the police were dressed up and had armor and air support to back them up. There was a police sniper in Ferguson, Missouri actually aiming his gun at the demonstrators when


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