Why Is This So Difficult?

images-2The problem with policing in America is more than getting rid of a few “bad apples.”

In fact, with over 600,000 police in our nation, the number of bad actors is really quite small. Day in and day out, most cops do a good job. But some don’t. And even small number of bad decisions dramatically skews the impression many people have of their police.

When I talk, write, or teach about the ways in which police can and should improve someone inevitably asks, “Weren’t you an officer? Why are you being so mean to police?” This question, of course, completely misses the point. My efforts to improve police is because I did serve many years as an officer. Policing always was a noble calling for me and came to know the greater good in which police are capable.

Let’s get this straight. My goal is to share what I learned about leading police, how to improve the systems in which they work, and the ways to repair lost trust. It comes from knowledge I accrued over three decades of my life and then, after being on the outside for two more decades, what I learned from this new perspective which more clearly sees both inside and outside the police organization — the “big picture.” This is what I write, research, and teach about today.

The big picture is how police can effectively, lawfully, and morally function in a free, democratic, and constitutional society while being closely connected with and committed to those whom they serve..

My focus is not on bad cops — its on bad systems and practices that do not meet the professional police standards that I believe citizens can and should expect.

Either because some police chiefs do not understand, or fail to see the Big Picture, they hunker down, defend, resist and attack the messenger when things go wrong rather than objectively look at a trust-eroding incident from that of the community.

I see this happen all too often across the country and it highlights the first obstacle to police improvement that I described in my book, Arrested Development — “anti-intellectualism;” the failure of police to see and consider the Big Picture; that all work is a system; that data is important in making decisions; and that citizens be considered “customers,” listened to and their needs met [especially with regard to the uses of force]. That is precisely what community-oriented policing is.

For example, when things go wrong, some police leaders rush to defend their officers, improperly influence the investigation, and delay the results somehow hoping the incident will be overlooked and forgotten. They do this instead of identifying that, yes, this is a problem and I will fix it.

Why not say “this is how we have trained and directed our officers, but I now see this is a problem and we will make changes so that this will not happen again. You have my word on this. We can do better and we will.”

This approach does not mean the past was a mistake, but rather we, the police, have have learned more and gotten smarter.

Is this so difficult? Isn’t that what leaders do? They fix things in order to improve what their organization’s do.

Just this past week, Art Acevedo, the chief of police in Austin, Texas did just that. When he saw a video of one of his officers manhandling a young women during a traffic stop he took immediate action. He knew what he saw was wrong. He didn’t wait for a lengthy investigation, he didn’t defend bad policing.

Instead, he condemned the officer’s actions, called the officer’s comments on the video “disturbing” and opened a criminal investigation.

While the traffic stop happened in June 2015, it was not made public until local news media recently published the video.

The chief  said that the woman did not file a complaint and that he did not know about the incident until this week. He said his subordinates should have alerted him to this incident and the video when it happened.

Actions such as these by a police leader can go a long way toward rebuilding trust in the community. There is ample time to defend the overwhelming number of proper encounters between police and community members.

It’s when the system [or individual officers] need correction that leaders must stand up, be bold, and protect community members. No longer can police chiefs defend their officers at the expense of citizens. They must remember they serve the entire community, not just their police officers.

And, yes, that’s a tough lesson for a police chief to learn. But learn they must.







  1. The support, the deceptions and lies trickle from the top down and are passed down as ways to act by our politician when trouble hits the fan.

    The word investigation today means absolutely nothing when it comes to the S.I.U.

    I hear your concerns; Pressure comes to make you question your beliefs/experiences and to make you conform.

    That seems to be the low road decission we the tax payers wind up saddled with these days as the rules and laws make getting away with all kinds of things at the top easier today.


  2. This example isn’t the best one since the video was withheld for a year and we can’t be certain the police chief would have been as inclined to address the problem if it hadn’t been exposed; however your point is good.

    I don’t remember ever seeing you talk on national TV

    However there have been dozens of times when David Clarke has been on TV including his appearance at the RNC. Lots of police that think like him get featured over and over again while those that advocate the best reform rarely get any time. They do have some better police than David Clarke but they don’t seem to be the best available.

    Until the police chief of Pittsburgh was on the DNC it was rare that he or the police chief of Richmond Ca. got any time at all and when they did it was outrage over them holding a sign indicating they were open to reform. The police chief in Richmond has been there for a while along with a progressive mayor, who recently returned to the council due to term limits; and even though they still have high murder rates it has plunged a lot since their reforms which clearly seem to be working.

    The chief from Pittsburgh hasn’t been there nearly as long so it may be to early to know if his reform is working; but I noticed he came from Madison Wisc. which is near Milwaukee, Clarke’s territory with three times the average murder rates and no sign of improvement; but Madison has had much lower murder rates than average.

    Also your reports about Police Bullying and Hazing leading to escalating violence get no national media attention; yet they could go a long way to reduce violence for both police and civilians.

    Part of the answer to your question is incredibly bad media coverage. Also addressing social problems like education and child abuse long before it becomes necessary to call the police when violence escalates will also do much more to protect both police and civilians including black lives which often get the least resources including education and employment opportunities due to lack of political power not that they don’t deserve it.

    I am curious though with Clarke so close and your views so different I would be interested to hear more of what you think of his rhetoric. A search of your blog came up blank.


    1. I thought I had a lot about bullying in the police academy and what police need to do. Sheriff Clarke is 70 miles away but he might as well be on the moon with his remarks on policing. He is a black man that serves a very segregated city and county. I am proud to have hired and hopefully developed Chief McLay. Times are tough. A lot of work needs to be done. Thanks for you comments!


      1. You did write about Bullying & Hazing which I’ve cited several times but the mainstream media never mentions it which is what I meant. If they did then the public would know more about what needs to be done.

        Until we have major media reform enabling diverse voices the best solutions will remain in alternative media and only help those who seek it out.


    2. We have a local incident involving force used to arrest a teenaged girl of color. Much like Austin. Yet it has been a month and we have yet to hear of the decision from the DA (with regard to law violations) and Chief (regarding policy and training violations. It won’t go away and in the meantime a number of citizens (white and black) have filed a request to the Federal DOJ regarding violations of civil rights. EVERY incident of questionable merit affects EVERY police officer in EVERY city. So let’s get on with reducing these force events through de-escalation, and even backing off if it means saving a life. And that will be difficult, but not impossible to achieve. And if police do not…?


  3. This just seems so basic, doesn’t it? That this would be considered NOT the way to do things is the sad thing here.


  4. @Zack Taylor You are right about the media coverage of leaders like Sheriff Clarke and I’d add former Chicago Commissioner Garry McCarthy and San Francisco Chief Greg Suhr, who refused to address real systemic problems in their agencies, until things blew up in their faces. Chief Couper is right. This shouldn’t be so hard. It simply takes a real commitment to the values of the law enforcement profession. We have to acknowledge the very real, ingrained resistance to transparency and accountability. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the cities with well-run, transparent, and accountable police departments are also the places with less crime an better quality of life.
    If any of you are interested, I am also trying to be a voice for improved policing here: https://squarecopinaroundworld.wordpress.com/

    Hope it’s okay to post my link, Chief. I just think we need to get more voices on board for real change. Thanks!


  5. The mainstream media by and large have been used to support the police before and after the demise of the Fairness Doctrine Act. When did media moguls like William Hearst, Harrison Gray Otis, Rupert Murdoch, and lesser media moguls like Daniel Quayle’s family ever supported comprehensive police reform, demand an impartial police force to fight white collar, corporate crime, etc. The answer is no.


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