What will policing look like in Trump’s America?

unknown“I am worried, very worried. I am worried we will forsake our quest for social, economic and racial fairness and that hateful behavior will increase and harm those among us who may somehow be seen as ‘different.’ Most of all, I am worried that our police will be used to normalize this behavior.”

Progress under Obama may be lost as White House transitions to out-of-touch administration

[My recent article in USA Today.]

I am worried about the future of people of color in America, especially when it comes to policing.

No, I didn’t vote for President-elect Donald Trump. But that fact no longer matters. What does matter is whether the incoming administration sees the need for improvements in the way law enforcement and our justice system treat and view black and brown people.

By all indications, it does not.

Trump’s campaign promises and Twitter posts show a lack of understanding about the influence that racism, implicit bias and poor training can have on cops when making decisions on our streets, judges when handing down sentences in our courtrooms and guards when interacting with criminals in our prison system.

Trump bragged about being the “law and order” candidate who would end the chaos on America’s streets. He suggested bringing back “stop and frisk” — a policy that has been proven not to work and to be applied with bias — as a means of getting criminals off the streets. He has reportedly retweeted white supremacists known for pushing anti-Black Lives Matter messages.

And it doesn’t appear that he’s given any thought to police use of deadly force. Officers fatally shot nearly 1,000 people last year, according to a Washington Post database. Civilian deaths at the hands of police are on pace to be even higher this year, according to statistics from TheGuardian‘s The Counted project.


Attorney general pick puts progress at risk

Trump’s choice of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to head the Department of Justice is even more troubling.

The Alabama senator was turned down for a federal judgeship 30 years ago because the Senate Judiciary Committee deemed him too racist to hold the job. During his tenure as a U.S. attorney in Alabama, he was accused of calling an African American man who worked in his office a “boy” and making inappropriate jokes about the Ku Klux Klan.

Has Sessions suddenly become more civil rights oriented than he was in the past? Will he reconsider his position against federal consent decrees to force states to abide by our Constitution?

If ever a president wanted to turn back the clock on progress made through the Obama administration’s Department of Justice investigations, Sessions would be the pick to do it. Obama isn’t the first to take a close look at police brutality. President George H. W. Bush investigated the Los Angeles Police Department after the brutal 1991 beating of motorist Rodney King. The brutality was caught on video and broadcast around the world — the first time modern technology was used to expose police brutality on such a broad scale.

That incident showed the nation a lot it wasn’t prepared to deal with: That racism, especially among those in power, was far from over. And that our courts were far from prepared to dole out justice. The police officers involved in that case were acquitted, and riots broke out on the streets of L.A.

Bush said of the verdict that “civil rights leaders with whom I met were stunned. And so was I, and so was Barbara, and so were my kids.”

As much as the King trial and investigation shined a light on the racism that plagued one police department in 1990s America, Obama administration investigations have revealed that these problems aren’t isolated. And that patterns of racial bias and systemic discrimination permeate the actions of police officers and police chiefs and shape law enforcement tactics in multiple departments across the nation. These problems, as President Obama has repeatedly stated, are nothing new.

The task of the next administration will be to build on what has been painstakingly revealed. Officials must ensure that investigations continue and that decrees already handed down to departments in Ferguson, New Orleans, Newark, N.J., and Baltimore are implemented. Results of the Justice Department investigation of the Milwaukee Police Department are set to be released in January.

Can out-of-touch president follow through on Obama legacy?

If Trump, who billed himself as the candidate of the people who understood the needs of the middle class and the struggling, is like most multi-millionaires, he’s likely had little lifetime contact with the poor. Based on the way he referred to immigrants, African Americans and Mexicans during his campaign, I’m guessing he’s also had little lifetime contact with people of color. Those two communities are the most frequently over-policed.

Where’s Trump’s plan for ending that kind of police behavior? How is Sessions qualified to oversee the implementation of the local, state and federal changes required to root out the worst kinds of police biases and discrimination?

I love and believe in this country. I am a veteran, former police chief and a receiver of the benefits of this great nation. America has worked very well for me and my family. But for far too many other families, America has not worked so well. Many of us who call ourselves white, college-educated, upper middle-class, liberals have missed the mark. Too many of our fellow citizens have been left behind and are not so free. They aren’t free enough to pursue the great American Dream and hope for a better and more abundant life for their children.

Yes, I am worried, very worried. I am worried we will forsake our quest for social, economic and racial fairness and that hateful behavior will increase and harm those among us who may somehow be seen as “different.” Most of all, I am worried that our police will be used to normalize this behavior.

I was born just before World War II. I grew up watching terrible, fascist-like behaviors and mob rule take over Germany. All my life, I have mulled over this question: How could the Holocaust have happened in such a cultured, intellectual country?

I married into an immigrant family and have two adopted children of color. I am worried for them and worried for those who now serve in the ranks of our police.

Police are meant to protect and ensure our fundamental democratic values. Leadership matters.


  1. I share your feelings and feel we will have numerous riots in the next four years. I just can’t understand how so many people and the Church was duped by him.

    John in Stoughton, formerly a Madison resident while you were Chief

    On Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 4:03 AM, Improving Police wrote:

    > improvingpolice posted: ” “I am worried, very worried. I am worried we > will forsake our quest for social, economic and racial fairness and that > hateful behavior will increase and harm those among us who may somehow be > seen as ‘different.’ Most of all, I am worried that our pol” >


    1. Thanks, John. I try to be a hopeful person and will expect our democratic institutions to give checks and balance. I also hope that somehow the office makes these new cabinet secretaries and that Sen. Sessions will demonstrate he is no longer what many thought he was two decades ago. Happy New Year!


  2. I wholeheartedly agree David and am not optimistic about the future. I agree that leadership, or the lack thereof is the problem. True leadership is seldom rewarded in public service, particularly policing. Here is an excerpt from a piece I penned a while back.
    “The need for strengthening police relationships with the communities they serve is critical today in the Nation’s large cities and many small cities and towns as well. … minority groups are taking action to acquire rights and services which have been historically denied them. As the most visible representative of the society from which these groups are demanding fair treatment and equal opportunity, law enforcement agencies are faced with an unprecedented situation on the street which require that they develop policies and practices governing their actions when dealing with minority groups and other citizens.”
    The aforementioned could easily have been part of a news release announcing the redoubling of community policing efforts and increasing transparency in the wake of the Freddie Gray case and others. However, the quote comes from the “Task Force Report: The Police,” published by the task force on police from the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice — in 1967.
    Since then, we have seen, team policing, neighborhood oriented policing, problem oriented policing, community policing, data driven policing and the list goes on, yet we are currently faced with the same basic problems of 50 years ago. Why?
    The why is an absence in true leadership in policing, leadership that has a grasp of the big picture beyond crime rates and arrest data, beyond policing even, recognizing societal problems that lead to crime and public order problems. Hell, they don’t even seem to understand the police subculture and how it drives what goes on in their own agencies.
    Keep up the good work David, gentle pressure relentlessly applied.


  3. My question is what progress under Obama? I first became aware of the vast extent of police brutality with the murder of Kelly Thomas by Ramos, Cichinelli, and four other Fullerton CA police officers in 2011, shortly after I moved back out here.
    Like most middle/upper class white people I’ve never really had any serious problems with police officers, and was totally unaware of how vast police brutality was, until Mr. Thomas, who was also white and the son of a former Sheriff’s deputy. Since, I’ve discovered that by going to youtube and googling “police brutality” there are thousands of videos. Now even watching movies/tv shows I used to enjoy police brutality leaps out.
    Under Obama the murder and brutality of unarmed and innocent people, mostly black and latin hasn’t decreased as far as I can see, due to increased militarization, it may have increased. How to stop it? I don’t have a clue, short of disbanding all police departments and starting over, and that would probably lead to new problems.


    1. Disbanding probably will never happen. Continuous pressure on improvement, setting standards, recruiting the “best and brightest,” and training them according to our national values (Bill of Rights) will go a long way. All in all, policing is a noble profession which requires noble men and women. Thanks and a Happy New Year!


  4. There is certainly good reason to place the blame for current problems in policing on the lack of quality leadership, leadership at all levels in policing. Much of the unnecessary and excessive uses of force we have been witness to in recent years could have been prevented with good leadership, supervision and training. But we should not lose sight of the fact that “the community” has been responsible as well. As long as it was out if sight “good citizens” condoned it. In middle and upper class neighborhoods the predominant feeling was that police should keep them, whoever the current them might be, out of their neighborhood and they really did not care how it was done.


    1. Reading your comment, I tend to agree, as the saying goes merde flows downhill :), and it is true that where there are brutal or corrupt cops you usually find brutal and corrupt leadership. Allegedly when Frank Serpico was offered cash to look the other way, and refused it he was, he was a danger to his fellow police officers, no longer one of us but instead one of them. When he testified against them, well here’s what Serpico says:

      Even now, I do not know for certain why I was left trapped in that door by my fellow police officers. But the Narcotics division was rotten to the core, with many guys taking money from the very drug dealers they were supposed to bust. I had refused to take bribes and had testified against my fellow officers. Police make up a peculiar subculture in society. More often than not they have their own moral code of behavior, an “us against them” attitude, enforced by a Blue Wall of Silence. It’s their version of the Mafia’s omerta. Speak out, and you’re no longer “one of us.” You’re one of “them.” And as James Fyfe, a nationally recognized expert on the use of force, wrote in his 1993 book about this issue, Above The Law, officers who break the code sometimes won’t be helped in emergency situations, as I wasn’t.

      Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/the-police-are-still-out-of-control-112160.html#ixzz4UZvNFtg8
      Follow us: @politico on Twitter | Politico on Facebook

      In tthe movie the Lawman Burt Lancaster’s character a marshal says:

      I’m a lawman. Do you know what a lawman is, Crowe? He’s a killer of men. That’s what the job calls for. There are new ways to put it, but it reads the same. That’s the difference between us, and it’s all the difference I need.

      In my opinion far too many of our police still believe that and act on it when they can. Yes we need better leadership. But even more we need to get rid of corrupt and brutal cops. First by using whatever means possible to keep them out, and failing that get them out as soon as discovered. We also need to get rid of leadership that covers up corruption and brutality to “protect the department.” Unfortunately the brutal and corrupt among us are drawn to police work, and many more who aren’t, who join with the best intentions, become brutal and/or corrupt through fear, or weakness.

      After Mr. Thompson was murdered by 6 cops in Fullerton, the chief at the time went on vacation rather than deal with it, he finally was forced to retire by the uproar. The man who then took over as chief allegedly had complemented the 6 for the great job they did. Also allegedly in the locker room when they got back to the station 3 blocks from the crime scene they and other officers were laughting and joking about it. And they were reported to have been told by superiors to watch the video and then rewrite their reports. The “leaders” were trying to protect the department. Nobody would ever have known what really happened if witnesses hadn’t video’d it and it hadn’t been on the news.


      1. Seeing oneself as a “killer of men” certainly drives a certain kind of behavior — while seeing oneself as the guardian/protector of those who are vulnerable in our communities another. And that’s where leadership should kick in. Leaders need to identify the right values and be visible practitioners — that is, the walk their talk!


  5. Thanks Chief, great article! Indeed, we hope democracy will prevail and protect all of us (not just some of us). We are doing our part by educating Chief’s and trainers to bring our Racial Intelligence program into their departments. If we improve officer wellness, department morale will increase, and community trust will follow.

    No matter Trump says or does while in office, our police stand to serve and protect, AND to do the right thing. Ethics, integrity, and empathy for others will always stand stronger than any policy.
    Thanks again!


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