Time to Stand-Down?

“The problem today is less about policy and training and more about attitude… How we think and feel is reflected in our behavior. Attitude is at the heart and soul of how a police officer acts.”

[Editor’s Note: Today is a special day — “Improving Police” has just published its 1,000 post since beginning this weblog in October, 2011 just before the publication of Arrested Development.

Since that time this site has been viewed over 436,000 times and has more than 2,500 followers. I want to thank all of you who follow this blog and those of you who have engaged me over the years.

I titled this site, “Improving Police” because that is the vision and goal of what my working life has been aimed at. I spent over 30 years as a cop and now as a pastor, university teacher, and “blogger.” For me, policing has always been a noble endeavor and  calling.

While times may be tough now, we will emerge out of it with a renewed vision. It was back in the late 60s that things were also tough — the War, Civil Rights, cops being shot. But from that emerged a visionary commitment to do policing that is “community oriented.” A cause which still prevails today.

Don’t despair. Press on!

As a heartfelt thank you for your continuing support over the years, you may download a free a copy of “How to Rate Your Local Police” HERE.

Here’s today’s post — it’s about ATTITUDE:

As a practitioner and observer of police for the last half century, I have seen this trend and it is quite present in the discussion police are having today about warriors and guardians and the work of Dave Grossman running around the country teaching cops how to “warrior-up.”

In my early days, the struggle was whether cops needed college degrees and better relations with minority communities as the President’s Commission recommended in 1967. Those were the days before the Los Angeles Riots, the growth of SWAT, and the North Hollywood bank robbery. As a young street cop, I saw the struggle was about education and community relationships. At the time, our nation’s leaders, both police and civic, thought college educated cops was a great idea. Why? Because policing a democracy growing in diversity such as ours was difficult and needed smart people who knew how to work with other people to do it.

When we have smart, educated cops they start thinking about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how it might be done better. It’s the scientific research method and how problems get solved. I wanted to be one of those cops and so I went back to the university and it forever changed my life and how I viewed the role of police in our country. It wasn’t the criminal justice courses I took, it was what I learned about history, anthropology, psychology, sociology and, yes, art and music.

Today that there is another war looming over policing. It is no longer about crime or equipment or militarization, but about a war for the heart and soul of policing. This “enemy” says to police, you don’t need to have a good education to be a cop, you just need to be a good tactician and weapons handler. You don’t need to guard and think about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, others will do that. You don’t have to respect people who don’t respect you because your safety matters above all, even above those whom you have sworn to protect. It’s a jungle out there and it’s them against us!

The problem today is less about policy and training and more about attitude (and, of course, leadership plays a major role here). Attitude counts because it is the way we think or feel about people and things. How we think and feel is reflected in our behavior. Attitude is at the heart and soul of how a police officer acts. Coach Lou Holtz always told his players, Ability is what you’re capable of doing, motivation determines what you do, and attitude determines how well you do it.

I am encouraged by the work of Michael Nila and Blue Courage. It is a training program which “inspires police to embody the noblest of character and unquestioned devotion; to flourish in all aspects of life, to act with practical wisdom, to exude vitality, and to hearten human connections” – in short, it’s about attitude.

What needs to happen today after Ferguson is a “stand down” in policing. Stand-downs are used concerning employee safety matters and after critical events like airplane crashes. Historically, a stand-down is a call to relax from being too long on alert. American policing has been, for too many years, in such a posture. We need a stand-down.

A national stand-down could encourage police examine their role in society, who they are, where they are going today, and how best to get there. In the past, crises in policing were often followed by a defensive “hunkering-down,” waiting for the crisis to pass so police can get back to business again. A stand-down would also give police a time to assess officer safety issues – tactically as well as operationally, regarding use of seat belts, wearing body armor, and curtailing excessive vehicle speeds to reduce police highway deaths.

I suggest that for police to “get back to business again” would be a terrible mistake without a national review. The recent election has raised up a U.S. Attorney General who thinks that federal oversight of cities with a pattern of civil rights abuses is harming police morale rather than improving their practices. His attitude seems to be “let’s get back to business” without fixing what got us here in the first place. That would be a mistake.

The proper policing of a free society is a difficult and complex business and, at the same time, a noble practice and requires the very best from those who are called to it. In the past, I have outlined what is required of such a person and from those who are likewise called to be their leaders and now, more recently, we have engaged a national task force to outline the necessary requirements. Their recommendations are in keeping with the very best practices of policing from community policing to improving officer health and safety.

In short, this national discussion needs to continue in every town and city around the question of who should be our police, how do we prepare, train and lead them, and what is it we want them to do.

Our nation today needs diverse and dedicated men and women to be their police. Men and women who are mature, well-educated and trained, able to de-escalate conflict and, if necessary, to use proper and controlled physical force. They must also be highly-accountable to those whom they serve, respectful in their encounters, guardian of our Constitutional rights, and willing to work closely and collaboratively with citizens.

If we persist toward this noble end, we will endure:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. ― Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933).

Press on! — And let’s keep talking.



  1. “You don’t need to guard and think about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, others will do that.”

    Historically speaking, too many cops didn’t care about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights except when they need them when they got into trouble. And they certainly get ticked off when you have individuals and organizations like the ACLU guarding and thinking about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and have the audacity to confront the police about why those two documents need to be safeguarded.


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