I have been asked from time to time, “If you were a chief again, what would YOU do in response to the current atmosphere surrounding today’s police?”
In replying to this question, I would make sure my officers and I were covering the following twelve important areas of policing:
- LISTEN & CONNECT. I would want to be closely connected with the community I serve – the operative word is CLOSE; close to all community groups and their leaders. I would hold frequent meetings and “check-ins” with them; especially leaders from communities of color. I would give these leaders my personal cell phone number. I would hold events and various (and creative} get-togethers to listen and listen deeply. I would make sure I knew the expectations of my community as to how they wish to be policed — and I would make sure my officers knew this, too — the issues identified, my deep commitment to resolve existing problems, and my strong commitment to bridge the gaps. Further, I would make ample use of social media to get my message to the community and to highlight the good work we do. (Yet remembering, at the same time, a police chief needs time — and that is tenure and support to achieve his/her goals. Improving a police organization, any police organization, at least a ten-year effort!)
- GATHER DATA. I would need to know how my department was doing with regard to community trust by conducting a community survey with the assistance of polling experts. This would be my “baseline” which would enable me to accurately identify how we were doing, how we were improving with regard to building trust and support in the community. As a follow up, periodic surveys would be conducted to assess our effectiveness in building trust and support of those whom we serve. If we don’t measure this, how will we know if that which we do is effective and achieving results?
- COMMUNITY AND PROBLEM-ORIENTED POLICING. I would make sure my department was really doing community-oriented policing; that officers are assigned and responsible for a given piece of “turf,” know the residents in their assigned neighborhood and the residents, in turn, know them by name. I would also add the practice of “Problem-Oriented Policing” (POP) to this mix as the best way to address those problems. For to me, POP is a part and parcel of COP. By far, this is the most effective way of delivering police services and must no longer be a “program,” but what the department does day in and day out.
- THE SANCTITY OF LIFE. I would strongly commit, internally and publicly, to this vital principle (it is the first guideline in the PERF document on police use of force): The sanctity of life is to be the core value of what a police agency does. I would also commit to meeting the other 29 recommendations in this document.
- USE OF FORCE. I would ask the community to support officers who encounter persons with firearms; that we, as a community, will expect armed persons to comply with reasonable police orders. If they do not comply, we will attempt to de-escalate the situation, but if those persons continue to threaten others, they will be stopped with force. At the same time, whenever and wherever possible, our officers will be committed to de-escalate these situations and work towards a non-deadly resolution. (If the community currently believes the department has not met this standard in the past, and after I have reviewed those encounters, I will identify those past uses of force that I believe could have been handled by less-than-deadly measures and pledge to take measures so that they will not happen again.) I will bring together department leaders, defensive tactics instructors, community mental health professionals, educators, and interested members to discuss the use of “less-than-deadly” measures cin situations not involving firearms (knives and clubs). I will also work with mental health professionals in my community to provide on-going training for my officers regarding the best-known methods to de-escalate and contain persons who are experiencing a mental health crisis — and train officers in the proper management of conflict in these situations.
- APOLOGY. I would apologize for past mistakes we have made as well as those mistakes which we have continue to make. With regard to the latter, I would pledge to cease doing them, and hold myself accountable to provide methods of policing which are fair to everyone. I would also commit to work with our educational, economic, and mental health systems for the same fairness and accountability.
- DIVERSITY. I would set specific goals (actual numbers) to improve the diversity of the department with regard to women and other under-represented groups. I would strongly argue we are doing this because diversity in a police agency is a necessary strength – never a weakness.
- CONFLICT MANAGEMENT. I would pledge to improve the department’s ability to de-escalate all kinds of conflict, practice respectful, constitutionally-based policing (Procedural Justice), and implement a rule requiring members of the department to intervene whenever another member is about to act foolishly, contrary to law or department policy.
- NEW LEADERSHIP. I would implement a new leadership style that listens to employees, shares information, collaborates both inside and outside the organization, is respectful, strives to creatively improve work systems, and avoids coercive, top-down decision-making. It is to become “servant leaders.” I would be the model for this New Leadership by “walking my talk” and spending as little time as possible in my office. This New Leadership will also apply to our training academy: recruits will be trained in an academic, adult atmosphere and the academy will no longer be run like a military “boot camp.” The objective of a police academy is to turn out respectful men and women who are trained to work as a team and include members of the community, are good listeners, highly competent in their skill-sets, and committed to building relationships in that community. They are not soldiers; they are to be community workers.
- IMPROVE AND SUSTAIN. The goal of the police department is to continuously improve its work systems. When a work system fails to produce our (or the community’s) desired outcome, we will immediately work to fix and improve it – continuously. Those systems, from patrolling, investigating crime, assuring traffic safety, will be continuously improved, the improvements sustained over the long run, and their effectiveness measured.
- ACADEMIA.I would pledge to develop strong, formal clinical ties between the police department and a local college or university so that we, at all times, have the best evidence-based, and sound policing practices. These relationship will support not only the goals of higher academia, but that of our government as well. I would seek to recruit and hire four-year college graduates and assist those members of the department who have not yet acquired a degree to be able to do so. (An example of the above.)
- ONE CITY/ONE PEOPLE. I would remind the community that we are all in this together. Both police officers and other community members need to know that I, as the chief of police, must represent both of their interests; a chief must wear both of these hats. We must work as one city in making sure we have effective, just, and trustworthy police services. And that in order to achieve this, we all must respect our laws, as well as each other’s rights, as we work to become a safe, livable city for everyone.