Seeking a New Direction (Once Again)
“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” — William Wilberforce
I use “blue” in the title of this blog to mean both police and sadness. A manifesto is a public declaration of values, principles, aims and views. I write this to help clarify a major problem within our nation’s police; a mis-direction, and a way to fix this and move to a higher level of policing.
I must begin by presenting three questions for which you must demand answers from your police and then be willing to collaborate with them in finding acceptable answers.
1) What do you see as your primary functions in a free and democratic society such as ours?
2) How can we work together so you can achieve your primary functions?
3) How will we know that you are effectively achieving them and acting on our behalf?
The media, both social and institutional, have illustrated many acts of police that both many police officers and citizens deem improper, excessive or illegal. How can this impropriety and, often, illegality be prevented? Most all of these questionable behaviors are a result of the misuse of either authority or degree of force. Yes, force is messy and difficult to evaluate. Therefore, it is wiser to work to prevent these abuses than deal with them after the fact as to whether they were justified or not.
Both prosecutors and police chiefs are often reluctant to charge police with crimes or policy violations in these situations. They both argue that policing is a difficult and dangerous job in which those who are not police officers are not competent to judge.
Nevertheless, police have extreme power in our society to use force to control, restrain, arrest, and incarcerate citizens through threat or use of physical force. Because we are dealing with a person’s liberty, police authority needs to have public and transparent controls, Abuse of this authority can result not only in loss of personal freedom, but also injury or death to a person.
Unfortunately federal law under the USSC decision in Graham v. Connor, does not provide adequate protection to citizens when confronting potential police violence as long as a police officer can articulate personal fear. Police must find ways and methods to respond to dangerous persons they confront without using deadly force. A recommendation made also by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) which consists of leading police chiefs in our nation. This is not a radical recommendation.
Back to the three questions. First of all, what are the functions of police? What do we want our police to do and how do we want them to behave? Given the tremendous authority of police, we must demand that only the best citizens among us be chosen and trained to function as our police officers. That simply makes sense when we consider the authority police have. This means recruiting and training men and women who are emotionally controlled, stable, have a broad college education, and a commitment to public service. They must then be highly trained, closely supervised, and have the heart and ability to work with other people and cultures (that’s Community-Oriented Policing). Along the way they must acquire a firm understanding of, and ability to model, the founding and constitutional values of our society.
Implicit in this is that these men and women would be professionally remunerated for their preparation, their education, experience and ability, to perform the duties we require of them. Like physicians, they should be committed to “do no harm” and to “service above self.”
This answer to the first question moves into the second: How can police best accomplish these important duties? Not only must they have the preparation identified in question one, they must also be able to effectively and legally carry out to the public’s will. These are constitutional and humanitarian duties which involve actions often far beyond merely enforcing the law. Years ago, the American Bar Association’s (ABA), in their “Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function,” (1979) articulated those duties which are as relevant today as they were then.
Here’s some examples:
To ensure that the police are responsive to all the special needs for police services in a democratic society, it is necessary to:
- Identify clearly the principal objectives and responsibilities of police and establish priorities between the several and sometimes conflicting objectives;
- Gain the understanding and support of the community; and
- Provide adequate means for continually evaluating the effectiveness of police services.
Further, it is important that all persons who have the power of arrest have a working knowledge of the PERF Guidelines in 2016 (see above), Robert Peel’s “Nine Principles of Policing” (1829), and the American presidential commission reports on policing in 1967 and 2015,
If today’s police would sit down and read the recommendations of these national commissions and task forces, I believe they would be compelled to adjust their behavior that would change the direction of policing. After all, the above consists of a collective wisdom of community leaders, academics, and police officers regarding the policing of a free society.
Here are some examples from those efforts:
- The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.
- The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.
- The police should use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to achieve police objectives; and police should use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective (“Nine Principles of Policing,” Robert Peel).
- In each police precinct in a minority-group neighborhood there should be a citizens’ advisory committee that meets regularly with police officials to work out solutions to problems of conflict between the police and the community. It is crucial that the committees be broadly representative of the community as a whole, including those elements who are critical or aggrieved.
- Basic police functions, especially in large and medium sized urban departments, should be divided among three kinds of officers, here termed the “community service officer,” the “police officer,” and the “police agent.”
- The ultimate aim of all police departments should be that all personnel with general enforcement powers have baccalaureate degrees. Police departments should take immediate steps to establish a minimum requirement of a baccalaureate degree for all supervisory and executive positions (President’s Commission on Policing).
- Ensure proper use of police authority;
- Improve the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health, and public health systems of which the police are an important part;
- Provide adequate means for continually evaluating the effectiveness of police services. (“Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function,* American Bar Association).
- Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian mindset to build public trust and legitimacy. Toward that end, police and sheriffs’ departments should adopt procedural justice as the guiding principle for internal and external policies and practices to guide their interactions with the citizens they serve.
- Use of physical control equipment and techniques against vulnerable populations—including children, elderly persons, pregnant women, people with physical and mental disabilities, limited English proficiency, and others—can undermine public trust and should be used as a last resort. Law enforcement agencies should carefully consider and review their policies towards these populations and adopt policies if none are in place.
- Law enforcement agencies should track the level of trust in police by their communities just as they measure changes in crime. Annual community surveys, ideally standardized across jurisdictions and with accepted sampling protocols, can measure how policing in that community affects public trust (President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing).
- The sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does.
- Adopt de-escalation as formal agency policy.
- Duty to intervene: Officers need to prevent other officers from using excessive force. (“30 Guiding Principles,” PERF).
The answer to the second question squarely lies in leadership of both elected governmental officials and the chief of police in operationally carrying out the above duties. It is not just the chief of police who has responsibility for carrying out these functions, but also elected officials and citizens who must provide a public voice that carries beyond the police station.
The third question addresses data and measurement. You say you have a good police department? How do you know? How will all citizens know police are acting on their behalf? And when that is not happening, what can aggrieved citizens do about it? This involves feedback from those persons who have actually experienced a police contact, even a physical arrest.
It is vital that the community as well as police officers know to what extent police are trusted and supported as well as areas in which both police need to improve. Questions would include whether or not Procedural Justice was practiced in each police encounter. Were citizens given a voice? Were procedures explained to them? Were they treated fairly and respectfully? Were officers helpful? Research tells us that when governmental authority figures practice Procedural Justice citizens are more cooperative, supportive, and participative in the life of the community. They become better citizens.
This manifesto is not new thought but rather a collective wisdom from the ages. The idea that leaders are to be servants to those whom they are privileged to lead is not a new idea. The best leaders always take responsibility for the growth and development of the men and women who look to them for leadership. I first came aware of it during my days in the marines. In the field, where things mattered, officers ate last. This left an indelible mark on those of us in the ranks — our leaders cared for us. When we were back on base (where things didn’t matter as much), officers ate first.
Years ago, I was influenced by the writings of Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. When I published my leadership workbook, one of his quotes was on the first page:
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
This is teamwork and giving credit where it is due! The wisdom of Lao Tzu, has survived time and culture, five centuries before the time of Jesus who also taught and practiced it with his followers. The idea of servant leadership was brought into American business and industry by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s and continues to this day as an decent alternative to coercion.
With regard to using force to compel or comply, Lao Tzu counseled:
- People who treat the body politic as gently as their own body would be worthy to govern the commonwealth.
- To act, and not lay claim. To lead, and not to rule. This is mysterious power.
- Everyone knows that the yielding overcomes the stiff, and the soft overcomes the hard. Yet no one applies this knowledge.
What this manifesto argues for is a new direction for police. A complete police leadership course on these ideas.
Thankfully, I can report that many of these “new direction” police already exist in our nation’s police agencies. But they are too often silenced by naysayers and overlooked in advancement. Leaders could quickly cure this by modeling the new direction and rewarding those who follow them. These followers could then be nourished and promoted as they invite their colleagues into a new and better way of policing.
“New direction police” are those who strive to learn, to be better, and to continuously improve. They see themselves as defenders of our Constitution and protectors of those most vulnerable in our society. They act through kindness, patience, compassion, and are models of a kind and more peaceful society. As I have argued in the past, they are “social workers with guns” and not “soldiers of occupation.”
These new direction police are emotionally mature and controlled especially when it comes to using force to accomplish their duties. As to the techniques of policing, they are highly trained and competent — experts in what they do. They have no qualms about working with citizens, asking questions, listening, and working with citizens and other non-police agencies to achieve community goals.
As for their leaders, they are all of the above plus they are teachers committed to the growth of others. They believe in teamwork, problem-solving and collaboration with citizens. They are open, visible, and accountable. They have a heart for others.
This is the kind of police a free democratic society needs in order for everyone to thrive. Police matter. They should remind us of who we want to be, not who we avoid. Moving to this direction will not happen as a nationally, it will begin in the hearts and minds of individual police officers who believe in the message of this manifesto as a way forward and are willing to align their hearts and practices to make this happen – one officer at a time.
For both their sake and ours, may our police have the courage to do this. We are at a crossroad and choices need to be made.