I have written about the importance of apology (and its sought-for state of forgiveness) over 10 times on this site. I invite you to search this work for other ways in which I have identified the importance of making an honest and believable apology.
We all know the importance of making an apology and have certainly used it in the past to preserve our most intimate relationships. We all make mistakes. None of us (or the organizations in which we work are perfect and without error.
My position is that apology is just as important organizationally as personally. The problem is that organizations, especially powerful ones, are not often know for their ability to apologize and then, necessarily, take action to prevent future mistakes or errors.
I was pleased this week to hear Commissioner James O’Neil of the NYPD to apologize for a questionable action his department took in deciding to raid a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, in 1969, way before he became a member of the NYPD. So, too did Kevin Murphy in 2013 when he was chief of the Montgomery, Alabama PD, for his department’s treatment of Congressman John Lewis when he was a civl rights worker in the 1960s — before Murphy was even born!
In 2016, Chief Terry Cunningham, the president of the International Chiefs of Police, made an apology “for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”
Perhaps it is easier to apologize for the distant past, but I maintain that to deny a transgression or let it seethe below the surface is not the way to maintain a relationship.
Let’s put it this way, a world-class police agency apologizes when it makes an organizational mistake and then fixes the problem so that it does not occur again. And all of this done in a most transparent and communicative way with the community it serves. That’s how a democratic police agency functions in a free society.
My friend, John Odom, a black educator, warned me that apology “cannot be hollow or feckless. It cannot be disingenuous. And (it) must signal a philosophical and operational pivot from the current status quo. … The black community has to be convinced to accept apologies in a spirit of trust, and police must prove themselves to be trustworthy. If a page is to be turned, both sides will have to make some concessions.”
See below Commissioner Neil’s response.
ByTim Fitzsimons and Brooke Sopelsa
New York Police Department Commissioner James P. O’Neill on Thursday apologized for the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, that caused an uprising and helped launch the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement.
“What happened should not have happened. The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple,” O’Neill said at a briefing on security preparations for the 50th anniversary of the riots on June 28. “The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize.”
I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.
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