Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr President,

It’s three o’clock in the morning and I can’t sleep. I’ve tossed and turned thinking about what you said to my colleagues in Chicago on Monday. You see, I have been a member of the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) for a half century. I am a Life Member, led police for over 25 years, and studied and wrote about their. Improvement after my retirement.

As an active IACP member over the years, I heard addresses by a number of U.S. presidents. I have to say, none compared to yours. While I may not hav agreed with everything they said, I listened and learned something that helped me in my work. None of them contradicted what I believed about leadership and how a leader should act.

On Monday, you changed all this. It was unsettling enough when you were on script, but your off-script comments would have prompted me, if you were speaking to my officers, to ask you to leave. You were not helpful. Instead of expressing support for police leaders who serve throughout the nation and internationally (we are not simply an organization of U.S. police chiefs, but have members throughout the free world), You made the job of leading police more difficult. Perhaps you did not understand that the men and women you were addressing were not only from our country but also international police leaders. You made every leader’s job more difficult.

Here’s why. You started out by castigating Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson because he wasn’t in the audience. He had stated earlier he would not be there because he strongly disagreed with you and your values. Rather than stating he has a right to his opinion, you told everyone Johnson was a bad cop for not coming to hear you.

So what’s your message to a police leader who doesn’t agree with you? You tell everyone present he’s a bad guy because if he was a good guy he would have showed up to hear you. Then you recited a number of crime statistics. You said he was not “doing his job” and “puts criminals and illegal aliens before citizens.” Then you said that living in Afghanistan was safer than living in Chicago I’m sorry, Mr. President, but Afghanistan is not safer than Chicago. You said Superintendent Johnson could learn something from you. Perhaps, you also can learn something from him.

In the past https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/07/28/trump-tells-police-not-to-worry-about-injuring-suspects-during-arrests/?outputType=amp you have catered to police officers. When you said police should let handcuffed suspect’s heads hit the roof of the squad car when they were transported to jail you did police a great disservice. If a police officer publicly said such a thing he would suffer discipline. If that police officer intently did what you said and injured the prisoner in his or her custody that officer would be subject to internal disciple and could be charged with a crime. You give our police some bad advice. Good leaders bring forth the best behavior in those whom they lead, not the worst.

But on Monday you told a story about a Chicago police officer you met when you were on the campaign trail. You said you were impressed by him, “a powerful, strong-looking guy” you said. You asked him what it would take to clean up his city and he told you he and a few of his buddies could clean the place up in a day if only their leaders would let them. Really? 

Your story could encourage police officers to act illegally and cause them to disrespect their leaders who, obviously, were restraining them from making America great again. If their bosses would simply take away the restraints, ignore the law, our streets would be safe again. Did you know you were talking to polices chiefs? As a young police officer with a few years experience under my belt, I might have once thought that way. But when I became a leader, I realized the job of policing a free society such as ours was extremely difficult, complex, and demanded my best thinking and behavior. The nature of democratic policing is reasonable, responsible and legal restraint.

I can tell you that “getting tough” on the street has never solved any of our police problems. What does work, however, is collaboration; working closely with community leaders to improve the health and social service systems. What also works is ensuring our criminal justice system is acting in a fair and responsible manner and to personally model the democratic values of our society. That is what worked for me and other top leaders. Just ask them.

I was surprised to hear you consistently address the problem of crime in America. My reading of national crime data indicates we are experiencing a remarkable, crime-free period in our nation’s history. For the first time in many decades, this century has slowly gotten a handle on serious crime. You made it sound like that is not the case. Police chiefs know better.

As an experienced police leader, I have to say that you didn’t help your audience to. become better leaders. What you decided to talk about brought policing down. Leaders raise people up, they help the men and women in their commands grow and aspire to greatness. Policing in America is not only about enforcing the law, it is modelling the American way of life: fairness, justice, respect, and self-control.

I know that since you have been President you don’t believe the federal government has a role in helloing correcting local and state police agencies which have engaged in a pattern of civil rights violations. I must remind you that we would not have the nation we have today without Federal intervention in these matters of civil rights. The most effective strategy by far in cleaning up a lawless police agency has been oversight by a Federal Court. It should continue.

By the way, we have had now for over 40 years a great number of women who serve in our nation’s police and I was surprised that everyone you lifted up as good and heroic police were men. You could have helped greatly by reminding our nation’s police leaders that today’s police are effective because of their diversity and higher education. Many of us have worked endlessly to make this happen.


Overall, what you had to say seemed more targeted at an audience of rank and file police officers at a union barbecue, rather than to your nation’s top police leaders.

After your speech, you announced the creation of a presidential commission on law enforcement. I hope that new commmission hears from all the voices in American policing — they are many, diverse, and sustained by a long tradition of restraint and commitment to serve those most vulnerable among us. This commission needs also to build on past presidential commissions on policing in 1967 and 2015..

Finally, a word of advice: you don’t help police in our nation when you pander to them. They deserve better from their president

16 Comments

  1. Chief Couper: I have been reading your articles and posts since George Kelling, RIP, introduced me to them a hundred years ago. Your response to the president’s disgraceful performance at IACP should be published in Police Chief. I think his comments prey upon the emotional injury our men and women incur in doing police work. He does nothing for the police service nor police officers. Then he pounces on their vulnerability and feelings of alienation to declare himself a friend.

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    1. I wish others would comment on his remarks! I do miss George Kelling — we go way back to the early 70s when he was here at the University of Wisconsin. We didn’t always agree, but stayed in the mix. A message for today! May he rest in peace!

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  2. Unfortunately, ever since the Nixon launch the war on drugs, politicians leaders have pander to the police to get their political and financial support and the police took full advantage of it.

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  3. Spot on Chief!!! Thank you for continuing to share your passion for our profession

    Thank you,

    Joe ***************************** Josef Levy President Embassy Consulting Services, LLC 562-577-5874 embassyconsultingservices.com

    >

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    1. Thanks, much appreciated. On my USA Today letter there are a number of comments which demonstrate how polarized we are in this country — Comments like, “You don’t dare criticize police. dirtbag!” Whew! So much for dialogue and listening to one another. Lots of work to do!

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  4. So you don’t want the President to call out Eddie Johnson. Though you want Johnson to have his own opinion. Interesting. I would say the President’s free speech was more unifying than Johnson’s no show. How can someone NOT showing up be anything but divisive? No shows are quitting on the process and need to be pointed out and not slipped under the carpet. Johnson deserves all the calling out he can get, instead of what you are apparently doing: selling him out by having him HIDE behind some first amendment facade.

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    1. Not that Trump shouldn’t “call out” Eddie Johnson, Jim, it’s how he did it. You can call out bad behavior and not castigate someone in front of his peers. That is not leadership. Leaders lead. They help others.

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  5. David I applaud you for this excellent feedback about Trump’s recent speech at IACP. I’ve always admired your police leadership vision and your continued commitment to developing a democratic group of police leaders. I will always be appreciative of your willingness to be interviewed for my book, “Police Leadership in a Democracy….A Conversation with America’s Police Chiefs”. With best wishes and again a great deal of support for your “Dear Mr. President” posting on Improving Police!

    Dr Jim Isenberg >

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  6. “I expect more, a higher calling, from police. It isn’t often a popular position.”

    Yeah, well, the police have been acting like the Prussian/German military – A state within a state and due to 9/11, it has been getting worse and worse especially now with the federal courts being packed with ultra right-wing conservatives; whereby, the people will not have any kind of legal recourse against the police for the next two to three generations unless a violent revolution comes about.

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