A Legacy Not to be Forgotten

My friend and colleague, Mike Masterson, now serving the second time as the Chief of Police in Boise, ID, and former Captain of Police when I served in Madison, WI has forwarded a letter that he received from Herman Goldstein shortly before his death.

For Chief Masterson (and me) it captures the essence here of a great man. As Mike wrote to me, “[police researcher] Maryann Wycoff and I have been exchanging memories of Herman and his willingness to always mentor and educate others to continually improve.  Attached… is an email I received  from him after reading the police apology paper in PERF’s ‘Subject to Debate.’  It didn’t matter who you were he would always find time to give you thoughtful input or feedback.”

Thus marks a great man — a great soul. Younger police officers should certainly hope for such a person to show up again and stimulate their minds, encourage them to pursue excellence, and call them to service above self.

Researcher Maryann Wycoff


“Mike, I’ve been ridiculously late in responding to your excellent article on
apology.  A confluence of multiple events and complications in my life
have thrown me off course.

“You’ve done a great service in bringing together all of the strong
arguments for police to make much more use of apology as ‘the right
thing to do’ and a most effective means for improving relationships with
their respective communities.  On any logical grounds, given the
complexity of policing and the innumerable situations in which the
logical thing for the police to do is to ‘back off’, fuller
acknowledgment of apology as a response is long, long overdue.  I recall
from my own experience how refreshing it felt to, e.g., replace a door
that was wrongly knocked in, or write a letter or make a phone call that
acknowledged a mistake or an overstep.  Given the nature of policing, it
is inevitable that many such mistakes will be made — or more generally
— that a discretionary decision — by an officer or an entire
department — overreaches. This is much more true in policing, given the
need for quick judgments, than in many other professions and occupations.

“Some long time ago, I recall launching a project in which internal
investigation personnel were compelled to consider apology — and
variations on that theme — in putting to rest complaints filed against
the police. Through friendly explanations, exchanges and open
communication (and uttering the words ‘we’re sorry’), good feelings were
restored and — beyond that, positive relationships were built. 

“I’d like to see, as you suggest, that ‘explanations’ , ‘full
acknowledgments of error’ and forthright apologies were made part of the
standard repertoire police use in responding to complaints.  Instead,
police too often feel they have to avoid admitting to any responsibility
for actions that are not clearly defensible. The field would be well
served by asking, ‘why?’   Simplistically, the answer often is that such
defenses detract from the image of power and authority police seek to
project as one of their standard strategies.  Apology is often seen as a
sign of weakness that detracts from the image of omnipotence.  If one
reflects on this phenomenon, lots of policing is ‘bluff’ — ballooning
their real capacity well beyond their true capacity. Taking your lead, I
sense that lots of good would come from true professionals opening this
fundamental conflict to detailed examination.

“There is another related phenomenon — the degree to which police have
become increasingly vulnerable to legal actions and — ultimately —
costly settlements of cases brought against them.  (The newest
development was the subject of an article in the NYT this past week that
describes legal suits brought against the police by women who feel that
their reports of being sexually assaulted were not adequately
investigated.)  In my experience, in difficult cases, city attorneys are
overly cautious in advising against admitting any potential for error on
their part, lest such acknowledgement be used to support being sued and
incurring a costly settlement.  They are concerned about losing cases
brought against the city; not with police relationships with their
community. So it is relatively easy for them to use their strong
position and power to advise against apology.  For the same reason, city
attorneys commonly advise against adopting more restrictive policies
(e.g., re use of deadly force).  That is a major block in efforts to
refine police practice.  I wish, in my dream world, there were more
collaboration between municipal attorneys and police administrators —
to try to figure out how to overcome the current conflict between (1)
their advising police to avoid making apologies and to avoid adopting
restrictive policies; and (2) the obvious good sense in police doing
so.  Put another way, how can the conflict between promoting better
police relationships with the community be reconciled with the pervasive
concern about being vulnerable to costly suits?

“Lots to think about here. If you have the time and inclination, I’d be
delighted if you used your experience and ability to write a provocative
article that poses this conflict — a conflict that I believe is of
fundamental importance in trying to bring about meaningful reform in the
profession.   Perhaps it could take the form of an article addressed to
city attorneys, pleading with them to see more clearly their negative
influence on good police practice.

“Thanks for getting my juices going. I apologize, again, for the delay in
getting back to you. — Herman.”

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