As a young Marine, I was driving the captain of my ship to a nearby Naval Air Station when we were told all aircraft were grounded; a “stand-down.”
Why? Because of a recent crash. In response, all the airplanes were grounded until the base commander was confident the problem was fixed and it was safe for his men and women to fly again. At the time, I thought that was a great commitment to pilot safety. But a stand-down is not limited to airplanes. It applies also to government, industry, healthcare, education, and, yes, police.
A “stand-down” is used in business, industry and the military to fix a problem that endangers the safety of its employees or customers.
I suggest the state of policing in our country is in need of such an action — a stand-down — to re-imagine, re-assess, and re-engage — because what is being done today no longer works as it should and the safety of both citizens and police is in jeopardy.
I have been asked what I would do today if I was still in charge of a city police department. I have thought deeply about this and the following is what i would do:
1. Declare a “stand-down” of the police department after requesting the sheriff’s department and bordering communities to help out by handling our calls for a period of 72 hours. (This is so important that we must cease our operations for a period of time.)
2. Assemble all employees of the department in a central location (preferably a convention center).
3. Engage a trained staff of facilitators to create a 3-day, problem-solving agenda as follows:
Day One: For police only: to talk among themselves in small groups; to discuss what is happening on the street and in the community. Develop ideas about what is needed to fix the problem. The work of the small groups is captured for historical purposes.
Day Two: Community and political leaders representing all the various segments and interests within the community are invited to identify and imagine the kind of police service they would like to have. The job of the police is to listen and NOT respond. It is a “gracious listening” time for the police. Notes are taken and recorded by facilitators.
Day Three: Police assemble in small groups to discuss what they have heard. At the end of the day, a plan forward is developed and reported to the community with a timetable and how success is to be measured. The community is asked to support the plan; to give police time to fix the problem.
The entire Second Day and the final report on the Third Day should be open to the press and community members. The entire three days will be recorded.
Yes, this is a radical plan. But the way forward to establish a trustful and working relationship between police and the communities they serve will require such an approach or police and those whom they serve will continue distancing one another. This is a moment of truth for our city.
Can we do this?
A Note on the Pandemic
While face-to-face communication is best, it may be necessary to conduct all presentations virtually and have small group, responsive discussion. The balance will be whether this important matter can be put aside for the period of time it will take to develop and administer a vaccine and allow more intimate interaction. I sense we cannot wait.
“Lessons in Police Reform from the Wounds of Northern Ireland” — An Example.
Former Seattle and Boston Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and international police consultant Robert Peirce writes of their positive experience reforming/re-imagining the Northern Ireland Police in a recent Washington Post Op-Ed.
An important quote: “As a society, we tend to think of police as ‘crime fighters,’ and some police no doubt would like to be seen in that light. But policing is a social service… [W]e called for a redefinition of policing along these lines…”
A Further Note as to Why this is Important
“George Floyd’s death may have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Only the coming years will tell. But improving police will be dependent on police (and the rest of white society) effectively responding to the question — the problem before us: “When will police stop killing so many people of color?” (From an earlier blog.)