It’s Time to Get Unstuck!

“It’s not that the art of policing has deteriorated or regressed; no, it has been stuck and not moved forward in the most critical of its duties — how people, all people, are treated.”

Over 50 years ago, the Minneapolis Citizen’s Council sent four young police officers to attend The National Symposium on Law Enforcement Science and Technology in Chicago, April 16-18, 1968. I was one of those officers along with my recruit school partner, and long-time friend, Bill Mavity.

Earlier, Bill and I and Dave Gorski founded a chapter of the national law enforcement fraternity, Lambda Alpha Epsilon (now the American Criminal Justice Association).. We recruited and gathered police officers in the Twin Cities area who were attending college or already had a college degree. Over 50 officers joined. Many went on to become leaders in policing. Dave Gorski served at Chief of Police in two cities and at Harvard University. It was a movement in the making. A chapter still exists in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

I stayed in policing, while Bill went on to law school and, as a lawyer, played his part in helping improve our nation’s police. We have remained good friends over all these years.

I have linked the report Bill submitted to the Citizens’ Council in Minneapolis which sponsored our trip. It was a heady adventure for those of us who were still “wet behind the ears” with 6-8 years experience “on the streets.” Yet we caught the winds of change that were blowing through the ranks of our nation — and its police.

The year before, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement submitted its historical work that pushed the boundaries of a sleepy police profession by strongly advocating for a college-educated police.

Here are a few highlights from the Citizens Council report.

  • Police are wary of the intellectual and resist change. They must increase their training and education.
  • Police should revise their “ghetto practices” of harassment and strict policing of gambling and prostitution.
  • Police should help other groups working to improve housing and employment opportunities.
  • Require officers to spend at least three hours a week meeting with minorities to discuss “mutual feelings and problems.”
  • “No relationship needs more improving than the which exists between the police and minority groups.”
  • Police with college degrees “learn more quickly, communicate with the public more capably, and reach full productivity sooner.”
  • Police must develop “more humane and effective riot, mob, and crowd control” and “only show force in extreme situations.”
  • Additionally, there were summaries of many reports on science and technology such as gunshot residue, post-mortem analysis, new communication systems, and information storage and retrieval.

Earlier this month, we all had been on the frontline of urban protest in our own city as Black America mourned and were angered by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We were four street cops plunging into the future.

I ask you to read this short, 23 page report (below) as one of the first attempts to blend of science and technology into police operations and the “Argument for a Professional Law Enforcement” at the end of the report.

Looking back, police seem to be stuck in the same, old rut. It’s not that the art of policing has deteriorated or regressed; no, it has been stuck and not moved forward in the most critical of its duties — how people, all people, are treated.

While the technology has improved, the relational practices of police with poor people and those of color have not; my analysis is that this relationship is just as bad as it was over five decades ago. This saddens me greatly.

We must do better. It is now up to a new generation of police to improve their relational practices, individually and organizationally (including how and when force is used) in the coming years. They must take up this torch for the benefit of all America — and for their own benefit as well!

Because police in a free society can never be permitted to be stuck, to become status quo, or to be wary of science and intellectuals. Their mission must always be to continuously (and constantly) improve their services and have large and open ears and hearts!

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Read the full report below:

1968 Symposium Report to the Minneapolis Citizens Council.