What Must Be Said!

The third edition of my book, “Arrested Development” is now available on Amazon. It completes a process I began in 2010 when I started thinking about what I had learned as a police leader during my three-decade career in municipal policing and wanted to share with others.

Then came this blog. It was a way to try and process what was going on in American policing; specifically, why weren’t police improving? Why, after hundreds of questionable deaths by police, the basic systems of police use of deadly force did not change, did not improve.

Over the years, I have written over 1,500 posts on this site and acquired more than 1,800 followers from over 130 countries around the world. This blog has been viewed more than 500,000 times!

The third edition of my book attempts to end this quest at organizational improvement. If you haven’t read it, I am posting the final chapter here.

It is a message and a way forward. Peace!


Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Racism, Protest, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police

Chapter 9

George Floyd: Where To From Here?

October 2014: Laquan McDonald.

McDonald was shot 16 times and killed by Chicago police while walking away from police with a small knife is his hand. The dashcam video of this incident was not released by Chicago police until 2018.

November 2014: Tamir Rice.

Rice, a 14-year-old, was killed by Cleveland police in a park while playing with a fake gun. A park CCTV camera recorded the shooting.

April 2015: Walter Scott.

Scott was shot and killed by a North Charleston police officer after they scuffled and he broke away. The officer responded by shooting him in the back. Officers on the scene were slow to summon emergency medical care for Scott who died. A bystander videotaped the event.

July. 2016: Alton Sterling.

Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge, LA after police responded to a disturbance call outside of a local business. He was shot while struggling on the ground with police. The incident was filmed by a bystander and CCTV security cameras.

July 2016: Philando Castile.

Castille was killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, MN after being stopped and telling the officer he was licensed to carry a firearm. He was shot while reaching for his license. His girlfriend and her daughter were in the car and witnessed the shooting. His girlfriend captured most of the event on her cellphone camera.

March 2018: Stephon Clark.

Clark was shot at least seven times and killed in Sacramento, CA after a foot chase. Officers said they believed the cellphone in his hand was a firearm. The event was recorded by officer’s body cameras.

March 2020: Breonna Taylor.

Taylor was shot eight times and killed after Louisville, KY police raided her apartment to arrest her boyfriend.

May 2020: George Floyd.

Floyd died on the ground, handcuffed, after a police officer knelt on his neck for over nine minutes, during which he cried out, “I can’t breathe!” A young bystander recorded the event on her cellphone.

April 2021: Daunte Wright.

Wright was shot and killed by police in Brooklyn Center, MN after he struggled, broke away, and attempted to get into his vehicle. A veteran police officer said she thought she had used her Taser (an electronic control weapon) instead of her firearm. Recorded on the officer’s bodycam.

I had just about finished writing the first edition of this book over a decade ago when the Occupy Movement surged in our nation’s cities. The protest in 2011 was a progressive socio-political movement which primarily engaged young white Americans. Occupy called attention to inequality in our nation and offered new ways to think about democracy here and throughout the world. I had to quickly add a new chapter to my almost-completed manuscript titled “2011: Year of Protest.”

I was compelled to do this after observing police around the nation responding violently to those who refused to move. Police in many of our nation’s cities were once again unprepared to effectively handle large groups of citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. The violent police response was often done without dialogue or negotiation with those assembled. Historically, police response to public protest in America has continually run into problems with the right of the people to assemble and protest governmental actions.[1]

Then in 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, MO. His bleeding body remained on the street, uncovered, for hours in broad daylight. As expected, protest, often violent, erupted across the nation. There was no video recording of the shooting either by body camera or bystander. Nevertheless, a second edition needed a chapter entitled, “Stop, Don’t Shoot.”

Chapter Eight in this book focused on police use of deadly force as a major problem facing our nation, especially when, as we later found out, the actual number of people shot and killed by police each year far exceeded what police were reporting. Further, this number included a disproportionate number of young Black men. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of death for young Black men.[2] When a Black mother states she is fearful that police may kill her son, that is not an unreasonable fear.[3]

Before Ferguson, the number of persons reportedly shot and killed by police appeared to be small in number. But when teams of journalists from the Washington Post and The Guardian scoured news reports, they found a much larger number. Over the years, police departments had grossly underreported the actual number of citizens killed. Their investigations, which continue to this day, revealed police actually had taken the lives of citizens in almost four times the numbers reported. Today, there is no central reporting of these deaths save for the work of these journalists.[4]

Further investigation reveals that one-third of the thousand deaths caused by police each year are disproportionately young men of color. Since that time, and despite a constant call by citizens for police to be more restrained in the use of deadly force and to seek alternative control methods, the number of citizens killed by police remains relatively unchanged. I find this shocking as it reinforces my thesis that the development and improvement of our nation’s police continues to be “arrested!”

The failure to reduce the number of citizens killed by police each year leads many citizens, especially those of color, to believe that police are either incapable or unwilling to reduce the number of citizens they kill each year. When a Black youth is killed by police under questionable circumstances, it leads to more mistrust of police from those with whom police have the most contact.

When rates of police use of deadly force in America are compared with those in other democratic countries around the world, a striking picture emerges. Police-related deaths of citizens in the United States are reported to be 33 deaths per 10 million population. The illustrated graph reveals that in every other democratic country in the world, the number of citizens killed by police is significantly lower than those killed by police in America.

Why is this? Why haven’t the police in our country been able to reduce this number? Is it our low standard for using force?[5] The paucity of police training compared with those countries in which police are more restrained? Our lack of gun control? Or are we simply a more violent nation?

The excuse for our nation’s low standard for police use of deadly force is found in the 1989 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor. In that decision, the term “reasonable objectiveness” is found. This term has been taken to mean that if a police officer, in his or her own mind, senses a threat, deadly force is justified.

Unfortunately, this doctrine was quickly adopted by police trainers some years later as “If we fear, we can shoot!” (Note: the Graham decision came down when I served as Chief of Police in Madison. Our policy on use of force did not change. In later years, this decision, which was NOT a deadly force case, was used to justify police use of deadly force by both police trainers and leaders.)

I argue in Chapter Eight that our nation’s standard for police use of deadly force must be that required by the European Union—“absolute necessity.”[6] I might add that nothing prohibits a police agency from setting a higher standard than what the law might permit. For example, an officer violating an agency’s use of force policy may not be criminally prosecuted for his or her actions, but the officer could suffer discipline, including termination for not following organizational directions.

This was the situation before the United States Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee v. Garner. In Garner, the court ruled that deadly force could no longer be used by police to stop non-dangerous fleeing felons, specifically, shooting youths who ran away after ditching a stolen car.

Police in Madison, WI, and a few other progressive departments across the nation, already had a work rule (policy) in effect that prohibited deadly force from being used to stop fleeing criminals who did not present an immediate, dangerous threat to the community. Yet at the same time, state law permitted police to use deadly force to arrest any fleeing felon whether the offender was immediately dangerous to others or not.[7] Why can’t that occur with the Graham decision?

Since the stunning attack on our nation in 2001, we have become a more fearful nation. This collective fear has deeply affected our police. Slowly, a work attitude of helping and serving others was replaced by that of a warrior, armed and ready to confront the many dangers police have come to believe they face.

You can see this on the face of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin as he restrained George Floyd and ignored his cries and the protest of those who witnessed this event. So the issue of police use of deadly force had, once again, captured headlines around the world. Like the beating of Rodney King three decades ago by Los Angeles police, Floyd’s death was captured on a cellphone video. It quickly appeared on network news and social media sites around the world and caused outcry and protest. Chauvin was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison in 2021, but not before protest, including property damage, had occurred in many American cities. Still, the rate of American citizens shot and killed by police remains unabated.

In the meantime, the city of Minneapolis, where I served as a police officer in the 1960s, experienced violent protests for months and suffered millions of dollars in property loss including the torching of the local precinct station. A call went out to “defund,” and even eliminate, the police department. Unrest, protest, calls to defund the police, and occupation of the site where Floyd was murdered continue.

The casual observer of police might assume that after Trayvon Martin, a young Black man, was shot and killed in 2013 by a white vigilante in Florida and the nationwide “Black Lives Matter” movement was formed, police would work to modify their policies and training regarding the use of force.

Given the number of events of deadly force use by police across the nation, one would think that governmental leaders would respond by ordering police to tighten up their deadly force policies. After all, each event tends to reduce the trust and support police need to conduct their work effectively and safely.

Even in justified uses, public trust and support of their police erode when victims are shot multiple times. This also happens when police use deadly force to kill a suspect armed with a knife. This often quickly happens because police have been trained and led to believe in the “21-Foot Rule.” That is, a person armed with a knife can kill you before you can react if they get within 21 feet of you.

This “rule” was not factual, yet it became a justification for officers to shoot suspects with knives if they got closer than 21 feet to them. Research proved otherwise and demonstrated that different strategies of movement can increase the officer’s ability to survive such an attack.[8]

Now let us go back to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It must be realized that in the present time, if the young woman had not videotaped Officer Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, Chauvin would most likely not be convicted or in prison today. Without the video evidence, Floyd’s death would most likely have been justified.

For example, police would report that he was dangerous and out of control. Further, a medical examiner could rule he had drugs in his system and died from “excited delirium,” which was used in Chauvin’s defense.[9]

Since Michael Brown’s death in 2014, I hoped that police leaders would have effectively responded to the problem of deadly force use. In effect, the framework for doing so came about when President Obama created the 21st Century Task Force on Policing. It soon fell by the wayside after the 2016 presidential election.

While some cities and states enacted laws prohibiting police choke holds, requiring body cameras, mandating peer intervention, and prohibiting shooting at fleeing vehicles, the number of killing is yet to be reduced. After all, that must be the measure of effectiveness of these laws. (By the way, all of these “reforms,” except for body cameras, were actions taken by most progressive police agencies over three decades ago.) Police misconduct occurs even when officers know they are being recorded on camera; police vehicle dash cameras have been in operation since the 1980s with seemingly little impact on persons killed by police.

Actually, the proposals being considered will do little to improve the nature and practice of policing in our country. What’s needed, however, is to address the negative attitude many police officers carry with them every day. That’s the real problem in policing today—it’s about attitude!

When Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd, all America saw it. Despite Floyd’s cries and the outcry from bystanders, Officer Chauvin did not appear to consider what he was doing was in any way out of the ordinary. Chauvin was essentially saying through his body posture, “This is the way we do things here.” And the cries of Floyd and those who were standing by did not matter.

It is this kind of attitude that I have frequently confronted during my three decades in policing. It is the disdain for other people. It is internalizing and living with the belief “We are the police and you’re not. We can do anything we wish to you, and you have no power to stop us!”

It is a developed attitude with echoes from the days of slavery and Jim Crow. No longer can our past be carried into our future, nor can it be ignored or forgotten along the way. This negative attitude towards others must be replaced by another attitude, the positive attitude of duty, honor, fairness, compassion, and accountability. This is the attitude that needs to be demanded of our nation’s police. Those who cannot make this adjustment need to find other employment.

I began writing my online blog “Improving Police” in 2011 (improving­police.blog). As of this writing, this site contains nearly 1,500 posts, 500,000 views, and 1,800 followers from 30 countries around the world. In it, interested police, students, and citizens can find answers to many of the problems confronting the leadership and management of police: how to select and train, facilitating citizen feedback, and the best-known methods of leading, developing, and fielding competent, sensitive, and effective police officers, in short, the kind of police who can adopt an attitude of “service above self.” I do not use the term “serve” lightly.

For the most part, the problem with improving police is the absence of leadership, a void which has permitted a vicious, negative attitude to develop and remain within the ranks, affecting far too many of our nation’s police officers.

Due to the present division and acrimony in our local and national politics (those are kind words), I expect little will be done to improve our police until we learn to listen and get along with one another. You know, the practice of basic civility. This includes developing a common understanding of the role of police in our society. For example, after the conviction of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, a national poll revealed that half of conservatives surveyed believed the jurors had come to the wrong decision by convicting Chauvin. On the other hand, 90% of liberals believed the opposite. In such a political environment it is difficult to see how we, locally or nationally, can ever come to agreement as to the steps we should take to improve our police.[10]

Permit me to also add, as a tragic and stunning example, what happened in our nation’s Capitol building on January 6, 2021. If you have any question or reservation as to what did happen on that day, I invite you to view the 40-minute documentary of a team of journalists who followed the tragic, highly-coordinated, and deadly events of that day.[11]The constant diatribe against our system of government and its electoral system led to thousands of people being encouraged to “stop the steal,” referring to the 2020 election, which was about to be ratified in Congress. Somehow, they came to believe it was their patriotic duty to break into our nation’s capital building and prevent lawmakers from ratifying the election results.

This “call to arms” resulted in an orchestrated attack and break-in at our nation’s capitol building on January 6, 2021. These insurrectionists were not “tourists.”[12]

During that tragic day in our history, over a hundred police officers were assaulted and injured, and Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick lost his life. Those who showed up in Washington and came to the Capitol building were ready with walkie-talkies, baseball bats, and bear spray to injure and overcome Capitol and Metropolitan police. So much for the “Back the Blue” slogan many of these rioters no doubt espoused in the past. Can you imagine what would have happened if thousands of Black men had stormed our nation’s Capitol during the “Million Man March” in October of 1995?[13]

So here I am. In the eighth decade of my life, having spent over three decades as a police officer and leader, and now devoting most of my post-retirement life to talking, teaching, and writing about police and their improvement. I find myself struggling to think about the future, how needed reform can ever proceed in our nation with its present political divisions and the negative attitude among many of our nation’s officers.

Even with an agreement on what reform measures need to be taken, we are a nation with over 600,000 police serving in 17,000 police agencies. Policing in America is, and always has been, a local endeavor; therefore, reform, even incremental improvement, is necessarily in the hands of local citizens. They are the ones who should be addressing how and by whom policing should be conducted.

As I mentioned earlier in this book, the requirements to be licensed as a barber or beautician in most states are far greater than those for police officers. The number of hours we train our police falls far below that required of police in Europe, Australia and Canada. (See “Chapter Six: The Seven Steps.” Step Four addresses the importance of training and leading in police improvement.)

This shocking fact was first revealed over 40 years ago in the report of President Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice.[14] It remains so today.

While most American police officers today are better educated than those with whom I served, the fact remains that only one percent of our police agencies require a four-year baccalaureate degree for entry. That was true in 1969 when I served as police chief in Burnsville, MN, and it remains true today. Do we not care enough about our police to require them to be educated? In Burnsville, we instituted a four-year degree requirement for all new officers. That was 1969. Today, the city continues to hold this requirement because it makes good sense to have educated police. A college education doesn’t assure that our police will be perfect, but they will better understand their job, what they are called to do, and how they are to treat people.

I find I am ending where I began: how to effectively practice the art of policing in a free and democratic society. We must not forget the Four Obstacles I outline in this book for they continue to arrest the improvement of our nation’s police. To begin to travel the road ahead, we must craft and maintain a strong, unyielding vision which encourages fair, equitable, controlled, and community-oriented policing.

But today my vision is greatly narrowed. I see it happening only in individual progressive communities, communities that can come together and craft an effective and lawful way forward with their police. If you are angry about police and their behavior, whether you are a police officer or a citizen, I suggest that instead calling for defunding or eliminating your police, you work together with them. Rethink your approach, in or out of the ranks, and re-imagine policing in your community. What would such an organization look like? How should its officers be selected and prepared? How should its officers and their leaders be evaluated?

Remember, police are our designated functionaries. They do our work (work many of us would not necessarily want to do). They represent us—at night, in heat and snow, with people who are intoxicated, angry, or are experiencing a mental health crisis. When a citizen may want to run away from a danger, police run towards it.

While some people are dangerous, the job of police is to help. Research (and my experience) reveals most police work is not about arresting or fighting with people, it’s about helping and serving them.[15] Police work remains the business of helping.

Police are necessarily guardians, not warriors. They are not to be selected because they are the toughest, but because they are the wisest. Simply put, it’s a lot easier to train a person with a guardian orientation to be a warrior than to train a warrior to be a guardian.

Therefore, our police should not look or act like paramilitary troops. Change begins by communities selecting college-educated, emotionally intelligent men and women from diverse backgrounds, sufficiently trained, who are predisposed to help, serve, and protect others; that is, police candidates must begin their careers with the right attitude and under­standing of what they are called to do: guard, serve, and help, and dress them accordingly. Chapter Three describes the reason for outfitting police in non-military-style uniforms.

Police aspirants must understand that at the present time they are entering a job with a strong historical, and present, system of racial bias. Today, police must be able to see and process their work through the prism of race. This is the basis of Critical Race Theory (CRT); it is understanding race and racism as a social construct and holds that it is unwise to think that a significant population in our nation who has been enslaved and discriminated against for generations will simply “get over it.”[16]

The right attitude I call for must be supported, not erased by the initial training experience of police. And when police recruits return to their departments after training, they must be met by wise and experienced leaders (both formal and informal) who support a working attitude of guarding, serving, and helping.

Police can be better trained to de-escalate dangerous situations and control their use of force in handling emotionally disturbed and aggressive people. We all must understand that the authority we grant our police to use deadly force is a responsibility that no one else is accorded in our society. There is a sacred nature to it. Over 150 years ago, Sir Robert Peel and others observed that the more force police used in performing their duties, the less support they had from the community. That is also true today and is why trust must be built. (See “Peel’s Principles” in Chapter Two.)

Therefore, police, who serve our democracy and support its values, must be willing to be true community-oriented workers, that is, able to work with citizens to solve their police-related problems. This is the essence of Community-Oriented Policing that I discuss throughout this book. In doing this, police must act as if all lives matter, and the protection of lives is their fundamental duty.

If we, however, wish to improve our police, it will not be easy. We must create a new way of policing and a new breed of police. There exist few examples across the country. Several years ago, I wrote “How to Rate Your Local Police: A User Guide for Civic, Governmental, and Police Leaders.” This booklet is a way to assess the quality of your local police agency. It is something any officer or citizen can do.[17]

In the late 1960s, our nation attempted to become a “Great Society.” It was the idea of President Lyndon Johnson, and he sold it to Congress. One of the ideas was to create Model Cities: places in which the ideas and practices of a Great Society were being effectively implemented. As a young graduate student, this seemed to me to be a great idea for policing. If we can develop model cities where leaders from other cities can come and learn, why not create model police agencies which can, for example, implement the recommendations of the 1967 Task Force on Policing as well as those from the 21st Century Task Force and the PERF Guidelines? We did that in Madison in the late 1980s and early ’90s when we offered three-day training sessions for other police to learn what we were doing in Madison and how it was working.[18]

But how do we do this? Aren’t police resistant to new ideas and change? Won’t they resist outsiders? I suggest that proposing police improvement at the local level does not have to be confrontational. It can be seen as helpful for both police and community. Think about taking this approach with your Chief of Police or Sheriff:

“Chief/Sheriff, we all know that everyone of us could become more effective. I certainly could. But how do we do that without it appearing that we have been doing a poor job? One way is to think about and adopt the idea of “continuous improvement” as both a personal and organizational goal. I would be willing to help you and your department do this. After all, an effective police organization is one that is trusted, supported, and respected by the community. It is possible. You and your officers will be able to strengthen your community’s trust, support, and respect by working with us and finding way to build that trust and support and get closer to the community. We can do this by working together. Would you be willing to give it a try?”

Unless citizens at the local level are willing to take this bold step, little will ever be accomplished regarding improving their police. There are simply too many police and agencies to do anything significant at the state or federal levels of government. We must realize that improving police begins at home, in your neighborhood. It begins with you, whether you are a police officer or a member of the community.

I have argued over the years since Ferguson that our police have failed to either hear or understand what is being asked of them by Black citizens. I hear, “Stop killing us. Be who you say you are. Treat us as you treat white people.” This cry can be heard through American history, from the days of slavery to those of Jim Crow. I hear it today.

Yet I am reminded what my dear friend and mentor Herman Goldstein often told me during our decades-long discussions about police and their improvement. Herman would say, “Remember, David, there are police and there are police!” He was reminding me of the variety of police and their behavior throughout the country. Among those agencies exists a wide range of capacity and ability. Among 17,000 police agencies are tremendous differences.

New York City, for example, has a police department of over 30,000 members; it is larger than the armies of many nations. Yet 90 percent of police agencies across the country have fewer than ten officers. It is impossible, therefore, to make a sweeping generalization about police in America. Instead, we must realize the only effective way police are going to be improved is locally, a department at a time, and it can begin in your town or city.

The communities which will be successful in doing this will do so through continuous action and pressure from citizens who are clear about what they are trying to achieve, citizens who are able to bring police into the discussion and build coalitions and goals.

Will your town or city be one of them? Unless you act, the development and improvement of your police in your town or city will continue to be arrested, and we all will suffer as a nation.

Good luck and Godspeed.


[1].     https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/occupy-wall-street-zuccotti-park-and-the-history-of-force/2011/11/15/gIQAalBlON_story.html

[2].     https://isr.umich.edu/news-events/news-releases/police-sixth-leading-cause-of-death-for-young-black-men-2/

[3].     https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2019-08-05/police-violence-a-leading-cause-of-death-for-young-men

[4].     https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/police-shootings-2019/

[5].     Graham v. Connorhttps://www.oyez.org/cases/1988/87-6571)

[6].     See Article Two of the European Convention of Human Rights: https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Handbook_European_Convention_Police_ENG.pdf).

[7].     https://www.oyez.org/cases/1984/83-1035

[8].     Police Practice and Research Volume 22, 2021 –Issue 3

[9].     https://apnews.com/article/thomas-lane-trials-minneapolis-racial-injustice-death-of-george-floyd-fb1f3a6430da36b8470080c82c385d67

[10].    https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/550179-almost-half-of-republicans-say-chauvin-jury-reached-wrong-verdict-poll

[11].    https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000007606996/capitol-riot-trump-supporters.html.

[12].    https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/05/capitol-attack-tourist-visit

[13].    https://www.britannica.com/event/Million-Man-March

[14].    https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/42.pdf

[15].    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/19/upshot/unrest-police-time-violent-crime.html

[16].    https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-is-it-under-attack/2021/05

[17].    https://www.amazon.com/How-Rate-Your-Local-Police/dp/1505943221

[18].    (See The Task Force on 21st Century Policing https://cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/taskforce_finalreport.pdf and the Police Executive Research Forum’s report “Guiding Principles On Use of Force:” https://www.policeforum.org/assets/30%20guiding%20principles.pdf).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.