[While I am mostly retired after writing this blog for the last 12 years, I occasionally am moved to share thoughts and ideas about policing. No crisis this time, as it was last year in Minneapolis. Instead, in my 84th year, the following reflection about our future.]
A longtime friend of mine used to respond to my angst on the troubled state of policing in America by reminding me, “It is what it is!”
During the past sixty years I have served in four city police agencies, taught students and recruits, written a book on police improvement , submitted a score of op-eds on what needs to be done, and commented over the years on various challenges facing our nation’s police — how police should be educated, selected, trained, equipped, held accountable, and led in a free and democratic society.
I am sad to say that after all these years, and exacerbated by intractable politics and systematic racist behavior, not much has changed with regard to the improvement of community-oriented police services. Im addition, there is the ever-diminishing trust between police and those who have the most contact with them.
Is there any chance that 600,000 police officers serving in 18,000 towns and cities throughout the country, policing a diverse society such as ours, can ever agree on how the job should be done and the measures of success we should use?
Probably not. It is what it is. And it isn’t very good considering the resources our society has and the collective expertise we could direct to improve policing. But I remain hopeful. Not that it will happen in my generation, but within the generation of my grandchildren.
We have always had the knowledge and ability to improve things. We just lack the will.
Yet I still have high hope for the future of our nation’s system of policing. I believe our nation’s police are capable of doing great work to protect our nation’s people, gain widespread community trust and support, and uphold and practice the founding values of our nation.
Yet we continue year after year to pay for and field a system overly-focused on racial policing and use of force to gain compliance; compliance primarily from communities which are under-funded and over-policed.
I believe police know this and know that they have the potential to be an extremely positive influence on our society. I felt that my generation in blue did. The problem has always been in implementing an agreed-upon, collective way forward and maintaining it.
What prevents this from happening? After all, police are courageous in most aspects of their work with the community. However, where they are not is internally, inside the subculture, such as when it comes to calling out bad behavior, being accountable, standing up for what is true and right, being controlled and respectful, and honoring the rule of law.
Policing in America doesn’t always have to be the way it presently is. Improvement is necessary and with some deep thinking, analysis, and discussion we could field a police in our nation of which we all could be proud!
What is doesn’t have to be what it was — it can be better, it can be greater, it can truly represent that which we value and wish to become.
Officers, be careful out there. Do good work. Most of you do. Now expect it from your colleagues.
“This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”Abraham Lincoln