david a isthmus
David C. Couper

My book, Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption, and the Seven Necessary Steps to Improve Our Nation’s Police (2nd ed. 2017describes my journey which brought me from patrol officer to chief of police in seven short years.   In Minneapolis, I was a cop by night and university student by day during those tumultuous years in the late 1960s.  My formal education changed not only how I viewed the world, but also opened me to a new and radical idea of police being partners in improving American society. The first edition  of my book, released in 2012, takes the reader through the history of American police and their missed opportunities. It is an important work that needs to be read by those who wish to see our society live up to its professed values as well as for those who wish to serve those values as police officers. The second edition adds a post-Ferguson chapter and other materials specifically concerning the problem surrounding police uses of deadly force.

Throughout my 30+ year police career I’ve had a burning desire to see police improve – I always thought police could be more than they were — like defenders our Constitution and Bill of Rights and “social workers in blue.” It all came together when I was appointed chief of police in Madison (WI). It was there that I spent over twenty years transforming the department into a national and international model. I ended the “war at home;” a bitter and brutal battle between protesters and Madison police during the Vietnam war years. But what makes this book different from other police books is that they are often about sensational crimes and incidents or about embarrassing or exposing police — not about improving them and certainly not over a twenty year period. I can “walk my talk” when I describe how I improved a city police department. Yes, police can be improved and they can, and should, protect our rights while continuously improving the systems in which they work. So, let’s start talking about it…


  1. WOW, talk about bring back memories of my time working with David Couper. He indeed was a visionary, and obviously still is. He made more changes in the Madison PD than anyone else I know, and all for the good of the department, even though there were many people who didn’t agree with him at the time. He made the department what it is today, and I am proud to say I worked for that department.


  2. Howdy, I’m active with CopBlock.org – a site that solicits submissions from those in its decentralized network. Recently one was received by your wife. I attempted to respond to the email address associated but my message bounced-back. I thought I’d share with you the email in case there is any synergy. Thanks for your time.


    Sabine, thanks for reaching-out and sharing with CopBlock.org a bit about your husband’s latest book.

    Would you be willing to send me a copy of the book to read then at some point in the future David I could discuss the ideas covered? That could be facilitated via text online – one of us do a write-up (perhaps me as a book review) then he respond (and we could even go another iteration). Or we could discuss on video via a service similar to Skype?

    I ask because while he and I both recognize flaws in the current structure of law enforcement, we advocate different solutions. I think it would make for an interesting conversation.

    And just a little about me in case he has interest: I used to live in Eagan and went to school for law enforcement. I never worked in that capacity though I interned at St. Paul PD. After school I worked in DC’s libertarian think tank world and then became active with other projects like Motorhome Diaries, Liberty On Tour, and now Free Keene and Cop Block.


  3. I was quite moved by your talk at yesterday’s Vets For Peace ceremony… and what I’ve been reading about you and your work… plus what I’ve heard about you. I’m extremely grateful for what you’ve done for Madison… and beyond. It strongly supports the peace and reconciliation work I’m doing in Madison… healing many unresolved wounds from the turbulent era you inherited in 72.

    I and others who were here doing the turbulent years (and later left for many years) have found ourselves drawn back in recent years… to better understand what happened then, what is needed now, and what our roles are… weaving a lifetime of learning, exploring, grieving, and healing into a new and more life-serving paradigm.

    I am hosting a series of ceremonies and rituals in the days leading up to the recall election… including an ascension pilgrimage to the top of ‘The Temple of the People’ (capitol)… calling on a higher power for higher perspective, purpose, and possibilities. If this calls to you, I welcome your presence and essence.

    In any case, I would love to talk.

    Carl Landsness


    1. Thanks, Carl, for your comments.

      For those who might be interested, here are the comments I made yesterday at the Veteran’s for Peace Memorial Day Remembrance in James Madison Park yesterday:


      Thank you for inviting me to be with you this important day.

      I spent a decade in the Marines on both active and reserve duty. In my generation, those who followed World War II, we felt that being a soldier, sailor, Marine or airman was being a peacekeeper.

      I continued that quest for peacekeeping in my three decades as a police officer. I believed the reason I carried a gun was to keep the peace.

      After my retirement from the police, my youngest daughter joined the army. She recently returned from a year in Afghanistan. She is a career soldier. She thinks of herself as a peacekeeper.

      One of my granddaughters is now in Rwanda. She is a member of our Peace Corps. She also is a peacekeeper.

      Peacekeeping in our nation is an essential task and one that should never be forgotten or diminished in any way.

      Now I serve as a member of the Christian clergy. Peacekeeping is still my vision and goal. And that is why I am a member of Veterans For Peace.

      After all, the vision and goal of all the enduring religions of the world is peace (in spite of how many of our religious leaders try and demonize one another and how we distort Truth for our own purposes).

      But we know that peace is obtained and maintained through love of one’s fellow human beings and destroying them is not loving them.

      The absence of peace is something of which we are all aware of. It is conflict and we, as a nation, have been in conflict for far too long.

      When speaking about conflict, Ghandi said it best: He objected to violence because “when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

      The good is only temporary.

      The evil it does is permanent.

      So how do we obtain and maintain peace and avoid the evil of violence?

      First of all, it is impossible to create peace outside of us unless we first create peace inside of us.

      For most of us, this is a lifetime journey. But a journey, nevertheless, that is necessary for each one of us to embark upon.

      Because peace begins inside of us and then can influence spheres of our life outside of us – at home, in our other relationships, in our neighborhood, workplaces, and communities.

      We will never be a nation at peace until we, as a people, are willing to create peaceful hearts, homes and villages…

      My new book about improving police (“Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief…”) is about helping our nation’s police become better peacekeepers and protectors of our civil rights.

      In writing the book, I identified four major obstacles that prevent police from improving and achieving these two goals—1-anti-intellectualism, 2-violence, 3-corruption, and 4-discourtesy.
      I soon came to see that I was not just talking about police, but about how all of us should act…

      Anti-intellectualism…distaining learning, research and the opinions of others…

      • Violence…in both words and actions… using violence to teach others in our society (including our children) that violence is wrong.

      • Corruption… a broad range of faults from being dishonest with our self as well as in our dealings with others.

      • Discourtesy… the incivilities in our daily lives, dis-respecting others, thinking other people are less than we are or deserve less than what we have. It is the opposite of our Golden Rule…

      And the seven necessary steps I identified for police to overcome the four obstacles in my book are also many of the steps we all need to take so that one day we may no longer know war and use it to further our attempts to dominance others at home or abroad.

      1. Envision – what is our vision of the future? Is it for obtaining and maintaining peace?
      2. Select – do the friends we choose, the people around us share our vision?
      3. Listen – do we deeply and intently listen to each other… even those whose opinions differ from ours?
      4. Train and Lead – do we attempt to learn the art of peacekeeping? And once having learned it, do we have the courage to lead others in it?
      5. Continuously improve – once having begun to learn peacekeeping, will we try to better our methods and our lives?
      6. Evaluate – do we check up on how we are doing? are we “walking our talk?” – Improving?
      7. Sustain – once having embarked on a more peaceful life, will we work to continue our peacekeeping efforts into the future?

      Brothers and sisters, I am honored to share this Memorial Day with you.

      Let us never forget those who serve our nation – whether we as a collective were right or wrong, they stepped forward, they served their nation, and they paid the greatest price. And they paid it for us.

      We should always be thankful for their sacrifice.

      Let us never forget.

      Let this day, as our President proclaimed, be a Day of Prayer for Permanent Peace.

      And let us never shirk our call and duty to be peacekeepers – at home, at work, and in our neighborhoods.

      For when we do, we are blessed — and we bless others.


  4. Hi David, I figured this powerful tribute film to Law Enforcement may interest you. Please check out the below links for additional information on the Heroes Behind the Badge trailer. The film will be complete mid September and is being produced in association with the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund. Please spread the word to help support our fellow Law Enforcement Heroes, and thanks for your time, Bill

    Trailer: http://youtu.be/TMJCOEOGYgg
    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/heroesbehindthebadge


  5. Hello,

    I’m writing to let you know that your blog has been selected for inclusion in our list of the Top 25 Police and Detective Blogs of 2012. Blogs were selected by our editors based on the quality and frequency of posts over the course of 2012.

    You can view the list of blogs at http://www.topcriminaljusticedegrees.org/top-police-and-detective-blogs-of-2012/.


    J. Shane
    Managing Editor


  6. So I was standing at the bottom of Ridgeview Road staring thoughtfully at my broken spoke and warped front wheel, and working to persuade myself that walking a couple miles up the back of Blue Mounds to the village (and my car) in my socks pushing the bike and carrying my cleated shoes – would only add to my appreciation for the landscape and enhance my training, when a pickup stopped and the lady inside asked if I could use a ride. So thank you again SABINE. Just so you know, I’m paying it forward!

    Second, thank you David especially for your blog about dominance policing – and culture. I found it very meaningful and helpful in many, many ways. Just so you know, you can also find your essay here; http://www.luther.edu/ideas-creations-blog/?story_id=589288&comment_posted_id=591728

    Bless you both.


  7. I am forwarding the following article from Front Page Mag to all who might appreciate it:

    Frontpage’s 2014 Person of the Year: The American Police Officer
    December 26, 2014 by Daniel Greenfield 161 Comments
    Print This Post

    As we sit here in our homes with our families and loved ones around us, tens of thousands of children wonder if their parents will come home tonight.
    Their fathers and mothers aren’t stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. They’re on duty in places like Englewood in Chicago where there are 2 violent crimes for every 1,000 people in one month, Columbus Square in St. Louis or Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York City where two police officers were just murdered.
    The men and women of law enforcement are on the front lines of the war at home. From the mugger on the block to the terrorist on the hijacked plane, they are the first ones there.

    41 law enforcement officers were shot and killed in 2014. That’s in line with the number of Americans killed by hostile fire in Afghanistan. There’s a reason that Chicago has been nicknamed Chiraq. Some parts of the country are a war zone and after the latest shooting of two police officers in New York City, a statement circulating among cops states that the NYPD has become a “wartime police department.”

    The war at home has been going on for a long time and by some accounts has claimed the lives of 20,000 law enforcement officers. Since 2001, more than 700 officers have been killed by gunfire. During the Gulf War, more officers were killed on the streets of American cities than in combat against Saddam.

    Even as the murders of NYPD cops Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu fill the news, Officer Charlie Kondek has been shot while pursuing a suspect in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
    Officer Kondek had been a former member of the NYPD. He leaves behind five children. His killer, Marco Antonio Parilla Jr, had been repeatedly arrested for the possession and sale of cocaine before being released just this August. Officer Kondek and his children paid the ultimate price for his release.

    All three police officers were casualties in the war against human evil that never ends. It’s an even dirtier and more unglamorous war than Iraq or Afghanistan. And police officers are hated in a way that it’s still socially unacceptable to hate soldiers. Ramos and Liu were the latest casualties of that hatred.

    The police officer is the handyman of the welfare state. His job is to put his life on the line to plug the social leaks that the sociologists, consultants and social planners who made this mess had not foreseen. It’s his job to be there for a domestic violence complaint in a Florida motel at two in the morning or a failure of multiculturalism between two warring gangs in Oakland. He goes to places that the politicians don’t like to think about and deals with issues that the welfare state created and walked away from.

    Progressives don’t believe in evil. It’s the beat cop who has to believe in it and clean it up.

    The planners and politicians who allocate funds for new housing projects don’t have to patrol them at night. They don’t have to walk down a narrow concrete block hallway lined with dirty doors any of which can open at any minute with a gun behind it. The drug sentencing reformers have never had to carry a deranged screaming figure through the rusting doors of an emergency room. They have never had to get their soft shoes dirty walking through puddles of blood in an alleyway.

    When liberalism fails, it’s the cop who gets the call. And when he does get the call, it’s the liberals who will be the first to call for his head.
    It’s not enough that the cop has to clean up for the welfare state. He also has to be its scapegoat.

    The chants of “Black lives matter” aren’t aimed at the gangs and drug dealers who rack up an astronomical number of black deaths; it’s aimed at the cops who put their lives on the line saving black lives. It’s the very people whose messes they clean up who hate them the most.

    The police officer has come to embody America, abroad and at home, the nation that risks its lives to free peoples only to be despised for it, the nation that extends every benefit and privilege to its own criminals only to be shot and stabbed, raped and robbed for its endless generosity.

    The American police officer was never supposed to be venturing into neighborhoods where no one speaks English and the locals see him as a member of an occupying army or patrolling in communities where gang members number in the thousands and could take down the entire local police force.

    He was never supposed to be a social worker, a mediator, a medic and the commander of an invading army negotiating truces and treaties with the local tribes. And yet he is expected to be all these things and more. Every time he goes out he knows that he may face a choice between his life and his career.

    If cops seem touchy, isolated or out of control it’s because they have been left hanging by a system that uses them to dam up the breakdown of a society without ever acknowledging that this is their job. Many urban police officers operate in environments where crime is not an aberration, but the norm. Like the American soldier, the police officer is better trained and more effective than ever before, but like the soldier he is also haunted by the sense that his work and his sacrifices are futile and unappreciated.

    The police officer isn’t spending years in Iraq or Afghanistan; he’s spending decades in Chiraq. When his time ends, there will be no victory parades. Just the knowledge that he tried to make a difference and that unlike many brother officers, at least he made it to retirement.

    Officer Daryl Pierson was shot and killed leaving behind a wife and two young children. Pierson had been an experienced officer. His killer, Thomas Johnson III, had been paroled after serving three years for an attempted armed robbery.

    Officer Justin Winebrenner tried to get Kenan Ivery to leave a bar. Ivery drew a gun and shot and killed him. Officer Winebrenner was a second generation police officer. He left behind a 4-year-old daughter.

    Officer Perry Renn responded to shots being fired and encountered Major Davis Jr. who was carrying a semi-automatic rifle. Davis Jr. had an extensive criminal record. He fired killing Officer Renn who had survived twenty-two years on the force.

    Patrolman Jeffery Westerfield responded to a fight between Carl Le’Ellis Blount Jr. and his girlfriend. He never even got a chance to draw his gun or leave his squad car before Blount shot him in the head.

    Deputy Sheriff Allen Bares was off duty when he saw a gold Lexus crash into a ditch. He approached the vehicle and was shot and killed. The two men inside, Quintylan Richard and Baylon Taylor, stole his truck and took off.

    The police officers in all these cases were white. Their killers were black. But the police officers in many of these cases were trying to protect black people and black communities.

    The killings all took place in a matter of months in 2014. And their numbers will only continue to grow.

    While the wars abroad expand or contract, this is the war that will go on. Its soldiers will serve their tours of duty for decades on the streets of our own cities without having anywhere else to go home to. And when their time is up, they will never receive the thanks that they deserve because most of us will never understand the difference that they made.

    When the left took over, it was the police officer who kept everything from going under in our major cities. It was not the politician or the planner, the sociologist or the social worker who kept the crime and chaos from sweeping everything away. It was the man in blue who did what had to be done.
    Under Obama, when the criminal is king and the progressive planners are changing the country in ways unprecedented since the seventies, it’s still the lonely figure in the squad car that does his duty and holds the line in a thousand dark and dirty neighborhoods where gunshots and screams sound in the night. The American police officer has become the soldier of civilization fighting to keep it alive.

    And somewhere a family wonders if their father or mother will come home tonight.

    About Daniel Greenfield:
    Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.

    Best wishes for 2015
    Andy Halmay


    1. No Mr. Halmay, It is the hard core conservatives aided and abetted by the police that is destroying American civilization. If the cops were the protectors of American civilization, then we would not have so much white collar, corporate crime committed by the 1% in this country and around the world. White collar corporate crime has been the norm in America for the last 35 years and the cops have failed to put a stop to it because they are lackeys of the rich people and corporations and don’t have the moral courage to stand up to those groups. You also didn’t see the cops arresting the CIA officials and Oliver North for flooding American cities with heroin and cocaine. The cops were also told to lay off white drug dealers and user in the affluent white neighborhoods or their budget would be eliminated..

      “His job is to put his life on the line to plug the social leaks that the sociologists, consultants and social planners who made this mess had not foreseen.”

      Rich people, corporations, and business people have created the political, social, and economic mess that is occurring in this country and they intend to keep it that way by using the police as their own military force as Mayor Bloomberg called the NYPD. Cop’s job is to maintain the social, political, and economic control for the 1%.

      What about white cops being killed by white criminals and white right wing militia groups. Who killed those cops in Nevada and who threaten to shoot the federal BLM agents in Nevada? It wasn’t the blacks


  8. Mr. Halmay and Gunther, with due respect, you are both correct. The flaw is that we must stop drawing the “liberal” and “conservative” lines in the sand. I’m committed to speaking out for the cop on the beat, who as Mr. Halmay quite correctly states, are the ones bearing the brunt of everyone’s anger. The truth is that as citizens we lack the will to address the systemic problems that get dumped at the feet of the street cop everyday. I’m not talking about white collar investigations on the federal scope, Gunther. I’m talking about cops in the trenches of our communities right now. Mr. Halmay is right. They are risking their lives every day for us, just like the soldiers we all so rightly revere. We must all have the courage to examine our respective communities, own the problems and work for positive change.


  9. Will all due respect Sarge, I would love to remove conservative and liberal from this arguement but as long as some hard conservatives starts putting all the blame on liberals, socialist, progressives, etc., and refuses to accept of what their powerful conservatives have done to this country for the last 35 years aided and abetted by the police, plus not treating people from other political, economic, social, ethnic, racial, and religious groups as fellow American citizen with equal rights, I will not take such outrageous statements lying down. Where is the guy’s proof that liberalism and socialism have destroy America? The answer is he has none where I have given plenty of evidence regarding hard core conservatism is destroying this country.


  10. Hi David,
    I just finished reading “Arrested Development.” It brought back memories for me as a small town Chief trying to make change happen in the 90’s. Thank you for your COURAGE!

    I’m now an Asst. Professor at UW-Platteville and I hope to get a chance to meet you Wednesday night. It’s tough to facilitate change once an officer is socialized into the police culture but I hope to make a difference while they are still in school.

    Patrick Solar


    1. Patrick, yes, there is important work that can be done early-on in a young officer’s career. Moral strength is certainly necessary and having an eye on the “big picture.” Hope to see you tonight at UW-Platteville.


  11. My name is Sebastian Vega from Texas Standard (NPR’s daily statewide new show for Texas) at KUT and I wanted to know if you had time for a quick interview sometime tomorrow (6/9) before 9 a.m. central time. The interview would be focusing on police training and its relation to officers’ mentality of being prepared for the worst.
    Thank you for your consideration.


  12. I am a public defender in Minnesota and have been deeply saddened by the things I have seen and experienced and learned about law enforcement over the years. Yesterday when the POST board decided not to name the training fund after Philando Castile – based on outright lies by Bob Kroll – I just about lost it. Like one of Malcom Gladwell’s tipping points, I felt emotionally raw and finally understand exactly why people chant “pigs in a blanket.” It’s a dark place to be, especially for someone whose childhood dream was to be a cop. I’m very encouraged to find this blog.


    1. The only way police will improve is if good men and women join them. Standing outside the police and asking for reform and improvement is howling against the wind. Join them and work to improve them! Still possible?


  13. As a Wisconsin former law enforcement officer I’m so thrilled to be reconnecting with Chief Couper. After some thirty years of lost contact and being a man of great faith (a recovering Catholic due to clergy abuse and now a student of Buddhism/Native American/the teachings of Jesus, a higher power reconnected us after all this time to combine out faith based moral ethical approach to being a true PEACE officer and protecting professional top cops from burnout and other risks associated with increased gun violence against officers due to gun whacko’s getting easier access to firearms.Cops are dying in record numbers (up 15%) because of male testosterone driven legislation that coddles criminals who want immediate access to guns in the name of “protecting their castle” or standing their ground. In my 50+ yrs hunting and using firearms, the NRA is directly responsible for this increase in police officer deaths since the NRA began there criminal coddling agenda rather than focusing on what the NRA was in my childhood and youth, a hunter safety organization. This I hold former NRA radical president Wayne “LeFontaine” for this dramatic increase in police officer deaths. If more guns deter crime, why isn’t Somalia the safest nation in the world? Why isn’t Canada and Sweden the most dangerous nations? Because of the NRA’s anti-faith-based fear campaign and diabolical lies. If a Christian, Muslim, Jew or agnostic truly has faith, then fear can’t control emotions.
    My message in closing is Chose God. Not guns! One can’t worship both.


  14. Tol Michael the archangel.

    If more guns really deter crime, the KKK, corporate crime, crimes committed by wealthy people, and crimes committed by bad DAs and cops would have cease to exist a long time ago. Of course, when you look at the history of this country, Afro-Americans were denied to owning a gun due to various black codes laws pass at the state and local levels even though it violated their Second Amendment rights.

    Coddling to criminals. Well, we have been coddling to white collar criminals for the last 37 years and because of it, white collar corporate crime has gone through the roof. You can also hold right wing think tanks like ALEC and corporations like Wal-Mart for trying to weaken/eliminate gun laws in all 50 states. They are the real criminals as well.


    1. Such a challenging and gut-wrenching issue for many.
      Teachers of higher consciousness suggest it reflects a shadow side of MOST of us…
      calling us to more self-examination, self-improvement, self-policing and love of enemies (of a higher, harder and humbling kind).


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