Peace Talks Radio host Paul Ingles talks with Steve Herbert, professor of Law,
Society and Justice at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Herbert: If there were one thing that I think that could happen that would improve relationships between the police and the communities with whom they work, it would be to reduce the expectation that the police can meaningfully reduce the incidents of crime. Their capacity to do that is actually much more limited than we realize. We ask the police to reduce crime because they have the capacity to arrest people and to introduce them into the criminal justice system and they can arrest people with the coercive tools at their disposal to force people to submit to an arrest.
The logic is that is that if we arrest criminals then we will charge them, if we charge them, we will convict them, if we convict them, we will punish them and then once punished, will be deterred from committing crime in the future. The fact of the matter is that the police can only, in very limited circumstances and very limited context, meaningfully reduce the incidents of crime, but we expect them to do that and they expect themselves to do that and as a consequence, they are compelled to intrude fairly heavily into people’s personal lives, so policies like stop and frisk or investigatory stops of [inaudible] are all motivated by the police’s desire to catch individuals who they suspect of engaging in criminal wrongdoing; possessing drugs, possessing guns, or otherwise engaging in criminal activity, but they do that in a way that compels them to intrude rather more brusquely and heavily into people’s lives than they typically appreciate. And so those tactics, while motivated by the law’s desire to reduce crime, actually have the capacity of frequently alienating many members of the public from the police.
Another component of police expecting themselves to reduce crime is they expect their authority to be respected whenever they assert it because people are unwilling to respect their authority, then they can effectuate their arrest that begins a process that they believe contributes to the reduction of crime.
So whenever someone resists police authority, often times the police respond in an overly aggressive fashion and things escalate to a position where we see unfortunate incidents of individuals dying as we’ve seen around the country in recent months.
So if we alleviated the police of this expectation that they could meaningfully reduce crime, they might be less inclined to be so intrusive, they might be less inclined to respond strongly when they feel like their authority is challenged and they can work with the community more productively to create situations in which healthy communities can develop such that the root causes of crime might be more meaningfully addressed.
A lot of what would be involved here is a cultural shift on the part of both the public and the police to see the police’s role differently in terms of the role that they can play in building healthy communities, but I think that that’s where the conversation needs to go to think about to the extent that crime is a phenomenon in given communities. What are the underlying causes? Of that, what more limited role might we define for the police in addressing those underlying conditions and what other strategies might we adopt to address them more effectively. That would require government officials for example, beginning to define situations in distressed communities differently, beginning to explore other policy options and beginning to have conversations with the police and public about a different kind of role for the police.
Ingles: Are there any models internationally where this kind of approach is used and actually works?
Herbert: Not that I am aware of.
Ingles: So are we talking about a historic perspective? Has the way that you described that we think of police been true for the 250 odd years of our Republic?
Herbert: No, actually if you look back at when the police were first created, there wasn’t quite the expectation that they would reduce or eliminate crime. That’s a phenomenon that developed about 100 years ago with the creation of the so-called Professional Model for American Policing, but if you look back at the history of the police in the 1850s or 1870s, they were more of a social service agency. They tried to find supports for people in need and used their police headquarters as a place for people to sleep off a night of excessive drinking or that sort of thing. And it is the case that the police often times do perform a social work role because they do get called to a lot of instances of behavior that aren’t really criminal in nature, so they respond to them as best they can. It’s not as if other roles for the police have not existed in the past and it’s not as if these other roles don’t occur in the present moment, it’s just that they are often times overshadowed dramatically and unfortunately by this emphasis on fighting crime.
Ingles: Steve Herbert from the University of Washington, this is a serious question that I’m about to ask. What do you think is the role of superhero movies in this conversation?
Herbert: I think one of the places where we get our outsized expectations of the police is from the popular media, not just superhero movies, but almost any cop show that we see typically results in the arrest of a bad guy and the presumption that he will then face the appropriate punishment in the criminal justice system. We don’t like stories of police not being heroic rescuers of good people from bad people and so yes, I think you’re right to suggest that the myth of the invincible and effective police officer is one that gets pretty wide airing in our popular culture.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Zack Reed, Councilman, City of Cleveland, Ward 2
Reed: If you look at what was done in Cleveland where I’m a Councilman, we looked at and evaluated the way that we’re policing first and foremost because you can’t come up with a solution unless you understand and believe you’ve got a problem. So I think we’re coming to the realization that we have a problem in the way that police are policing communities, especially those communities of color and people within those communities first and foremost.
I think the other thing that we need to look at is the community policing element of it. Police officers just can’t be in the community, they’ve got to be of the community and what I’m saying is that they can’t just ride around in police cars, they just can’t go from call to call, they just can’t be on priority calls when a 911 comes about, they’ve got to be in those communities morning, noon and night doing what all other individuals in those communities do, from the people that are working in the meat shops, from the people that are working in the corner stores to the people that are working just normally in the community as a whole from the pastors, the churches, the librarians, these are individuals that are not just saying that we are “in” the community, they are actually “of” the community.
What has happened in these communities is that the police are getting to a point and are already at a point to where it’s “us against them.” We don’t say that about anybody else in our communities except for police right now. We’ve got to bring down that wall. We’ve got to bring down the barriers. And we’ve got to bring down those obstacles that are separating the police from the people that they are supposed to protect and serve. When we do that and you go into a more robust, aggressive community policing plan, I can then say to you that things are going to get better because then you see police officers the same way you see a mailman in the community, the same way you see the butcher in the community, the same way you see a librarian in the community. You see them as necessary people to make up the entire community, but right now we only use the police officers in our community when you call 911, when there’s an emergency in the community and that can’t be.
Ingles: Well Zack, when did it start to turn away from that model? I think some people will remember, who are old enough, community policing, a cop on the beat, the cop was a pal in the neighborhood. Maybe it’s an Andy and Mayberry fantasy, but it’s something that I think the older folks listening can sort of remember about their old time police force. When did it start to shift away?
Reed: It started to shift away, in my opinion, when we started going towards stats. I’m not saying it’s not important. “How many crimes are we solving?” “What does our homicide rate look like?” “What do the burglary rates look like?” “What do felonious assaults look like?” “Are they going up or are they going down?” “Where are we at?” We started going towards stats and calls first and foremost instead of saying, “Do you know how we can solve crime? Let’s talk to the people in those communities.” They know where the guns are at. They know where the criminals are at. They know where the drug houses are at. They know where the individuals who are doing bad things to good people are at. So how do you get that information? You get that information by those people in those communities believing that we’re on the same team, that we’re all working together and when we’re on the same team and we’re all working together, then what happens? We all are looking for the same goal; getting the people in those communities that are being most affected by those crimes to help you solve those crimes and when they don’t believe that you’re working with them and they have the “us against them” mentality, then you’re out there working alone and in too many parts of our cities around the nation. That’s what’s happening.
Ingles: Alright Zack, in Cleveland, does that represent a large change in terms of training existing force and training new law enforcement officers? Is that going to be a big turnaround in how things have been done?
Reed: In the City of Cleveland, there is going to be a sea of change in the sense that in the DOJ report, the Department of Justice Report, I think on page 50 or 51 it says that in the City of Cleveland, they not only don’t do community policing, they don’t even know how to do community policing. So when you’re not doing the fundamental foundation of what policing is across the nation, (and that’s not Zack Reed saying that, it’s not some opinion), that’s the Department of Justice, DOJ report saying that Cleveland doesn’t even know how to do community policing, so now in our consent decree, it clearly spells out that they have to start doing community policing. They literally have to start writing down when they’re outside the car, when they’re talking to residents, when they’re going to community meetings, when they’re getting information from the citizens in the community. Are they playing with the young people in the community? What are they doing to interact with the people in the community? So now it becomes part of the overall consent decree and that is a huge change for the City of Cleveland.
Three things that I believe, whether it’s the City of Cleveland and whether it’s Chicago or Los Angeles, Boston, New York, no matter where they may be, there are three things in our consent decree that whether you go to a consent decree or not, I believe all police forces need to start doing.
First of all, they need to do community policing.
Second of all, they need to have non-biased policing protocols in place.
Thirdly, they need to start utilizing technology.
I believe we need to do those three things, and those are things that the DOJ report said have to be done in our consent decree.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Karen Fischer, retired after 25 years as a civilian employee of the Albuquerque Police Department.
Fischer: So as a community, our typical interaction with police is that they come into our homes or we interact with them when things are bad. Now we’re trying to move from the idea of how do we turn that interaction that is typically negative or something that’s a bad thing in our life into something that we work productively together on to be able to achieve that.
We’ve got to change the way that we think of the role of public safety in a community. Law enforcement cannot be a community’s sole solution to crime and public safety. We can’t rely on only them to solve our problems of being burglarized or of drug dealing.
How do we, as a community, come together and address those issues? You have to think away from crime to public safety. What is public safety? Ask yourself; what makes you feel safe?
To some people it’s education. If we don’t have a literate populace, then how does that population get jobs and be productive? So public safety is impacted by a quality education.
Public safety is impacted by poverty.
Public safety is impacted by race relations.
It isn’t just crime, it’s coming together towards what we define and each neighborhood, each block might have a different definitely of what’s the biggest public safety issue.
In many communities it could be are my kids safe walking to school. Whose responsibility is that? Is it the schools’? Is it the neighbors’? That’s a safety issue.
The lights are out on my street. Is that a police response or is that a government response? In Albuquerque that’s actually PNM who oversees the lights on the street. [They are actually] the ones who are responsible for it.
It could be the Department of Municipal Development.
If it’s safety at a park, who manages that park? It’s Parks and Recreation. Who lives at that park? Who uses the park? If individuals who are living in homelessness are using a park to be able to camp there because they have no place to be, whose responsibility is it to address the issue of homelessness? It’s not the police department, but it’s a public safety issue. It’s homeless service providers. It’s a poverty issue. It could be a mental illness issue. It could be PTSD issue. Why are individuals living homelessly? Why do they lose their jobs? If it’s a pan-handling issue, whose responsibility is it to address pan-handling? If you give somebody money, then of course they’ll come back, but there are so many opportunities for food around Albuquerque that there are very few hungry people, but that becomes a public safety issue to both the community who doesn’t want the pan-handlers there and somebody standing on a median could be hit. They could be injured. They could be killed. That’s a public safety issue.
So it’s not just crime, it’s all kinds of stuff and how do we define who we draw into the solution? [If] we rely on police to get that homeless person out of the park, that homeless person is going to go someplace else. How do provide a solution such as Heading Home that Albuquerque has that deals with the underlying condition as to why that person is living homelessly.
Everybody is their own puzzle and we have to be able to be willing to change the way we address those.
Ingles: It sounds like you’re saying that [we need to] broaden our view and that the police department is not the answer to all of these issues.
Fischer: To me, that’s the realm we have to work towards if we’re really going to get to the idea of community-building and a better relationship with law enforcement. [We need to] change our expectations of what we want them to do.
Ingles: Okay and finally, say someone in the police department is catching the broadcast, [what are] a couple of steps that would encourage that side to create the synergy that would help the issue of strained relations between citizens and law enforcement.
Fischer: I think if you talk to the command staff, the administration, you would get, “Yes, we want to do that” and then they would do the things they’ve always done which is try to get neighborhood associations or people to engage, but the difficulty is the frontline officer who says, “I don’t have the time to do that. I go from call to call to call to call. I’m working overtime. I’m forced into working overtime. On my days off, I have to go to court.”
Ingles: Is it logistically possible to make what seems like a common sense shift in the way that policing is done?
Fischer: The only reason it’s not logistically possible is the willingness not to do it, to not try. You’ve got to try. You’ve got to rethink the way you deploy your resources.
The persons’ job who you see in the marked vehicle is to answer calls for service. The complication is that there are fewer officers, but we still want a police officer to respond when we call. The number of officers working a shift in part of the city could be 20, 10, I don’t know. I don’t know that answer, but it used to be very low. How do those frontline officers find the time to do it? Instead of saying they’re going to do this, if we want to build a better community and give you more time, two hours a week, to work with your community, how could you do that and still meet the responsibility of answering calls for service? They’re probably the ones who have the solution. I’ve never answered a call for service. I don’t know what is entailed, but I know that the people who are expected to make the change have to be just like the community is. The law and frontline officers have to be part of how we define that solution.
KOB-TV’s Tom Joles interviews several New Mexico Law Enforcement Officers, May 15, 2015 at KOB-TV Studios, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Officer John Garcia, Albuquerque: Tom, I would add that respect is a huge thing. I work the streets a lot, I’m a bike officer so I’m out on the streets a lot. One of the things that the street knows is respect. I think that’s the hardest part is when people come up to you. Yes we get a lot of “thank you’s” and “good job’s,” but at times we get a lot of “Go away. We don’t want to deal with you.” They look at us as the enemy when we are here just to help and serve our communities.
Joles: The enemy? In your opinion, what needs to be done to heal this divide that exists?
Officer Brian Werley, Albuquerque: I believe that there is a cooperative team effort that we have to take with the community. Law enforcement can’t be everywhere at any given time. When we’re dealing with a situation, a lot of times they are the eyes and ears of the community and it takes that cooperation with the community to bring things to light for us to be able to step in and help out. Open lines of communication.
Joles: Open lines of communication. Anything else?
Deputy Aaron Schwartz, Bernalillo County: Well, no matter what happens, whether it’s on the news or the riots or anything like that, I believe that only a small portion of society really truly believes we are the enemy. I think for the most part, society does support us and no matter what happens, we’re going to put on the uniform every day and do our best on the streets.
Joles: Good. Anything else?
Officer Gardner Finney, Santa Fe: Citizens Academy. The people who participate in that in Santa Fe, we often get activists who are not criminals, who are not family and friends of police officers. Family and friends of cops know how police are and that we’re decent folks. But activists will often do the Citizens Academy and do a ride along and see what we deal with and by the end of that day of spending a shift with an officer, it’s a huge change in someone’s perception and that’s helpful.
Officer Shermane Carter, Albuquerque: Just to add to that, I think increasing public awareness as to what a police officer does, we have a multitude of hats that we wear on a daily basis. We are the Mama, we are the Daddy, we are the counselor, we are a safe person that a child talks to, so there is a lot to us.
Joles: One last question, the media. How is the reporting on law enforcement in this state?
Officer John Garcia, Albuquerque: I’ll just add really quickly. A lot of times I think the media dictates a lot what’s going on in society and in public and what the public eye sees, so I think a lot of that can be bad or good as we’re doing now.
Deputy Autumn Neas, Bernalillo County: Also it’s not compared to the entirety of police encounters. One awful issue is not compared to the many positive encounters that we deal with the encounters in general that we deal with, even traffic stops. Those are encounters as well.
Officer Brian Werley, Albuquerque: When we’re called to deal with a situation, things that are reported to law enforcement professionals can turn into a fluted and dynamic rapidly evolving situation. It does take some time to bring everything in and decide how things are going when it comes to that type of situation. So media will show the end result of what happened a X, Y and Z, not showing the entirety of A, B, and C of what was done first before it ended in the situation how it ended.
What’s also tough too is anyone who is not in law enforcement, it’s difficult for them to even have a perspective just because they are not trained in our tactics, so in a sense, it is a very unbiased opinion and it is reporting, but a lot of times it’s misunderstood what we do and why we do things.
Joles: I want to thank all of you for being here.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with James Ginger, CEO of Public Management in Pamplico, South Carolina.
Ginger: It’s relatively simple, the process, the flowchart is a relatively simple thing. It starts with good policy, it continues with training and it continues with good supervision and good discipline. Those are the pillars of a good policing process and it sounds almost too simple to be true, but that is the approach. It has been the approach in virtually every one of these USDOJ consent decrees and settlement agreements. That’s where they focus, on those sorts of things.
Ingles: Well Jim, you set up a good, what I would call, scaffolding for the process saying that programs work with administration, work with hiring, work with training, when you have to bring change through a department. Let’s say in the hiring process first, what are some of the bullet points or the most important things that are generally lacking that are generally in need of change?
Ginger: The answer is we fail to do good, solid, comprehensive background investigations to make sure that this is not someone who has had six other law enforcement jobs, lasted two years in each and now he’s he trying to get a law enforcement job in our community. That’s a huge red flag and the problem actually turns out to be that the argument is made, particularly among small police departments, is that we don’t have the time to do background investigations and we don’t have the resources. The response to that is you don’t have the resources not to. If you engage in a practice of negligent hiring and get one or two or three officers in your agency who have been either terminated or allowed to resign in lieu of termination in two or three other police departments before you hired them, that’s a negligent hire and as a city or a town, you’re liable for that officer’s actions particularly the ones that are similar to what they’ve been either fired for in the past or allowed to resign in lieu of termination in the past.
Recently here in South Carolina, we had a $97 million jury verdict against a small town for negligent hiring. They had hired an officer who had had seven previous law enforcement employments and been fired from all but one of them or allowed to resign in lieu of termination or fired from all of them but one and the jury was so disgusted with that negligence that they found for the plaintiff in that case to the tune of $97 million. The argument that we can’t afford to do it is sort of put to bed by that one. You can’t afford not to unless you happen to have $97 million laying around that you don’t need.
Ingles: Yes, $97 million can pay for a lot of resources and positions that can do background checks.
Ginger: Exactly, so there is really no reason not to do these things, but there are $97 million good reasons to do them.
Ingles: Again it strikes me that it’s easier to track a candidates’ technical skills with firearms or with time on a beat or in a department. It’s more difficult to track a persons’ emotional map.
Ginger: That’s true although we do have even pen and pencil tests now that will at least give you a clue and then seven phone calls in that particular instance would have trigger that as well, so it’s not like it’s that difficult to do.
Ingles: It strikes me that recruiting and hiring on an administrative level really sets the stage for everything. Could you talk a little bit about shoring up that process so that people are found for the top of these departments?
Ginger: Well, that’s another issue entirely. Nothing says competency like good leadership, but then you need city councils and city executives, town councils and town executives who are willing to actually search out the best qualified candidates and bring them into that executive level when they’re searching for a new chief of police.
The flip side of that is that that doesn’t accrue to county sheriff’s departments. Those are elected positions, so you get into a whole other set of issues with that in terms of hiring the best folks, but from a municipal or town police perspective, which is where we tend to have most of our problems. It’s a commitment on the part of city council, it’s a commitment on the part of the mayor’s office or whoever the chief executive of the city is to truly find the best people, not the people who are best politically connected, not the people who we know best, but the best people we can find.
The process of hiring a police chief in the United States today is highly competitive from a couple of different angles. If you advertise for a chief of police in South Carolina, you’re probably going to get 150 applications, so it’s not a lack of competent (that’s not to say that all 150 are competent) candidates. It’s the willingness and the ability to whittle those out to the three or four or five who are obviously the best qualified and then the wherewithal and the fortitude to pay for those folks because they’re becoming, like any other CEO position, very well compensated in the United States. That means that if you want a really good chief of police, you’re going to have to be willing to pay for him or her to come onboard because they no longer work for $45,000 or $50,000 in most cases. Some of these packages are quite substantial. That’s another issue that is often confronted by city councils and city managers and mayors is well sure, this woman is well qualified and we’d love to have her, but we can’t afford to pay her. So you wind up maybe five or six or seven folks down the line from the very best qualified candidate simply because you can’t afford the signing bonuses and those sorts of things that chiefs of police are starting to get nowadays in this country.
Ingles: I guess that unless somebody on the council makes that $97 million settlement story part of the conversation.
Ginger: Exactly. The final analysis in this thing is that it can be very expensive to hire a bad chief of police.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Greg Saville, criminologist, police trainer,
former police officer and author of “You In Blue”.
Saville: The more the police and community know each other by personal name and work together directly on minor problems and solving problems together, the more they do that, the better the relations are going to be. That’s the first place I would go.
The second place I’d go is we need to seriously retool and rethink the training systems for police. The training regimes are obsolete, out of date and I think they lead to many of the problems.
We have just written a book about this whole problem called You in Blue and I think that’s where we need to go.
Ingles: Well, tell me more about that then. Tell me more about where the training needs to go where maybe it hasn’t been going in recent years.
Saville: Well, the interesting thing is that police are very quick to adopt new technologies, new military strategies and military equipment, but they’re very resistant to adopting new training methods, new ways to educate and help learners learn. So our approach is to say, look at the training methodologies, look at the way training is done and you discover a rigid, militaristic power point-driven sage on the stage style of learning sprinkled with war stories and sprinkled with some scenarios that it obsolete and far out of date and leads to more problems than it’s worth.
Modern education has gone leaps and bounds beyond that. We need to update and seriously upgrade the way police training is done; with modern, collaborative, community-based educational methods. What we do is we create a program called problem-based learning and we’ve been through the Department of Justice for the last seven years and gradually helping police training programs and police academies to update and upgrade their methods. That’s where we need to go.
Ingles: I was always intrigued in reading some of your materials online about an emphasis on what many of us know and our listeners know if they’ve heard our programs before on emotional intelligence. This has been part of the conversation about particularly police officers who have to introduce into very, very tricky environments and have to employ empathy in a very special and sensitive way. Could you talk a little bit more of that side of the training?
Saville: Well, we introduced emotional intelligence about 12 years ago and through the work we’ve done in emotional intelligence training, it has utterly revolutionized the way we approach learning and teaching.
How this works is if a police officer is in an emergency situation and they’re responding to a crisis, say a police chase where there is a high-speed pursuit and there is a lot of adrenaline, what happens chemically is there is a fight and flight response and adrenaline fires inside the officer’s brain and you get very anxious, very nervous and what happens is that a lot of the access that you have to the normal conflict resolution and problem solving strategies is minimized because you’re focused on simply driving the car, getting to the scene and so forth. Those are the kinds of things that lead to trouble later on because you’re still driven by the emotions of the event and no surprise when you look on these candid television images of the use of force or happenings at these peak moments.
What emotional intelligence does is it police officers how to learn how to control their state of mind in these emergency situations and on everyday situations by teaching them how to focus on self-awareness, how to calm themselves, how to use breathing methods and all of those kinds of things that are traditionally thought of as soft skills are often defamed or downplayed in academy training versus the hard skills which are the tactical training and shooting and those types of things. The truth of the matter is that the majority of situations are driven by soft skills. They’re driven by the interaction before, the state of mind of the officer before. Emotional intelligence finally addresses that in training.
Ingles: Now despite what we’ve seen in recent years on this, are you hopeful that some of the strains and stressors between citizens and their law enforcement organizations can be improved?
Saville: I know they can be improved. Here is my worry: I fear that there is a diverging culture in the law enforcement community toward what I call the “combat cop approach.” That is the militarization, the heavy military equipment, the easy acceptance of equipment that may or may not be effective in resolving crime and the combat cop attitude is in direct contradiction to the work that many police reformers have been working on for decades called “community policing” and “problem-solving policing.” The problem-solving community cop on one side and the combat cop on the other is a terrible divide and I fear that we’re losing ground for one at the sake of another.
What I would like to see is the everyday patrol officer, the everyday rookie, the everyday academia instructor see that these two things are not incompatible; that you do need a tactical response in emergency situations, that’s always going to be the case, but the primary goal of the piece is to preserve the peace and to be the guardians of the community to work with the community. If that’s the overall goal, then it shouldn’t be hard to figure a way out of this mess.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Mike Scott, Director of the non-profit Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, also clinical professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
Scott: If the question is how do we improve relationships between citizens and the police in this country, I suggest we begin where I always begin which is by asking the question; “What is supposed to be the relationship between the police and the public?” Everything flows from the way in which we answer that question. If we answer the question that the police are supposed to enforce the law, they’re supposed to fight crime, protect the public from crime, simplistic answers like that are what lead us into the trouble that we often find ourselves because it puts the police in a very narrow function with regard to the public as a force that exists merely to enforce the law and merely to protect the so-called good guys from the bad guys.
I think a more proper understanding of what the police exist to do and have always existed to do is much broader than that. The police are one agency of government among many that share responsibility for promoting public safety and the relationship that they ought to have with the public extends well beyond simply enforcing the law, especially the criminal law. It really is about helping the public and helping specific communities develop and maintain real safety and a sense of safety and security within the various communities in which they live. If you understand it that way, then the relationship the police ought to have to the public is dramatically different and how we would structure policing, how we would define the job of a police officer would be very different than it often gets defined.
So the police officer, under that view of policing, would see his or her role as first establishing a relationship with particular segments of the community and that’s very much promoted by an organizational structure, in which every police officer, especially every patrol office, is assigned to a particular part of the community on a relatively long term basis with a mandate of getting to know the people who live and work in that community, but with a specific objective of getting to know the particular conditions and crime problems and public safety issues that threaten that community.
Building on that, the police officer would then capitalize on the relationships that he or she builds with people in that community to identify these problems, to think along with the community about different ways of addressing those problems to develop new approaches that improve upon approaches that are not working as well to address those problems and to constantly monitor what progress is being made.
This idea is not brand new. It’s a set of ideas that have really been in and around policing for a good 40 years now and I think much of the problem that we face is that we’ve lost sight of some of the gains that we’ve made over the last 40 years in terms of redefining the police function. There is a great need to get the police back to this notion of police as community problem solvers and not exclusively as crime fighters or law enforcers.
Ingles: Now Mike, have we, in some ways, outgrown the ability to do that in terms of our large urban centers or even our mid-sized cities to be able to assign police responsibilities in their communities that way?
Scott: No, not at all. In fact many of the cities in which I’ve lived and worked in the police field including New York City, our biggest city, we were doing this. We were doing this with patrol officers and communities in New York City in the 1980s. We were doing it in Saint Louis in the center of the city in the 1990s. We were doing in Chicago, in Los Angeles in Houston, in all of our major cities and indeed there is evidence that we’ve been doing it in medium-sized cities, small cities, towns, villages, unincorporated areas. There really is no place in the country where this style of policing can’t work in some modified form.
Ingles: Michael Scott, why do you personally care about devoting so much of your time to thinking about this?
Scott: Well, policing is one of the two or three most important functions of government, anyplace, anywhere. It is to domestic affairs what the military is to international affairs. So if one cares at all about the strength of democracy, the fairness and justice in society, then one has to care about policing.
Police are ultimately a reflection of the political desires of a community, but it’s also the case that police, professional police committed to democratic policing can in fact play a leadership role in demonstrating how, even some of the most challenging, difficult, complex social problems that affect public safety can be effectively addressed without resorting to heavy-handed draconian anti-democratic approaches to policing.
Again, if one cares at all about justice and democracy, one has to care about police and policing.
Ingles: As I described to you, our program is about non-violent conflict resolution. It strikes me that what you just said, you didn’t say “non-violence,” but you used other words to describe things that they could avoid, but are the police also ostensibly on the front lines of being able to model non-violent conflict resolution despite the fact that they have a gun on their hip?
Scott: Well, I think especially because they have a gun on their hip. There is a general principle in professional policing that holds that the police ought to use the least amount of coercive force necessary to achieve their lawful objectives. The least amount of coercive force necessary to achieve lawful objectives, so if you take that proposition seriously, then the police themselves ought constantly to be looking for ways to address public safety problems using the least amount of coercion necessary to do that.
That’s some of what we have learned bit by bit, problem by problem over the past 40 years is that in fact here are choices to be made. There are choices as to whether we want our police to approach these problems with a very heavy hand a very heavy use of coercive force or if we want our police to look for alternatives to the use of coercive force in addressing these problems. The police field is getting increasingly sophisticated where they are committed to doing so; to finding less coercive, less forceful ways of addressing even the most serious crime problems.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Glenn Ivey, former State’s Attorney of
Prince Georges County in Maryland and a former federal prosecutor.
Ivey: I guess it depends on the community, but I think there are communities where the relations are strained or worse. I think there have been a number of approaches that have been outlined. Professor David Kennedy and Tracy Neers [sp ?] and others have talked about more direct outreach. Community policing is part of that approach, but I think it needs to go beyond that.
One is being on the same beat every day. I think there needs to be actual interaction between police departments at the foot patrol level or squad car patrol level and leaders in those communities on a daily basis.
And I also think and I also think we need to move away from policing policies that are casting way too broad a net. The stop and frisk stuff that they were doing up in New York up until recently, you ended up getting a lot of innocent people who were just minding their own business, really got caught up in the criminal justice system and I think it really ended up turning a lot of people into enemies of the police department and government and a community rule in general because of being treated like criminals even when they aren’t and so I think you have to try to find ways to mitigate that pushing away effect by overly aggressively policing.
At the same time, when communities are having a lot of criminal activity, they can always ask for more police help. There needs to be a balance and I think most communities understand that. They want to have the police there, they just don’t want them to be overly aggressive and they don’t want to be treated like criminals even when they’re just minding their own business, raising their kids going to work, living their lives.
Ingles: So let’s break it down a little bit to talk a little bit about law enforcement. What does it mean then if you’re trying to take steps that would be considered reform in some police departments where they are having trouble?
Ivey: I think there is a mindset change that needs to take place in some police departments. They’re just sort of read and react. You get a 911 call and you go respond to the call and then you go to the next call and a lot of it is driven by limited resources, but I think there has to be an effort to create space for proactive policing; getting out there even when there hasn’t been a 911 call, where there’s no emergency taking place and just interacting with the community on a different level, on a non-emergency level. I think that that is a good step in the right direction.
There are other things that could be done. I remember way back in the day they had Boys and Girls Clubs where the police might help coach teams or referee games. It doesn’t necessarily have to be super strategic. There just needs to be interaction at a level that is outside of the realm of crime occurring or an emergency underway. I think that’s a big step.
Interacting with the faith community I think is another part of that because a lot of times those are leaders in the community who have their finger on the pulse of people who are in crisis or at risk that could use additional help. Sometimes it’s the parent in distress because the child has wandered off the path or is starting to get into some more serious trouble.
The other level is schools. I think you want to have it so that it’s not schools as police zones per say, but trying to get more interaction, involvement, information from school settings can make a big difference because a lot of times there are feuds or beefs or whatever you want to call them that build up outside of a campus and then they sort of blow up.