The challenges of policing in America are at a critical crossroads, and a transformative commitment to the profession is necessary.
Challenges facing police agencies and departments are numerous. These include the overriding issue of building bridges of trust between law enforcement and communities.
There are also issues with low morale, retaining and recruiting officers, continually upgrading technology equipment and ongoing certifications — including de-escalation, mental illness, peer intervention, and leadership with ethical policing as its foundation.
These myriad complexities are imposing enough, but the senseless violence cascading throughout our communities exacerbates the challenges.
The violence is so commonplace that it is becoming back page news, and the flag flying at half-staff a common occurrence.
Violence against Law Enforcement
Members of the law enforcement community are not immune to America’s culture of violence.
Indeed, as I pen this article, I have just posted numerous #NeverForget hashtags. These are for three law enforcement personnel shot and killed recently throughout the nation in the line of duty.
Let us prayerfully pause to honor these fallen officers:
- Louisiana State Police Master Trooper Adam Gaubert, ambushed by a murder suspect.
- Alamo, GA Police Officer Dylan Harrison, killed while working part-time during his inaugural shift.
- DEA Special Agent Michael G. Garbo, killed during the Amtrak incident in Phoenix. Garbo served his agency with distinction for 16 years.
Additional Policing Challenges
There is also the demand to enhance public-private partnerships to make unity of effort a reality. This is particularly important as many departments and agencies are understaffed.
Intelligence-driven policing is also essential. Advanced technologies demand not only upgraded equipment as mentioned previously, but effective state-of-the-art real-time centers.
These centers must have data-driven approaches to deter, detect, delay and deny criminal activities and support quality of life and community disorder issues negatively impacting communities.
Mental health difficulties not only in the community but in law enforcement, especially with the tragedy of police suicides, also demand our resolve.
Aside from resources for assistance within law enforcement, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1 800-273-8255, provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources, best practices, and building awareness.
An outstanding book titled, “The Profession, A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America,” by Bill Bratton and Peter Knobler is worthy of reading in its entirety.
Let us capsulize a few points from the book, beginning with Bill Bratton’s sentiments directly to the children of NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos. Officer Ramos was assassinated along with NYPD Officer Wenjian Liu on Dec. 20, 2014, during the height of police protests nationwide.
These reflections are from Bratton’s eulogy at Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens.
“Rafael Ramos was assassinated because he represented all of us. Even though, beneath the uniform, he was just a good man.
“And he was just your dad.
“And maybe that’s our challenge.
“Maybe that’s the reason for the struggle we’re now in — as a city, as a nation.
“Maybe it’s because we’ve ALL come to see only what we represent, instead of who we are.
“We don’t see each other.
“The police, the people who are angry at the police, the people who support us but want us to be better, even a madman who assassinated two men because all he could see was two uniforms, even though they were so much more.
“We don’t see each other. If we can …
“If we can learn to SEE each other … to see that our cops are people like Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, to see that our communities are filled with people just like them, too.
“If we can learn to SEE each other, then WHEN we see each other, we’ll heal. We’ll heal as a Department.
“We’ll heal as a city.
“We’ll heal as a country.” i Bill Bratton
Let us continue with a few additional insightful excerpts from The Profession:
“Cops often get enveloped in the blue cocoon. They work with cops, drink with cops, go to cop weddings, cry at cop funerals, talk cop talk, think cop thoughts. It’s an insular world and an occupational hazard. I was a young white officer [in Boston] patrolling an all-Black neighborhood and might have been well on my way. My time at Boston State sprung me. Di Grazia [Bratton’s Police Commissioner in Boston] was right; it’s good for cops to go to college.” ii
Bratton also highlights “Broken Windows,” essential to quality of life and community disorder issues, by George Kelling with three major points:
- “Neighborhood disorder — drunks, panhandling, youth gangs, prostitution and other urban incivilities — creates fear.
- “Just as unrepaired broken windows can signal to people that nobody cares about a building and lead to more serious vandalism, unintended disorderly behavior can also signal that nobody cares about the community and lead to more serious disorder and crime.
- “Such signals — including untended property, disorderly persons, drunks, obstreperous youth — both create fear in citizens and attract predators.
- If police are to deal with disorder to reduce fear and crime, they must rely on citizens for legitimacy and assistance.” iii
Additional issues addressed by Bratton are as follows:
The importance of CompStat, a police accountability system, which also assists with promoting effective policing leaders, with the Broken Windows philosophy, which assisted driving down New York City’s violent crime in the 1990s by 46%. iv
“Neighborhood policing gave the cops the opportunity to feel like cops. They weren’t going to crack the crime of the century, but they could earn the satisfaction of mounting small-scale investigations.” v
Neighborhood policing was hinged on Neighborhood Coordinator Officers (NCO’s) who “serve as liaisons between the police and the community, but also as key crime-fighters and problem solvers. They familiarize themselves with residents and their problems by attending community meetings with neighborhood leaders and clergy, visiting schools, following up on previous incidents, and using creative techniques and adaptive skills. NCO’s function as adjuncts to the local detective squads, responding swiftly to breaking incidents and developing leads and evidence that might have been missed under the old patrol model. Most importantly, they feel a sense of belonging and responsibility that fosters a willingness to do whatever it takes to keep the neighborhood safe and secure.” vi
Precision Policing was an effort developed to focus on “the few who were committing the majority of violence crimes, rather than the tens of thousands who weren’t. The NYPD had found that you could diminish indiscriminate enforcement — a notion that was anathema to the prevailing wisdom … of stop, question and frisk — and simultaneously, with precision, target players and significantly reduce violence. It was an important lesson for anyone who would listen.” vii
Reawakening American Policing
In my many articles for The Chief of Police, I also address issues critical to policing. In particular, the summer 2020 cover story titled “Reawakening American Policing: Officer Safety, Ethical Certifications, Community Trust,” deserves to be spotlighted.
Since the insights in that article complement excerpts from The Profession, a selection of excerpts are noted as follows:
Ethical training, development and certification is critical to the entire law enforcement profession, and so I am taking the liberty to share some details from my program titled 21st Century Policing: America’s Ethical Protectors.
By doing so, it is my fervent hope that law enforcement agencies nationwide are inspired to make ongoing ethical policing initiatives — that highlight certification programs — fundamental to their mission.
This program specifies that premier law enforcement agencies recognize that a respectable program on ethical policing stands as the hallmark for professionalism. The reasons include the following:
Ethical policing certification is a proven educational model that strengthens operational efficiency, improves morale and increases respectability.
Ethics empowers the rank-and-file of an agency with leadership skills, vigilance enhancement and collaborative expertise.
Ethical Policing addresses state-of-the-art ethical principles based upon recognized issues vital to the profession. This is the most effective way of developing, attaining and sustaining the vision, mission, and core values of the agency.
Ethical Policing strengthens agency accountability and improves community trust through principles enhancing expectations, performance and responsibility.
Ethical certification assists in limiting the agency’s liability as it demonstrates that ethical training has been conducted by an independent respected authority.
This program, already presented for an initiative of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association (BCPCA), Bergen County Prosecutors Office (BCPC) and Bergen County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), has an agenda including the following:
- Ethical policing principles
- Principles of American Policing
- Emotional Intelligence
- Cultivating a reputation of respect
- Building community trust
- Neighborhood Policing
- Sexual harassment
- Crime prevention
- Communication skills
- Mental health
- Conflict resolution
- Crisis management
It has also been my honor to present versions of this ethical leadership program at numerous venues for the FBI as well as for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Air Force, the National Conference on Ethics in America at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point and numerous other USMA initiatives.
America’s law enforcement agencies dedicated to “the profession” are in critical roles of protecting and serving our communities.
We must recognize, appreciate and support them in their challenging work.
We must also realize our shared responsibility and do everything in our power to forge ironclad police-community partnerships. These partnerships must be built on an ethical code, essential not only to law enforcement professionals, but on every community member privileged to call America home.
i The Profession, A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America, Bill Bratton and Peter Knobler, Penguin Press, 2021, pg. 25.
ii Ibid. pg. 57.
iii Ibid. pgs. 135 – 136.
iv Ibid. pg. 196.
v Ibid. pg. 308.
vi Ibid. pg. 312.
vii Ibid. pg. 303.