A Way through the Roadblock?

My very honest prescription for better police-public relations in 2016

By Jim Glennon  |   Dec 31, 2015

I think it’s safe to say that the relationship between law enforcement and the public it serves was a major story in 2015.

The police as a collective 700,000-plus were often demonized by the media as well as numerous activist groups. Police were accused of rampant racism, murderous intent, and characterized as a profession that is now beyond trust.

Not surprisingly, law enforcement has not taken kindly to these portrayals. Thousands of officers have lashed out on social media. Police unions have publicly and angrily denounced the negative characterizations. And an unknown amount of police officers have begun to simply … stop.

The word “de-policing” has been bandied about by both politicians and news pundits. Whatever the name, many officers have stopped being proactive.  As I have discussed in other articles, police officers get in trouble for doing, not for not doing. As one officer recently told me at a seminar: “I can’t get in trouble for sitting on my ass.”

As we edge into 2016 we face significant problems. How will this relationship affect public safety? Is it fixable? What do those who demonize the police expect from them? Can police stay focused and motivated to fight both crime and terrorism on our streets?

And for law enforcement: What have we done to contribute to this problem?

To move forward this country is going to have to have a serious conversation with itself. We’re going to have to take the blinders off, avoid biased diatribes, and get a grip on reality when it comes to the criminal justice system.

Let’s examine some of these divergent dichotomies.

“Reexamine basic police practices.”

They say: Police officers need to be less aggressive, limit stop and frisk (if not stop the practice altogether), cease bias and/or prejudgments when on patrol and refrain from enforcing minor violations. Stop and Frisk is a tactic designed to violate the rights of anyone the police deem to be unworthy of freedom.

I say: Police need to be on the lookout for terrorists who are infiltrating the country, be more proactive in order to limit the uptick of homicides in the urban areas of our largest cities (The Brennan Center projects an 11% increase for homicides in 2015), and protect those who cannot protect themselves. Stop and frisk is a practice born from good proactive police work, endorsed and sanctioned by the Supreme Court of the United States.

“The militarization of the police!”

They say: Eliminate the program that gives military equipment to state, county and local police agencies. Soften the look of the police in general.  Stop any training that includes the “Warrior Mindset.” Refrain from wearing heavy body armor and using armored vehicles as civilian police agencies are not the military. SWAT is overused. Desert and jungle fatigues are not necessary in urban areas.

I say: Be the first responders for active shooters and terrorist attacks. Move towards people who are firing automatic weapons, eliminate the threat, neutralize the aggressors. Save the wounded and move them to areas of safety.

“The ‘Ferguson Affect.’”

They say: It’s not happening! Police officers are not being less proactive and the crime rate is not rising. “Fears of ‘a new nationwide crime wave’ are premature at best and wildly misleading at worst,” stresses an article in The Atlantic, just one of the many publications down playing the phenomenon. There are many reasons there is an uptick in homicides rates: economy, weather, drug wars, etc.

I say: It is happening! Police officers in major cities who are under the media microscope have simply stopped being proactive. Proactivity, stop and frisk, addressing minor crimes—this is what keeps the crime rate down. Active, involved police officers send a message to those with criminal intent. Criminals are more emboldened and becoming more violent as the police are being demonized.

According to an article posted by Heather MacDonald this week: “In early October, Attorney General Loretta Lynch brought together more than 100 mayors, police leaders, and U.S. attorneys to strategize privately over the violent-crime increase. Attendees broke out in applause when mayors attributed the increase to officers’ sinking morale, according to the Washington Post. ‘Most of America’s 50 largest cities have seen an increase in homicides and shootings this year, and many of them have seen a huge increase,’ FBI director James Comey noted at the end of October. Two weeks later, the acting chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg, seconded Comey’s crime analysis as well as Comey’s hypothesis that the backlash against the police was likely responsible for that violent-crime increase.”

“Too many people are behind bars who don’t belong there.”

They say: Many politicians, media and even top law enforcement officials are endorsing a change in perspective about crime, criminals and incarceration. We need alternatives to arrests, and minor crimes aren’t worth the time an arrest requires. Mandatory minimum prison sentences need to go. Everyone knows that the vast majority of prison inmates are there for minor “nonviolent” drug offenses and if they were out in society they could access substance abuse programs and mentor their children. Crime rates are down anyway so we should address the problem of having more than 2 million people in our country’s prisons.

I say: Crime is down because the criminals are in prison. No one is in prison because of minor drug use. Drug dealers are repeat offenders who prey on the weak and cause death and destruction. The neighborhoods that experience open market drug sales are the ones calling the police and demanding enforcement action. Let the drug dealers out and the crime rate will rise.

“We need to become more racially diverse in the law enforcement ranks.”

They say: Cops are racist, as is the entire criminal justice system. Police officers target minorities, therefore we need more people of color in our nation’s police forces and have them patrol minority neighborhoods.

I say: Cops are not racist, nor is the criminal justice system—not anymore than society at large. The NYPD, for example, is more than 50% minority. While racism absolutely exists (as it does for people of every race in every profession), communities of color are victimized by predators, drug dealers and gangs at a much higher rate than the general population. This requires more police, which leads to more arrests. There need to be more people of color in the profession. But as the profession is constantly demonized as racist, what young person of color would be interested in joining?

My Advice for Law Enforcement

We need to better address improper behavior. Don’t hire those who lack the psychological stability necessary to carry a gun and enforce laws. We need to train better and more realistically in the areas of use of force in terms of options, laws, and especially, stress. We have to become better at total communication skills. We need to learn how to stay professional and focused on our professional goals, despite cameras and incitements by crowds.

Police managers need to lead. Those of you who are reacting with political correctness in order to appease a misguided public, bias politicians and a goal of keeping your jobs—shame on you. Throwing police officers under the bus before an investigation is complete is damaging well beyond the immediate issue at hand.

Ethics is not a word, it is a constant demonstration of behavior. We need stronger leadership who knows how to think ahead and forge relationships with the public before a critical incident occurs.

For the Other Side

The media needs to start showing both sides of this equation. 99% of the videos show the police doing a great job, and those never make the news. Be honest about these incidents and the great job law enforcement does on a consistent basis.

The activists must ask themselves, do they really want change or just another platform from which to scream? Lead your communities by taking an assessment of community behavior and addressing issues before they get out of hand.

Politicians. Are you really serving the public or just yourselves?  Again, demonstrate high morals and live ethically.  Your trust numbers are lower than they have ever been in this nation’s history. Most believe you just want to be reelected. Lead those you serve.

Conclusion

Bottom line: In order for us to right this ship, both sides have to be held accountable.  Both sides have to tone down the rhetoric. Both sides need to present their own perspectives and sort through the emotions.

If we all stop pointing fingers and commit to work together, maybe we can turn things around in 2016.

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.