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In Defense of Police

Author: Charles P. Connolly, November 2001

I believe it reasonable to posture that there is no shortage of studies, papers, news articles or television commentaries on what's wrong with our nation's police service and more importantly what needs to be implemented to achieve positive change. We should not be surprised as this examination of policing in America has been continually researched and reviewed for the past four decades. Unfortunately, such police criticism has gone unabated despite that the country has changed and to a considerable extent the manner in which we police and serve the nation's citizenry. This relentless review has not only been the focus of non-police professionals but the result of numerous observations by those within the police experience. Yet, if one left the planet forty years ago only to return today, his or her observations based on the communications media would be that nothing has changed. Lack of trust in our nation's police service is the operative belief by those who articulate that they understand the police function. But do they? And what do they base their set of beliefs on? If many of these perceptions are erroneous is it because of a relentless drumbeat of what's wrong with the police and why they misbehave?

Given the fact that the past decade has witnessed significant crime reductions, particularly in the urban areas, accompanied by what I believe is a reduction in police shootings, police officers have a right to question the accuracy and fair reporting of the police mission in a democratic society. Moreover, given such a positive track record of performance, it is difficult, I suspect, for police to understand why so many of our political figures appear to have an unlimited faith in the appeasement of police critics.

Focusing on the police perspective, it is time to examine or debate whether it is the police's sole responsibility to read and understand the diverse nature of our community in a more effective and flexible manner. However, some segments of our community need to recognize that their perception of policing is not only unhealthy but too often the result of false messengers and political people too quick to jump on a politically correct trend. I don't think its unfair for police officers to inquire of the media to examine whether their private prejudices or political perspectives provide little opportunity for a reconciliation of police and community perspectives. Have today's people of influence allowed their experiences of the 1960's to continually shape their opinion of police practices. The media's review of a police action too often appears to result in recommendations that can only be seen as "old wine wrapped in new bottles." Subsequent recommendations whether it be community policing, assertive or zero tolerance, will have little consequence if the solution is simply that the police must change but no similar obligation to reexamine their view of policing is encouraged. By treating the police fairly, it is meant that certain segments of our society examine its biases and prejudices towards their protectors. I think it is time for members of the "doubting Thomas' society" to consider the unintended consequences of inflammatory anti-police rhetoric not even supported by statistics. Such rhetoric from the police officer on the street appears to have one purpose--to inflame police and community relationships rather than reduce the natural tension often present within a community.

In my judgement the police perspective has been absent from any debate on their ability to effectively serve a diverse community. If we continue to urge a unilateral attitudinal or behavior change on the police without a corresponding examination on the part of a critical segment of the community, little or no positive change will occur, rather the opposite is more likely. It is time that our nation's high regard for tolerance extend to its sworn protectors.

Before any defense of America's policing is to be made, let me state the obvious: Police omissions will occur and mistakes will be made despite any and all training and procedures implemented. Unfortunately some police officers will violate their code of conduct, some in a horrific and egregious manner. Police management and oversight, however vigilant, will not initially detect these transgressors.

The saving grace in my view is that increasingly the nation's chief police executives have assumed greater accountability for both their officers' behavior as well as their own. It is important to recognize that each of our citizenry is different as they pursue life's interest. Just as important is that police officers' must be viewed in a similar context. It is important that the police are given the opportunity to be similarly viewed as uniquely different. It is time to stop making mountains out of molehills when viewing police activity and recognize that public support is necessary if we are to appreciate and increase the capacity for the public to be well served. In that regard it is important to ask whether there is a lack of trust in their police by the public.

It appears to many--even some within the police service--that there is a lack of trust. It is obvious from media reports, comments from the political infrastructure and members of the activist community that such is a real or perceived concern. My response to the police community is that such a lack of trust may not actually exist or is somewhat exaggerated because of the increasing politicization of police practices.
Polling surveys have shown less inclination by the public to view the media's purpose as solely serving the public good. In fact, the more it blurs the news with entertainment, to enhance ratings, it may be seen simply as another business. The only business, I might add, that enjoys constitutional protection. Up and until the most recent media and political drumbeat regarding racial profiling, numerous polls showed law enforcement more respected than the press.

It has been my observation that the police have always done well in polling surveys conducted throughout the U.S. A poll taken by USA Today on 6/18/01, regarding what institutions people have a great deal of confidence showed the police placing 3rd out of 16-only behind the military and the church or organized religion.

Obviously, one polling survey should not confirm my suspicion. It should, however, allow us to verify whether similar polls suggest similar results. Therefore, I submit that the current belief may not reflect the vast majority of Americans but more accurately describe the feelings and perceptions of an important segment of our society, "persons of color." Our relationship with African Americans needs to be examined and seriously addressed by the nation's police. However, if we are to successfully address and resolve a negative belief system, every aspect of public governance and the media's influence must be identified. There are examples of police misconduct that aid and abet adverse reaction of the public. But police do not function in a vacuum. There are external forces that surface controversy and shape public opinion. In fairness to the police their impact must be debated.

Within the industry itself, we hear complaints that the journalistic integrity is being blurred by a mixture of "news and entertainment." Ratings are what many in the media live and die by not the pursuit of meritorious journalistic awards. Good news is no news, and "if it bleeds, it leads"-- the more gory the more glorified.

It is important from the police perspective that the press evaluate where there is a collective bias within their profession based on personal opinion and belief, and if so, its impact on this nation's public safety.
It is important to examine the issue that appears to many as a lack of trust on the part of the public towards the police. However, it is possible that it may be a perceptual rather than a reality issue for several reasons.

We have apparently a country divided along political ideology. One half tends to support strong enforcement without deviation. The other half focuses on the danger posed by police aggressiveness, particularly as it applies to racial, somewhat ethnic and to a limited degree, economic class. The latter perspective may have resulted from the almost daily accounting of our failures, alleged cover-ups and accusations of racial discrimination and an alleged propensity towards violence. Undoubtedly, there is a kernel of truth to their concerns but where is the balanced viewpoint?

It is possible that an examination of the trust issue may show the police have less a burden of trust than believed. Is it possible that the media bias emerging since the 1960's exaggerate police failures and incidents? If there is bias it may be the result of today's media people's experience during the anti- Vietnam War and Civil Rights struggles which shaped an institutional distrust and subsequent over-balancing of its report coverage. Times may have changed, but attitudes didn't.

Unfortunately, the police don't have the capacity or the ability to operate the way many wish or want society to behave. We deal as best we can whether 911, a citizen's cry for help, or acting on experience or instinct moves us to engage suspects. As a result, people and increasingly groups whose perceptions differ greatly on how police are to function not only have a preferred state of behavior but are greatly disturbed when the perception goes awry. Increasingly, we are witnessing group thinking that is at variance with other groups. Sadly, these perceptual differences increasingly appear to be more combative than collegial.

Police engagement in controlling individuals or groups can be described as physically demanding and dangerous. Whether we like it or not, police activity can be dangerous to either the officer or to whom he/ she comes in contact. Whether members of the public appreciate that fact of life doesn't change the equation. You can avoid a violent scene on television by changing the channel. On the street or in real life, it isn't that simple. Police officers and other individuals can get hurt and lives jeopardized during ordinary citizen interviews, custodial situations, apprehensions and calming disorderly conditions. Individuals acting alone or in contact with others don't wish to be inhibited or restrained by police. No matter the chaos, or criminal intent displayed, such groups appear to have sympathetic audiences. When police are required to document the police contact, a minor infraction can escalate to a major event. When such occurs, particularly involving race, the reflexive action is to blame the police. This rush to judgment by politicians and those desirous of creating chaos for personal benefit attribute no blame to participants whose lack of civility and judgment aided and abetted any possible police misconduct. Worse, there appears little or no attempt to rightsize the incident, reduce exaggeration and community tension. Little if any interest is paid to the unintended consequence of future police decision making that agonizes over any possibility of injuries to individuals rather than maintaining a safe and law abiding community. The continual rush to judgment on the part of well meaning and not so well meaning police critics forces a belief among the troops that their commanders are primarily concerned that their decisions are not met with any negative press or community criticism by activists. That perception is aided by their observation that too many city halls seemingly operate with a similar mindset. Possibly, too many are intimidated by the politically correct cult of activists.

I suspect that there is what I would call a lot of unspoken conversation occurring in many of today's conversations. Why is that? Is it because so many individuals fear being attacked as a racist, anti-animal/environmentalist, warmonger, anti-poor or any variety of current trends. Are there people who feel if they minimally question what appears in the media as dogma, they are seen as out of synch or politically incorrect. Unfortunately, remaining silent gives the impression of approval. Obviously, one doesn't know the extent of such unspoken conversation. Nor can one gauge its adverse impact on free speech and good debate. This may explain the seemingly wide disparity among media, politicians, self-appointed community activists and members of the general public regarding their impression of the police. Maybe it is time to raise the specter of group influence, if not intimidation. This reluctance to speak ones' mind cripples the necessary public debate, which would allow all of us to move forward with a rational and fair national policy. From the police imperative, it would identify and separate racial bigotry more precisely and allow agencies to pursue appropriate and understandable anti-crime initiatives. Not withstanding the good intentions of well meaning individuals and groups their politics often appear to be driven by ideology and not reason. Their ultimate goals are not well served when the only opposition left standing is those espousing a redneck philosophy. In my opinion, should we have an appropriate national dialogue there is little doubt that the vast majority would recognize that policing in general is not a racially-motivated conspiracy or intent to deprive any citizen or group of its lawful rights. Again, it may be necessary to restate the police function is not without its flaws, negligence and omissions nor will it ever be in the future. This is not a prediction--it is reality.

Lack of Trust and the Media-Who is Off Balance?

It is appropriate to examine the inner workings of the police organization and its practices with regard to its impact on what has been described as a much more liberal and socially responsible society. Equally we need to minimally debate the same introspection by the media in regards to its excessive impact on the public's awareness of public policy. It is possible that a media bias, consciously or unconsciously, generates an unhealthy resistance to necessary and legitimate assertion of law enforcement. It is important to gauge whether a media bias contributes to many individuals' negative feelings towards police. The press is not an organic entity but is comprised of editors, reporters, columnists and researchers hopefully with individual opinions about politics, politicians, people in the media, public events, prejudice and minorities. But is it?

If their belief systems are so similar, is it possible that the public, which increasingly relies on the evening news for a 30-second story, is not receiving comprehensive balanced information produced and delivered by reasonably objective people. The vast majority of media appear to be not aware of any such bias on their part. Some deny it even exists. Worse still, some behave as if their partisan viewpoint is the only sane public policy available.

Surveys over the past five or six presidential elections identify an overwhelming propensity on the part of the press corps, particularly within the Washington, D.C., area to vote the Democratic Party line.1
Recently, Jerry Nachman, former editor of the New York Post and vice president of CBS New York, reported that the press itself accepts a 90+ percentage vote along Democratic Party lines. 2 It should be clear to all that they have every right to vote in such a manner. However, under any other circumstances involving any other influential segment of society, the press itself would acknowledge, question and report such a wide divergence from the ordinary citizen and its implication on public policy. While it is not germane to today's issue, a recent article in the Washington Post cited a study in which 80% of U.S. law professors describe themselves as "democrat or leaning democratic," only 13% called themselves republican. 3 The First Amendment protects five freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. Yet news organizations are often aligned in joint ventures or owned outright by non-media corporations that might pose a conflict of interest. Nevertheless, the press as an organization still remain the only business or commercial entity expressly protected by our constitution. That is not today's issue. Our issue is whether the media is appropriately exercising its obligation as opposed to publicizing a single, biased perception of policing in America. Racial profiling may be better debated and understood if the media were to examine its own processes and potential bias.

Media bias may be a serious public question that requires industry examination if not public debate. It is important from everyone's perspective to consider whether public safety is jeopardized if group thinking is an accepted virtue particularly among the media elite. Their personal opinions become personal facts to the others in the industry desirous of achieving similar success. It is understandable that the young and ambitious are reluctant to challenge the settled and successful wisdom within their profession. Too often those elite who shape public policies and opinion are far removed from the daily activities of the largest number of citizens. Their celebrity status forfeits an understanding of the complexities of a multicultural society, particularly in its impact on law enforcement.

It is with that reason that the media should examine themselves or minimally debate whether a fair and balanced account is being given the viewer or the reader. This introspection is crucial in those circumstances where reporting of incidents create hostility, polarization and what appears to be a permanent distrust against those agencies charged with public safety.

Again, is it reasonable for members of the police community to believe the media has an obligation not to fan the flames of racial hostility by portraying every lawless anarchistic act as a legitimate protest against local, state or federal government or for that matter big business. The media can by close cropping photos, selective news exposes, and showcasing one-sided panels of witnesses, create an impression contrary to the actual occurrence. That is not telling it like it is but crafting propaganda, or selectively advocating partisan political opinions. Due to their public image their personal opinions become personal facts disseminated to an unsuspecting public.

The police are often required to control the antics of unruly groups whose actions are broadcast as celebrants or protesters despite widespread property damage and attacks on innocent bystanders. Policing such disturbances is not a science. Unfortunately, too often it requires physical force to restore order. Accidents occur, people get hurt. Police officers have a right to question why the story fails to be concerned with the increasing public threat posed by hooliganism but focuses on some mishap or adverse action taken by the police in an attempt to restore order.

A recent example of such reporting was in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the protesters were never described as rioters, which clearly could be documented. The media continued to reinforce the righteousness of the demonstrators, citing their claim that police murdered 15 black youths during the past five years. There was little or no response aired indicating that among the 15 shootings, nine of the deceased held guns in their hands, three held knives and one had a 3 x 4 imbedded with nails. For several days, no challenge or discussion was raised with the police critics on the air. Not even the fact that several of the police officers involved were black was aired.

The nature of police/citizen contact is particularly complex one. In many instances, it involves police engaging one or more citizens adversely on behalf of another citizen or group. Unfortunately, for a myriad of reasons, force is often employed. Given the number of adverse contacts, arrests, custody situations, mentally disturbed detentions and the amount of crime in the nation, the police restraint has been admirable. Aside from the Cincinnati statistics, a good example would be New York's Amadou Diallo shooting in which four officers fired 41 rounds, striking him 19 times. This was unquestionably a horrible and tragic incident. No police officer or official defended the actions other than to say that they were horrible accidents with no intent to discriminate or harm a minority. The shooting involved four white inexperienced officers, without a supervisor, attempting to apprehend a reportedly armed black rapist of black women in a minority neighborhood. Aside from any training or supervisory issues, there was never any indication of racial intent to harm the individual. Despite their acquittal the collective hysteria continued. Racial agitators pilloried the officers with compete access to an unchallenging press. It is possible that the young people of the sixties that have come into influential positions in the media and public life with the notion that bad things are caused only by bad people. A reader might question that people who are on death row are not adversely affected by this belief. In the NY shooting, the constant criticism ignored what should have had a calming effect on a community concerned with police shootings. During the past twelve months, despite the police effecting the arrests of over 370,000 individuals, only 11 subjects were fatally slain by the police. In fact, every non-fatal police category decreased. The only increased category was the one where police were shot at and did not return fire. However, during the last year of the prior mayoral administration (1993), there were 41 people slain by the police. There was no hue and cry for police scalps at that time. Some may suggest it was because the color and political affiliation of the new mayor differed from the incumbent. Keeping the peace in a troubled city is not a political option of choice. In my judgement, it is a moral imperative on the part of the press and those who govern.

A possible example of disparate treatment may be exemplified by a series of articles on police use of deadly force by the Washington Post in early July 2001. The paper complied a comprehensive report on "Police Killings" in our nation's 51 largest law enforcement agencies. This data ranked the New York Police Department 43 out of 51 departments listing 0.71 fatal incidents per 1,000 officers. Yet, consider that Phoenix and San Diego Police Departments, both excellent agencies regarded as models of successful, non-aggressive community-oriented policing, are nearly five times as likely as New York cops to shoot and kill people (San Diego's rate per 1,000 officers is 3.27; Phoenix is 3.14). 4 The point we need to remember is there are very few questionable police shootings and when those shootings have high visibility and a racial component a well earned police reputation can be sullied if not destroyed. A good example of a similar situation, dissimilar outcome, is a police shooting in Camden, New Jersey, involving a mentally disturbed man who during a long confrontation pulled from his pocket a talcum powder bottle wrapped in a sock. Eleven officers responded by firing at least 106 shots. The media coverage consisted of one small newspaper story. There was no discipline, no criminal trial, no outrage.

Unfortunately by design, naivete or ideology, people develop viewpoints often from a profoundly flawed fact base. Personal opinions appear to be offered in lieu of obtainable facts. Despite their great wisdom, many in the media fail to recognize that the instruments of government and law enforcement, particularly in dealing with behavioral control, don't have the capacity to function the way that many individuals with decent and good motives wish or want society to behave. This factor often comes into play in law enforcement where common sense and statistical data is ignored and one's personal opinion, be that of a televised street witness, some panel member or TV commentator, is transmitted as fact. Allowing alleged witnesses on television to hurl unverified accusations, which never are tested in a courtroom, does serious harm to the reputation of law enforcement and its ability to deliver police services. Television particularly provides instant recitation by witnesses whose credibility would be destroyed if such were uttered in a courtroom. The police's inability to refute or challenge the instantaneous witness needs to be re-examined. A research study of individuals who make serious accusations on television involving police and a follow-up to their testimony in court might prove interesting. "Testi-Lying" before TV cameras by these witnesses may be far more prevalent and more socially damaging than that of the alleged police perjurer. The media's and subsequent political interpretation often given of police events and activity stem from these initially breaking news stories. Justice may take place in the faraway courtroom but the public's belief system has already been captured in the media. Probably because it is the most visible arm of the government, these distortions have fueled the emerging politicization of police practices.

Some would suggest that many police critics display a belief that facts and evidence are irrelevant in judging government and only the perception of public opinion matters. However, those who espouse or seem to place a higher premium on simple opinion in crafting public awareness, fail to acknowledge that they are the same people who shaped opinion in the first place. Such opinions appear to carry the day on too many news headings.

Police can get the sense in some coverage of police incidents that some journalists have decided there is no time for disagreement, no debate as to the circumstance and no reason for balance. One side is right, and therefore just. The other side is evil at worst, out of step with the times at best. It should be troublesome when too much of the media takes an activists groups' press releases and without any deliberation treat it as gospel. They publish this package of terror and oppression without any troublesome questions. It may be time to raise a challenge regarding advocacy journalism that misleads and misinforms the very public to which the media is responsible.

Racial profiling accusations, absent a balanced media review and appropriate police response, provides a downside which includes enormous, though often hidden, cost of litigation and intimidation of police action on the street. Undoubtedly, our country has some social problems to solve and the police play an important role in addressing some of those issues. But collecting data as demanded today will detract from the police mission, misplace much needed attention elsewhere and incite hostility rather than cooperation. This particular debate cannot be left solely to police critics, political opportunists and unspoken conversationalists. Additionally, we find official decision making fostered by inconsistent standards of judge made law accompanied by a vaguely misplaced emphasis on a justice defined by the content of one's color or economic condition. Any debate on our part involving such misplaced emphasis should not necessarily be an indictment of their bad intent but rather of bad results. We can't accept a form of perception and opinion as legally valid that relieves some portion of citizen responsibility based on selective distinctiveness without an adverse counter-reaction. A bad childhood does not automatically give one the right to be a bad adult.

Despite the news photos that convey a positive image of an alleged police victim, many of these individuals have had numerous adverse contacts with police. Many are very street-wise. If refusal to comply and creating a scene results in forcing a police officer to back down in fear of administrative and criminal penalties, who is the beneficiary? Not the community that has a high victimization rate. The street thug who attempts to immobilize his police interrogator has already victimized his community. With the aid of community activists misleading the media, he or she is intimidating the police.

A Police Introspection

A memo of this size cannot identify to everyone's satisfaction police management needs, as well as, practices and methods. In fact, it is not capable of providing that type of document. Hopefully this paper will encourage a public awareness that is needed if the police function is to effectively serve and protect an increasingly diverse national population.

Undoubtedly, there have been times in our nation's history where the police can be rightly criticized. A number of police departments may have lived off the celebrated success of other agencies and failed to examine whether bad attitudes and practices permeated its dealing with a significant segment of its population.

Traditionally the role of the police has not been one of an absolute standard. Given the diverse political, cultural, ethnic ideologies present in the various parts of our country and our emphasis on local governmental control, such may not be possible. A student of police history during the past century should recognize that policing styles developed different methods and perceptions of enforcement. One example was the legalistic approach exemplified by the LAPD. Such related to a simple notion that all laws were to be enforced. One can debate if it was realistic and procedurally enacted. Yet a somewhat different model flourished in Philadelphia called the Watchman. This model recognized that circumstances within a community could dictate or refrain from an enforcement action depending on time, circumstance and neighborhood. Unfortunately racial identity probably played too large a part in street decision making. Ironically, the LAPD took a fair measure of pride in the public enforcement posture. In today's standards, many of the liberal persuasion would probably opt for the watchmen concept absent the racially discriminatory practices that might have existed.

In fairness to our diverse communities it may be time to examine the rational as to why individuals pursue advanced supervisory/managerial positions in policing. Are our people seeking job advancements for the right reasons? It is an area that needs to be examined. Unfortunately, there is little or no financial incentive for those seeking careers in law enforcement. Aside from some detective pay incentive, the only financial ladder is the supervisory/management career path. The officer may be a great cop, respected and admired in and out of the job but he or she does not want to be responsible for the actions of others. This is an understandable position. Family, as well as other considerations, motivate such an individual towards promotional exams. After achieving success, essentially they are placed in a position that he or she is neither comfortable nor want to be a part of. The unknown question is what damage, if any, do we do to the individual, the officers he or she supervises and the agency he or she serves. Leadership requires an individual who has the motivation, desire to lead and inspire others and be responsible for the conduct and behavior of others.

A similar issue though viewed from a different context is the individual who wants to be a boss for the wrong reasons. It is an issue of symbols over substance, involving and individual who wants all the trappings, perks and prestige that accompanies the title. He or she rarely has a desire to motivate or lead in any dedicated team effort. In reality, this individual sees the team as adjuncts to his narrow and specific interests. His or her demeanor adds to the internal cynicism within the agency and affects the community perception of its protectors.

In the war against crime it is possible that we have placed too large a burden on those line officers dealing face to face with the community. Observing man's inhumanity to man on a daily basis may have an adverse impact on many officers.

Police officers should be educated to the fact that they are not responsible for the revolving door of the criminal justice system. They must recognize that their role is to prevent where possible and detect and apprehend when necessary. How the system functions thereafter is not their burden. Why is this crucial? The police officer is often the only governmental agency that comes to the victim's or complainant's home. If a citizen wants to complain to others, he or she has to make and appointment or be involved in governmental actions. I suspect that too many police officers feel responsible because of their interaction with victims and sense that corners can be cut and truths abridged if justice is to be served. Additionally, the extension of meting out punishment can surface if the officer feels responsible for the crime problem. Therefore, it is not only the incompetent officer but the caring one who can get in trouble as well. For that reason, our training curriculum must stress the dangers associated with the caring and responsible officer, not just the incompetent or corrupt individual. To paraphrase the Alcoholic Anonymous creed--the wisdom to know the difference between the things we can and cannot change. More importantly that we accept such limitations.

During the course of police training, I have often felt that the police officers should be engaged as to why, when asked about another officer's obvious misconduct, they never appear angry or ashamed because of the misconduct. We may have a case of the unspoken conversation as we don't wish to appear to be "breaking ranks" with our fellow officers. Fraternity and fellowship is good and necessary for their sense of well being. But such silence also appears to provide a public image that all officers are all like that. Anecdotal data should be regularly dispensed in every distribution mode possible describing the temptations faced and regularly ignored. It is not an aberration that police officers are often offered in one transaction, what amounts to be close to a yearly salary. The aberration is that so few bribes are accepted. Because the adverse publicity often involves a police shooting, officials should include the fact that in most police training programs anywhere from 20-40% of the curriculum involves firearms training. Despite the emphasis on such training, less than 1% of the police service will ever discharge a firearm. This emphasis clearly indicates the value police place on human life as well as the recognition that firearm mistakes are irreversible. Police executives must continually reinforce these messages internally as well as externally. To those police agencies whose response is that "we try to get the message out but it is basically ignored by the media," our response must be to try and try again.

Yes, the police need to develop sound law enforcement strategies that explain and respond to the resentments of individuals and groups actually or perceived to be victimized by police conduct. Police executives have been progressively improving their delivery of service systems while apparently failing to develop a more contemporary response regarding adverse incidents played up in the press. A number of reasons inhibit this problem. Police officials often feel constrained by legal process, "We can't comment on an on-going investigation." Past experience might have been to ignore such public outcries as they would go off the news screen in quick time. Further, they didn't want to contribute to the problem by debating so-called community leaders. The lack of an immediate police response could also be attributed to restraint directly by city or urban officials or the traditional belief that a police response will incite more than resolve an already contentious position. What they failed to understand was that the explosive and competitive growth in the media universe was changed radically by cable and the Internet. Less than 30 years again there were two basic news cycles, one morning and evening. Technology now allows for continuous coverage. Some news critics suggest that this constant news flow has eliminated the nature of a more thoughtful process on the part of media professionals. Immediate disclosure and deadline are one and the same. Police executives must adjust their management style to deal with this new phenomenon.
The media, in my judgment, has a responsible role not only in expediting breaking stories but educating the public on why some practices by police may seem irregular but have a basis for sound enforcement management. Regarding the practice now described as racial profiling, police executives must educate the public that delicately stresses certain historical observations regarding organized threats to society be it violence, extortion, drugs, etc. It should be clear that any police action taken against an individual solely because the color of one's skin is wrong. However, police practices should be able to take racial identity into consideration when it is part of a necessary pattern of investigation or surveillance. A traditional example is when the top echelon of an organized crime group is often of the same racial, ethnic or religious persuasion. With rare exception have we witnessed the hierarchy of a specific organized crime threat permitting little if any integration other than alliances with other groups engaged in similarly illicit activities. There is a greater trust factor, desire for family association and a history of earlier social contacts among its participants, which provides greater protection from police activity. Such enterprises, initially engage in anti-social or criminal behavior against its own people. In its formative stages such selectivity provides greater control over its victims and more insulation against police engagement and enforcement.

Further, these crime issues and its social impact on society rarely surface or come onto the police screen until a group has been successfully victimizing its own over a significant period of time. Victimizing their own racial, ethnic, even religious members allows minimum public disclosures and police attention. This incubation period allows greater opportunity and success in mainstreaming criminal victimization. Many in law enforcement and a number of victims and families believe there are already numerous legal impediments that render law enforcement less effective. In a democratic society it may be the price we wish to pay. But labeling every adverse incident or police failure a racist act or part of a profiling conspiracy endangers the initiation of strategic crime management practices based on patterns and trends as well as historical experience. Innovation in policing, not intimidation through litigation, or statute is needed if crime is to be controlled in every community regardless of the racial or economic circumstances of its inhabitants.

Racial profiling as a blanket accusation if allowed to be successful, will be applied down the road to a host of other categories, Asian, Muslim, ethnic or where color is a distinctive feature. Mandating law enforcement to such record keeping without any proper context is a futile exercise revealing nothing about profiling but will get a lot of uninformed people fired up by racial hustlers. If we focus on proportionate representation, i.e., racial, ethnic or gender percentages, and women represent 50% of the population, should we anticipate 50% of our police stops be women. In groups where there is a robust population of individuals under 30 should the percentage be of the overall group population or broken down to represent those populations whose age tends to be more criminally significant. Experience should teach us that more group accusations will follow and more record keeping will be imposed. Worse, police restraint to inquire into legitimate avenues of investigation will increase to the detriment of society's well being. Police officials whose physical bravery could not be challenged may opt not to contest the politically correct version of public safety.

It might be important to touch on the fact that distrust of the police is not necessarily founded in our practices with such individuals but a result of several other factors not under our control. Since the early 20th century, immigrants from all parts of Europe fled oppression much of which was carried out by military or police-like agents. They related their tales to the first and second generation within the household. The immigration from Asia and South America held the same anti-police history for many of the new arrivals. The black experience in early American history failed to exhibit much police trust on their behalf.

Unfortunately, while not the fault of today's police there continues in my judgment a reinforcement of police mistrust on the part of former victims and their offspring. I believe if the police and the community could understand these long held beliefs, the officers could deal better with the obvious frustrations that occur when dealing with public mistrust. If we can break down the false barrier of us versus them, all will benefit.

The police must be quick to apologize for bad behavior and not wait for a full disclosure that comes too late. The accusation damage has been solidified in the minds of the citizenry. A court verdict and or a prosecutors press release are no longer a comfortable fit given the immediate and continual intensity of publicized incidents. With the media's assistance the public should accept a police apology, place it in its appropriate context, and work with the police to improve the system and not destroy it.

Police ordinarily perform a minimum of 20 years prior to retirement. For even those officers with the best of intentions, it may be too long to ask an individual to continue in a job with a lifetime of stressful situations. Police interact with difficult people without the benefit of being allowed to vent. They function in a community where the ordinary citizen is permitted the choice of flight or fight when encountering danger. In the police officer's case, his/her choice is limited to go towards the danger. Over a period of years, officers may hide their concern through alcohol or drug abuse or unhealthy family habits. Equally bad is the development of cynicism and apathy by the officer towards his charge. Giving one an opportunity to vest after five years with increments to subsequent early retirement might prove beneficial to the citizen, the officer and the agency.

The Community-What is it They Need to Know?

Ironically, the police community in some respects is similar to those minority groups they appear to be in conflict with. The police are often judged by the misbehavior of a notorious few. Yet, unlike other minority groups, they fail to get a supportive defense from the media, the community and an increasing number of political representatives. The police have a right to question why so many accept police criticism as gospel.
The police have a right to be cynical and frustrated when engaging self-appointed community leaders whose life's work seems solely to targeting police activities. For years these leaders have inflamed community tension mostly with unfounded police misconduct accusations or grossly exaggerating a police situation. Year in and year out the police watch these individuals anointed and highlighted by the press but never challenged by the media, the political infrastructure or even respected community leaders. These self-styled leaders never appear to role up their sleeves and engage in the difficult task of reconciling distrust and improving police/community communication. Even worse, is the fact that these individuals are rarely involved in the productive aspects of community life such as improving the educational needs of the young members of their community so that they can enjoy the fruits of this nation's economic evolution.

Some well meaning, others not so intentioned ask for a level of safety that cannot be produced. It is not simply an issue of money and resources or a need for recruitment. Even police oversight, however constructed, may not address the concerns of a diverse population. The debate may include all the above but it can only lead to evolving success when we recognize the 290 million people view the police function and its role differently. Based on how they were raised at home, taught at school, listened to their peers and identified with segments of the media and developed a subsequent political philosophy they will judge their police differently. Two people can view the same police incident and walk away with a different version of what took place. Given a polygraph, both would probably pass because both told the truth as they saw it. Their truth was based on their differences.

Police are often required to problem solve circumstances that provide little training expertise or resources that would address or mitigate a serious social concern (i.e., spousal abuse, emotionally disturbed individuals, disruptive school children and racially disparate situations to name just a few). Aside from the social needs, they have to respond to physical crises involving gas eruptions, crowd control, fires, massive accidents, etc. Additionally, they provide the band aid response when other governmental agencies are not operational. Unlike their fire department counterparts, who wait for the citizen's call for help and respond often in heroic situations, the police have to be a physical presence on the streets unable to pick a heroic moment. Hence, we love our fireman and suspect our police.

There was a time when the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) role was more of a gadfly at the table of public opinion. Obviously they served an important and constructive role within the public arena raising legitimate concerns over constitutional issues. Today, it appears that their influence is such that they have first approval over any issue affecting the public. We should debate whether it is their seal of approval or intimidation that we are subjecting ourselves too.

America's social problems, I suspect, are not simply solved by addressing economic issues. All our ills are not rooted in material deficits but something more intangible. Both liberal and conservative philosophies suggest deficits of habit, mores, values, even civility necessary for a thriving and just society. Such deficits can be found spanning a diverse economic universe covering low income, middle class and the affluent community. In the sixties we lost respect; shame in the seventies; and civility appears to be the current casualty. The police are impacted by these issues but not capable of solving them.

Throughout our history we have been called a melting pot because of our diverse immigration population. In many of our large urban centers you can find over one hundred plus different languages spoken in the homes of our students. Assimilation and group respect in some cases came grudgingly and not without struggle.

Today's immigration, both legal and illegal, continues amidst struggle and rejection but with two distinct changes. Where Europeans were once the dominant factor, it is now non-Europeans and more distinctively people of color who are seeking the American dream. The second major change is the existence of federal and state law to protect newcomers that did not exist for those earlier arrivals in the 20th century. These protections can be a source of conflict between the earlier and current migration groups.

The term melting pot was often spoken with pride. Today, our new immigrant society, despite the same wants and desires, many find themselves in what could be termed a boiling pot encouraged to remain culturally diverse and more group-oriented. Why does this pose an issue for the future of policing? Because as more and more people identify with their former culture, their fears and slights will be exaggerated by agitators, the media and the political process. As the police have proved to be a worthy scapegoat in the past, highlighting social prejudices, discriminatory practices, history will continue to repeat itself.

Whether we are to plan for educational growth, social welfare, the police service must plan its anti-crime program on issues relating to robust legal and illegal immigration. Government institutions are placing their heads in the sand if we don't recognize the real potential for balkanization, group dissension and dissatisfaction created by reality and activist-inspired have and have not disparities. The psychological aspect of scapegoating will emerge in direct relationship to the economic, racial and criminal justice gap believed to exist. The police will be the most obvious target for scapegoating. Their work is important but can be distorted to inflame and separate communities.

One of the issues that have complicated policing is the notion that every act of physical contact can be applied or labeled police brutality. It is possible an officer could find him/herself in a situation where even a reasonable person would accept some form of justifiable physical response on the part of an officer (i.e., slap in the face resulting from tremendous provocation; a slight shove, or even a foolish or intemperate utterance). Any and all of these situations would result in departmental charges of unnecessary force or conduct unbecoming an officer. Over the years I have questioned why society has moved psychologically light years in advancing the notion that people under stress have a need or a right to vent. This type of stress and release apparently is confined to everyone except law enforcement personnel. Police officers, when faced with conflict accompanied by danger and similarly vent are often charged with brutality. The net result is that the public is conditioned to expect and anticipate a pattern of response behavior that isn't found within other professions including those requiring a Ph.D.

When dealing with police misbehavior and questionable service, the public should be aware that a number of prerogatives were bargained away in labor management negotiations that had an adverse effect on policing. While there are many, several come to mind--many departments cannot change a working tour or day off to meet a commitment without negotiating, disciplinary action must meet rigid legal standards that essentially create barriers to simple common sense resolutions. Some are necessary, as police officers in today's environment require the same protections as those they are sworn to protect. But too many municipalities gave away the police's ability to manage in lieu of salary increases. Police management and community service are paying the price.

It is probable that today's police executives are better educated and trained to execute their duties in public safety. The problem in the writer's opinion is their inability to defend those policies, procedures and actions when the results are challenged in an incident. The police service, as a body, must market more effectively what it is they do, how it is accomplished, and just as in any profession, cope with the occasional bad practices, errors and omissions. It is somewhat perplexing to this writer that the police may have less then 10-20 questionable police shootings in the nation annually. Yet we read periodically about questionable hospital fatalities listing as many as 100,000 yearly. Why is there no constant drumbeat of protest targeting that industry? Undoubtedly, it has its critics. It is possible that the nature of the police function amidst great evil and wrongdoing diminishes our public respect. Because we function amidst great evil, is there a sense we become tainted? We can't change our working conditions but we need to remind the public that the police have to deal with individuals and situations that the general public finds distasteful. The fact that we deal more often with evil, corruption, crime, loss of integrity and violence does not make us candidates for such proclivities. It may be necessary to continually remind the public of that fact and act quicker to respond to accusations of improper racial profiling, brutality and corruption or any activity that catches the attention of the media or the political process. The notification process may require around the clock police media availability necessary to keep pace with hysterical and image damaging accusations. Someone once said that, "A lie is halfway around the world while the truth is just putting his pants on." If we can't afford the staff then we must have specifically trained ranking personnel available to meet this increasing challenge.

Both the line officer and the public need to recognize that the police executive role is not only demanding internally but difficult given the public oversights and external pressures in today's world. While physical cowardice is a rare or non-existent commodity in police circles, the executive's role is further challenged by the notion of mental toughness. Despite membership in a variety of professional associations, it can be a lonely job. Regardless of the size of the organizations one can be isolated within the agency. He or she came to the position by an appointing power, mayor, city manager, governor, etc. Your appointment is greeted by opposing groups and you are expected to turn things around. If you came up through the ranks your role models may have been "get along, go along" guys. Realizing that tenure could be 2 ½ to 5 years, executives may consciously or subconsciously minimize or avoid difficult decisions. In some police administrations the executive's ranking officers are not the individuals he would have chosen.

The community at large should consider whether politically correct thinking is not simply proselytizing but persecution of others' viewpoints. When observed in action, one wonders if the opposition is not only denied the right to debate an issue but even hold a contrary opinion. We should recognize that if we can't debate an issue we can't alter public policy. Thomas Jefferson may have had political correctness in mind when he wrote, "No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him."

Today there appears to suggest there are many real and imagined differences that pull us apart. The politics of "group identity" (race, sex, sexual orientation and ethnicity) rely on differences. Many new immigrants feel drawn to their native country while similarly embracing their homeland. That is natural and their right. However, unscrupulous activism and political pandering distorts those feelings jeopardizing the traditional assimilation process by its constant attack on our nation's history and its institution, the police being one of its most visible targets.

There are beliefs about this country that bring the best out in us. It has inspired Americans to give their lives defending our ideals. The police as an institution should and can be an example of the best. Police executives bear the responsibility to ensure such, but it is not their burden alone. We must in the most appropriate, creative and marketing of ideas respond to the current trend in attacking our police delivery of services system. We must enlist community allies in this challenge. We owe no less to those who have gone before us, but more importantly to those police executives who come after us.

Note: This paper was written prior to September 11's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The police along with their firemen comrades are receiving well-deserved accolades for their service and sacrifice. The police critics have been silenced, but sadly if history is any judge, not for long.

1 The Lichter-Rothman Survey of 1980, cited in William Buckley's article on the "Press Prejudice", NY Post 5/21/01 - 80% of the media elite had voted Democratic in every Presidential Election from 1964 to 1976.
2 This political partisan trend has apparently continued up to the current 2000 election. The media and partisanship was widely publicized after Clinton's second election. Jerry Nachman, former editor of the NY Post and Vice Chairman of CBS News NY, while speaking at the FBI National Executive Institute in Sun Valley, Idaho (June 2001) advised that the media itself acknowledges a 90 plus percentage of Democratic Party electoral support.
3 Article reprinted in the NY Post, 6/10/01, citing a Washington Post article by UCLA Law Professor, Eugene Volokh.
4 Article "When Cops Kill, Someone Should Count," Professor James F. Fyfe, Washington Post, 7/8/01.
Mr. Connolly retired from the New York City Police Department, retired as Chief from the Yonkers, New York, Police Department and retired as Vice President of the Merrill-Lynch Corporation.
The National Executive Institute Associates Leadership Bulletin editor is Edward J. Tully. He served with the FBI as a Special Agent from 1962 to 1993. He is presently the Executive Director of the National Executive Institute Associates and the Major City Chiefs. You can reach him via e-mail at or by writing to 308 Altoona Drive, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401