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Setting a New Agenda


Author: Edward J. Tully, November 2000

In a few days, national elections will produce a new administration in Washington. At this writing, the election is too close to call and it is not known which political party will exercise control over the Executive Branch and Congress. Regardless of the outcome it is inevitable that the United States will, because of this election and other social and economic events, be going through a period of enormous change. These changes will affect police operations at the local, state, and federal level. Sure to be considered are questions concerning racial profiling in traffic stops, the death penalty, community based policing, the continuing struggle with the sale and use of illicit drugs, the role of the Justice Department in Patterns and Practices investigations, asset forfeitures, hate crimes legislation, and a host of other important issues. The resultant legislation and/or public policy directives will shape the future of law enforcement for many years to come.

Unfortunately, current law enforcement managers will have little to say about which topics will be on the legislative agenda, how the issues are framed, or what will be the final solution. Most active law enforcement executives will not be asked for their input until the various proposals are on the table and ready to be voted upon. If history is any guide, the agenda for law enforcement issues will be developed by well-meaning politicians, legislative staff members, criminal justice professors, and other academics that dabble in law enforcement policy issues. Groups representing minorities, women, and a host of other interest groups will be asked for testimony on both the problems and the proposed solutions. You can reasonably expect that "experts" from the Department of Justice and Treasury will endorse those proposals, which satisfy the squeakiest wheels and the administration's political agenda. Finally, Congress will examine the political benefits of the proposed legislation, the expense of the proposals, and how the law is to be administered. Whenever the die is cast, a few law enforcement executives and law enforcement organizations will be politely asked for their opinion. They will be usually ignored and the vote will be taken.

The reason that law enforcement practitioners have little influence is not that we are intentionally ignored or that our advice is not worthy of consideration. Rather, it is a combination of factors that we--as a profession--need to address in the near future.

First, many law enforcement managers are reluctant to voice their opinions on matters that have a political overtone or could cause controversy within the community they serve. In my opinion, the are two major reasons for this lack of comment. The primary reason is that law enforcement executives do not see within their job a role for them to be a community teacher. Not enough law enforcement executives write articles, publish columns in the newspapers, or make speeches about regular or sensitive criminal justice issues. In recent years a few executives who have made such comments have been vilified, fired, or lauded depending on how well their message was crafted. This is unfortunate, but these failures are more often because there is a little understanding about the role the mass media plays in our society and how it supports the culture of "political correctness" that pervades our society.

A police executive must realize before making any public comments that the mass media--in its quest to provide balance to every story--will seek out a contrary opinion. While this makes our efforts to communicate with the public more difficult it should not preclude any administrator from making well-chosen comments on any subject. However, it would be wise not to make any comments to the media off the cuff. The second reason for police executives to remain silent on many issues is that most serve without a contract or civil service protection. They serve at the pleasure of the city or county executive. While this arrangement needs to be changed in the future, it does prevent many police executives from making comments about politically sensitive issues.

Occasionally though, there are times when a police administrator must make comments that may be in opposition to politicians' views. This takes a great deal of courage and self-confidence. Usually, these are issues in which the honor and integrity of the officers need to be defended. An example of this would be the current controversy over the use of profiling in traffic stops. While no one should argue in defense of stopping people solely based on race or color, it must be recognized that this issue is being used by some groups as a smokescreen. The purpose of their attacks on police operations is to discredit politicians of the other party or to advance their own political agenda. This political tactic has been used successfully for centuries. If this tactic is not exposed it may well lead to the further hamstringing of aggressive street cops from using a modicum of commonsense in the performance of their duties. Without defending police officers that exhibit their bigotry and immaturity in stopping vehicles solely because of the driver's color, law enforcement executives must explain to the public the difference between "profiling" and commonsense policing. Otherwise, we may get overreaching legislation to correct the problem. The unintended consequence of such legislation will be that officers will ignore traffic violators. Should this occur, our overall efforts to protect society would suffer a great deal.

Second, no single law enforcement professional organization speaks for the law enforcement profession in the same way as the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association speaks for their membership. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) represents a large majority of police managers. The National Sheriffs' Association represents our nation's sheriffs. A variety of law enforcement labor organizations, such as the Fraternal Order of Police, represent a large percentage of patrol officers. We have organizations that represent black officers, female officers, Hispanic officers, and federal law enforcement officers. Often these various organizations are at odds with one another on such issues as employee rights, promotional policies, or management prerogatives. Each organization has its own legitimate objectives so it is natural to expect some conflict between them. While some progress has been made in recent years in getting these organizations to agree on some issues, it would be quite unreasonable to expect they would ever speak with one voice on a majority of issues.

What law enforcement needs is an organization open to all members of the profession that will address major social issues affecting law enforcement organizations and the philosophy of policing in a free society. We lack a "think tank" which would address, in a scholarly manner, issues that have an impact on law, order, and justice, which can be discussed and debated by qualified members of our profession.

One of the reasons we lack such an institution is that professional training and educational programs for law enforcement officers above the rank of lieutenant are rare. The courses offered by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are excellent courses. However, the number of officers trained by them in no way meets the educational needs of our profession. Using local colleges to supplement executive training is an excellent idea, but implementing these types of programs has been spotty throughout the United States. With the demise of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) in the 1980's there have been precious few educational incentives offered to officers to obtain college or graduate degrees.

Funding is the second reason for the lack of a "think tank" institution. The law enforcement profession has scarce funds to spend on necessary education/training programs and there are even fewer funds available to support an organization dedicated to the objective examination of law enforcement problems.

Third, the law enforcement community does not promote scholarly discourse among its members. This is not because our members do not have differing opinions, new ideas, or criticism of the status quo, rather it is because we are too busy doing our jobs or too frustrated by trying to get departmental approval to publish something critical or controversial. Imagine--if you will--a New York City patrol officer or a FBI agent trying to get the necessary agency approval to publish a paper on a subject contrary to the expressed views of either the mayor or the attorney general. While not impossible, it would be a task sufficiently difficult to dissuade all but the most ardent zealot. This problem is directly related to the fact that law enforcement agencies are bureaucracies. All bureaucracies tend to insist that only "one voice" can speak for the organization. While this policy has certain merit in many situations, its unintended consequence is that it squelches any ideas that may run counter to prevailing opinion. While this "one voice policy" might work in a static organization it is--without doubt--a kiss of death in an organization trying to be responsive to rapid social change.

Fourth, law enforcement does not lobby for federal legislation as well as we have been lobbying local and state legislative bodies. This is the natural result of the 17,000 agencies thinking independently as opposed to collectively on issues of mutual concern. It is also a reflection that law enforcement labor organizations have learned how to lobby quite well at the state and local level for increased benefits for their membership, but are less interested in expending lobbying efforts at the federal level on issues of less concern to their membership. The results of law enforcement management's low-level lobbying efforts at the federal level are a continuation of federal intrusion into matters that have been historically handled at the local level and continuing indifference on the part of legislatures to the problems of policing in a free society. When one considers the success of the National Education Association, an association representing a profession with the most dismal performance record in recent history, one is thunderstruck by their success in obtaining federal funding to solve problems of their own making.

Fifth--and most important-is that the law enforcement profession historically does not lead, it follows. Our profession has always been and will continue to be good soldiers. Over the years, we have developed a bunker mentality. Lie low and the problem will pass over. Don't rock the boat--continue to do things the way they have always been done. Follow the rules and procedures to the letter. These are a few of our profession's bread and butter cliches and it would be wrong to suggest they have not served us well at times. However, they have also served to allow a host of people without street experience to render our profession overly subservient and susceptible to political manipulation.

What Should We Do?

There is no single solution to the problems facing law enforcement at the present time. Nor are there any solutions that can be crafted overnight or found with the passage of any particular piece of legislation. We need time to solve the problems of corruption and abuse of power, the deteriorating infrastructure of our buildings, and the problems of salary and recruitment. It will take many years to build training/education programs for all of our officers and administrators. Programs to build the technological infrastructure and quality forensic laboratories will take several years of discussion and debate as to whether these necessary additions should be local or regional. However, if we seriously examine the problems facing law enforcement organizations and prepare plans, which can be implemented in a five or ten year period, we will have made enormous progress on the road to providing outstanding law enforcement services to both rural and urban communities.

Following are some suggestions for consideration and I am sure there are other ideas just as worthy of consideration. These are only offered as a starting point in the overall discussion of whom we are and where we want to go.

National Commission on the Future of Law Enforcement

It has been thirty years since the last national study of law enforcement was undertaken. As you will recall the 1972 study on police was of enormous benefit to the law enforcement profession. While we have not achieved all of the goals and recommendations contained in that report, we have made significant progress. It is time to suggest that we have a similar commission examine our profession and make recommendations for change. The commission can be supported by private or public funds and should be comprised of a wide range of people representing all levels of our society. The primary objectives of the commission should be to examine how best to bring professional law enforcement services to the entire society and how law enforcement organizations can reorganize themselves to accomplish this goal in a reasonable time.

Training

At the earliest date, all law enforcement organizations and professional organizations representing law enforcement officers must insist that every officer receive at least forty hours of relevant training/education per year. Anything less than this is a denial of the dangerous reality of policing the streets and the difficulty in managing a large organization in times of great change. This recommendation includes everyone from sworn personnel to senior officers. While it is recognized that our police culture has somewhat of an anti-training bias and would resist this recommendation, it becomes even more imperative to smash this aspect of our culture once and for all. We cannot let the lowest common denominator dictate the future of policing. The time is long past due to use the power of training to modify those aspects of the police culture which are counterproductive to our mission.

Our historical reliance on the federal government to supply executive-level training to our officers is dependent on the budgetary resources and objectives of the agency supplying the training programs. As the priorities of these agencies change so does their commitment to provide such training. This is unacceptable! It is time for law enforcement agencies and state training commissions to step forward and either create new executive-level programs on a regional basis or craft a suitable curriculum using the states' higher education resources. The cheaper of the two alternatives is to use the existing institutions of higher education to deliver required educational programs. While the objective of obtaining a higher degree for promising managers is reasonable, it really should not be the program's sole objective. Rather, the objective should be the realization that managers need career-long training/education to be effective on the job. Requiring every manager to take a least one college credit course per year is not unreasonable and should be required.

Blueprint for Reform

All institutions, regardless of the nature of their mission, need to reform or reinvent themselves occasionally. If not, the institution becomes static, less productive, and in danger of becoming corrupted. Law enforcement organizations fall into this category. Yet, reforming a large organization is exceedingly difficult, and occasionally impossible. However, public and private organizations have successfully transformed themselves. How was it done? What was the cost? What were the steps taken? What type of personality does the executive have to display in order to best succeed? Can law enforcement agencies modify successful plans used by business and the military to our organizations? These are interesting questions and we need to find the answers quickly. And we need to develop a blueprint for the reformation so that dedicated law enforcement executives can confidently take the necessary steps to bring about change in the face of significant employee resistance.

For example, while I find the recent Patterns and Practices investigations of the Department of Justice to be unnecessarily heavy-handed and insulting, the resultant consent decree--if granted--does offer the chief executive a degree of immunity from resistance from the jurisdiction's governing body. This authority, or something similar, is a necessary aspect of any blueprint for drastic change. While the number of law enforcement agencies in need of drastic reform is small, the number in need of modest change is far greater. Finding a way for administrators to make unpopular changes within law enforcement organizations should be one of our profession's immediate objectives.

Consolidation

I know the concept of consolidation of police services is not presently politically possible in most places in the United States. It is a concept that, probably, is fifty years ahead of what is politically possible. Nonetheless, in the areas of radio communications, technical services, forensic examinations, purchasing, training, evidence storage, jails, and the utilization of high technology it is a very prudent way to proceed. If consolidation of the above services could be arranged by law enforcement agencies within a reasonable region, the level and quality of service could well be increased without each community losing the comfort of having their own police department. Those jurisdictions that have totally or partially embraced this concept over the past twenty years are doing quite well and providing a higher level of service to their citizens. However, it is not a concept that needs to be crammed down peoples' throats now. Rather it is a suggestion that needs to be raised, discussed, and debated in every rural, suburban, and urban area in the United States. We have done this before with our primary and secondary school systems and are presently doing it with hospitals. It is also a suggestion that applies to the federal law enforcement sector, although elimination and merger of law enforcement duties at this level is more appropriate.

Infrastructure

Most urban and rural police forces in the United States have a great need to modernize or replace their aging and often worn out buildings. We also need to purchase expensive technical equipment, such as radios and computers. We need new facilities for laboratories, jails, and training. While the need is great, the finances are scarce. We need a place to go to borrow necessary funds without interest. Obviously, the only place where such funds are available is the federal government. I don't propose this to be a handout by the federal government. The loan would be paid back over a period of years and has no strings attached and no connection to the loan's purpose. This is a reasonable and doable proposal that would do a great deal to increase the quality of law enforcement throughout the country and improve the working conditions of many police officers who now operate in deplorable conditions.

Conclusion

The overall quality of law enforcement in the United States has never been higher than it is now. This is a great tribute to the men and women who patrol our streets and to the vision of law enforcement executives at the local, state, and federal level. A great deal of credit also belongs to the various governing bodies which have supplied the necessary funding to increase salaries, purchase good equipment, and insist on the highest quality of service. Our training programs deserve credit as well. They are better than ever before and the end result of this training investment is responsible for saving officers and civilians lives, creating a more sensitive workforce, and making our investigations more professional than ever. Nonetheless, we still have problems to solve! We all want a police force that meets the highest standard of professionalism in every aspect of our work. We want a department that is free of petty corruption, abuse of power, and respectful of the Constitution. We want to treat people within our community with the respect they all deserve regardless of whether they are good citizens or criminals. To accomplish these general goals over the next several decades will require leadership from law enforcement executives, support from governing bodies, and hard work and dedication from well-paid employees.

Who is going to provide this leadership to our profession? Will it be the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriff's Association, the Police Executive Research Forum, or the Major Cities Chiefs? What will be the role of the FBI? Will the leadership come from within the profession or will outsiders control our destiny? My sense is that it will come from whatever quarter has the courage to conduct quality research into our various problems and then communicate solutions--perhaps unpopular--to the public and our lawmakers. While this may sound easy, rest assured it would take courage, financial resources, and hard work to accomplish. Who among us will take up the challenge?

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 tullye@aol.com or by writing to 308 Altoona Drive, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401