One day, we’ll look back at our present embattled law enforcement era with enlightened eyes. We’ll have a clearer understanding of what happened to our profession and why. Right or wrong, it’ll be from that safe perspective that our present-day law enforcement leaders will be judged.
At least some of today’s national critique of our profession is caused by our insufficiency. Where there are divides with communities, we haven’t been able to bridge them. Where there is distrust, we haven’t been able to heal it. I’m not fixing blame. After all, with the resources we’ve been allotted, law enforcement’s charge is overwhelming: keep the peace and keep safety … everywhere. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, those two things (safety and security) come right after air, water, food and rest. While there’s disagreement about how much of this firestorm we own, right now, what real things could we be doing to at least fix some of it?
With that in mind, I’ve created a list of a dozen things that chiefs and sheriffs can do to start making things better in their own communities:
- Become CALEA certified.
The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (www.calea.org) is the gold standard for demonstrating that your agency is following national policing best practices. Attaining accreditation is a rigorous process that will require organization-wide improvement, which will assure your community that your claim to professionalism is more than just words.
- Introduce Ethical Policing Is Courageous (EPIC) duty-to-intervene training to sworn staff (www.epic.nola.gov). Also known as Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) and developed by New Orleans P.D. and Georgetown University, EPIC is a programmatic approach to help peace officers “police” each other out on the streets.
- Commit to pursing staffing that is as diverse as your community. Represent your community’s ethnic and sexual identity demographics. Write policy that makes it a goal to have all of your job classes mirror those percentages — and remember, wherever you live, females are half of the population. One meaningful way for you to certify this intent would be for you to sign the U.S. Department of Justice-approved 30 by 30 initiative as your public commitment that you will endeavor to attain a 30% female sworn ratio by 2030 (30by30initiative.org).
To increase these percentages, some chiefs and sheriffs selectively lower employment and promotion standards. Not only is this unethical (and probably outside of the law), it diminishes organizational performance, reduces the quality of service to the diverse communities we serve and is simply not necessary. If you are not getting the diverse pool of applicants that you want, and if equity and diversity are indeed valued by your city council or county board of supervisors/commissioners, they will provide the necessary additional funding of your recruitment and training budgets.
- Make all ranks that are sergeant and above at-will positions. While filling the office of chief or sheriff is far and away the most crucial law enforcement decision that your community will make, his or her sworn administrative and supervisor staff can either cripple the organization or allow it to thrive.
Most organizations have great leaders in various ranks. They usually have some lousy ones, too. Almost everywhere, upon completion of a probationary period, sergeants and above have a vested right to their rank. However, during contract negotiations, this is changeable. If 51% of a bargaining unit agrees to give up vesting rights of various ranks in exchange for job class pay raises, supervisors and administrators who are on cruise control would have to step it up … or face demotion.
- Start an auxiliary funding program. Every community has members who are pro-law enforcement and have the financial means and willingness to donate to unbudgeted projects or needs of your organization. Create a membership-based 501(c)(3) entity that’s joinable through commitments to your needs. Then, solicit funding for unbudgeted special projects or fixed assets. Donors would receive public recognition for their civic benevolence, and your service delivery will improve.
- Start a walk-your-neighborhood program. Invite whole neighborhoods to meet sworn staff who are assigned there, who will be leading these walks. Direct involved staff to submit reports to the chief or sheriff that detail the events, who they met and what concerns they heard.
- Increase intensive tactical training for all sworn staff. It’s the average beat cop, and not SWAT, who is the first responder to our worst calls. Even in high-training states like California, if the public really knew the scant amount of force-on-force, realistic, scenario-based training that peace officers receive annually, the everyday street cop would get a lot more sympathy. Only SWAT and some tactical teams get adequate stress-based tactical training. Studies have shown that during intense, stress-based force-on-force tactical training, SWAT members’ initial physiological responses to sudden threats (like heart rate, tunnel vision, auditory distortion and more) peak but then quickly return to normal levels as they methodically work through tense tactical scenarios. SWAT officers’ greater training actually inoculates them to stress. But for the average street cop, their physiological responses remain high, inhibiting their awareness and performance. We need to give average beat officers the best means to de-escalate tense situations, and that starts with investing in their ability to do so.
- Lead proactive homelessness intervention. I keep reading that homelessness is not a law enforcement problem, but because of our role in society, we may have the best opportunity to effectively lead local government’s various partners to positive change for the benefit of everyone, including the homeless. Mental health and drug addiction play a huge role in homelessness. Lead meetings with local homeless service organizations and experts, pursue innovative ideas, adopt the proven CAHOOTS mental health program in your community and more.
- Institute mandatory and voluntary physical fitness certification. Too many law enforcement confrontations happen because the involved officers are physically unfit, and therefore have to resort to lethal force. Through collective bargaining with unions, it is possible to institute minimal physical fitness requirements for all sworn staff. On top of this, consider offering premium pay to members who voluntarily pass a more rigorous annual physical fitness test and set them apart from their unfit peers with a “Fit LEO” uniform pin.
- Start an on-duty law enforcement fitness program. Even though (incredibly) physical fitness is not one of our job requirements, it is so necessary that it is unethical for sworn staff not to be physically fit. Since this is true, it is also unethical for the appointing authority not to have an on-duty means for this necessity. Like firefighters, peace officers should be allowed to work out on duty. Some law enforcement agencies have instituted this. You should, too.
- Institute a mental and emotional wellness program. Whether it be through faith traditions, meditation practices, mentor relationships or other intentional pursuits at achieving inner peace and balance, humanity has a continuous history of seeking mental and emotional wellness. Law enforcement’s supporters, detractors and everyone in between agree that helping officers achieve better mental and emotional wellness is crucial, especially now. If it is truly valued, your city council or board of supervisors will fund a meaningful program to help your staff achieve it. But you can start for free right now by posting CopLine’s life-changing materials in your briefing room. Check out www.copline.org/resources/materials.
- Start a master officer/deputy program. Many officers and deputies will never promote, but through their extra work and intentional effort, they will always be the best peace officers you’ve got. But, your weakest staff wear the same uniform, so there’s no way for public recognition. Honor your best sworn staff through a master officer/deputy distinction. Peace officers who have advanced experience, commitment and expertise with consistently high-performance evaluations should be set apart from the rest. That might include extra pay, but at least it should include a master officer/deputy badge.
Crisis does create opportunity. During natural disasters, purse strings get loosened. Local government, state and national politicians want out of this unprecedented law enforcement firestorm, too. If we come up with good strategies, they will fund them.
So, are you willing to seize the moment and take new ground? I am. I’m the contributing editor of this magazine, and here’s my commitment: With all that’s going on, I want back in the game … I’m running for sheriff in my community. If I win, I promise that I will do all I can to make all 12 of these good ideas our local reality.
How about you? Do you have other good and timely ideas to add? If enough chiefs and sheriffs nationwide email me, I’ll write a follow-up article to publish our work.
Stay strong. Stay committed. And I hope to hear from you.