June 6, 2020

 

Dear PERF members,

The last 10 days may have been the most difficult for the policing profession in our lifetimes. I don’t think that even the upheaval of the Ferguson era in 2014-15 or the Rodney King riots of 1992 could surpass this past week, in terms of the breadth of the demonstrations, the anguish about what happened in Minneapolis, and the violence in many cities.

The fact that thousands of impassioned Americans came out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly endangering their health in many cases, was further evidence that something far-reaching is happening.

For this issue of PERF Trending, I thought I should share a few examples of actions by police executives that show courage, offer reason for hope, and provide good advice as we try to work through the challenges of repairing police-community relations, managing wide-scale demonstrations, and addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a previous edition of Trending, I mentioned a key principle of Jim Collins’ book about leadership, Good to Great:   “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, but at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.”

So let’s begin with a few of the police leaders who quickly and publicly acknowledged the brutal facts laid bare by the death of George Floyd:

In a remarkable interview on CNN, St. Paul, MN Police Chief Todd Axtell had the following exchange:

Question:  You recently said, “Integrity. Respect for all. Compassion. Empathy. These qualities are non-negotiable, as law enforcement professionals and as human beings.” Are those conversations you are having with your officers?

Chief Axtell:  I’ve talked with hundreds of officers over the last few days at roll calls and other venues. My message is that I’m proud of the great officers that we have in this agency. We’ve been dealing with traumatic and challenging times.

But I want all police chiefs and sheriffs throughout this country to join me in this clarion call to our officers:  If you watch that [Minneapolis] video and think in any way, shape or form that that’s acceptable or a reasonable use of force, I want you to turn your badge in to me immediately.

 

Chattanooga, TN Police Chief David Roddy issued a similar message on Twitter  two days after the death of George Floyd. (It’s interesting that Chief Roddy has 15,500 followers on Twitter, but this tweet has been “liked” by more than 600,000 people. Apparently his message is resonating far outside of Chattanooga.)

 

Denton, TX Police Chief Frank Dixon posted an interesting message in which he encouraged the policing profession to look inward:

We’ve also seen exceptional leadership by police chiefs in de-escalating tensions and preventing peaceful demonstrations from unraveling into chaos. 

Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall made a clear, simple point in this 34-second video:  Peaceful demonstrations are encouraged, she said, but violence will not be allowed.  

In Houston, a community member posted a video on Twitter showing an officer responding to his daughter, who had asked, “Are you gonna shoot us?”

The officer gently told the little girl, “We’re here to protect you. We’re not here to hurt you at all.  You can protest, you can party, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t break nothin’.”

Yonkers, NY Police Commissioner John J. Mueller told us that he had two large protests this past week, but had zero incidents of property damage, zero injuries to anyone, and zero arrests.

In this video, you can see why Commissioner Mueller had such good results.  From the 6:30 to 29:30 time marks, he begins with an apology on behalf of the policing profession:  “What I saw with Mr. Floyd was outright murder. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, and I’m not going to do what we did in the past and say, ’We have to wait until we get the facts.’ I saw enough.  I am heartbroken. I am disgusted. I condemn it. And I stand with you. And I’ve told my police officers that the best way they can begin the healing is to say how sorry they are.”

Then, Mueller got into the details of his plans for making improvements, including implementation of implicit bias training and deployment of body-worn cameras, and his department’s continued use of its Early Intervention System. Finally, Mueller ends by joining the crowd in taking a knee to show support for police reforms and stopping racism. 

In New York City, Chief of Department Terry Monahan addressed a raucous crowd and within a minute, de-escalated the tension, and then took a knee with members of the community.  “This had got to end. We all know Minnesota was wrong. They were arrested, which they should be. We stand with you on that. But this is our city. Do not let people who are not from this city screw up your city. This is our home!”

Waterloo, Iowa, Chief Joel Fitzgerald  just took office on June 1, but he was marching with protesters the previous week (he’s wearing the yellow mask).

“Every department has its challenges,” he told a local TV reporter.  “However, the really great departments strive to build bridges with the community and build a sense of procedural justice, and to reduce the implicit bias that sometimes leads to [harmful] encounters.”

These and other acts show the commitment of police leaders to address the brutal facts. A report that PERF published back in 2016 provides guidance for agencies moving forward.

For this report, we held a national conference in July 2015, a year after the Ferguson, Missouri riots. 

The report is very candid and has hard-hitting recommendations, because we had about 75 police officials present, and we asked each one to bring along a community leader from his or her city.  We specifically asked chiefs to bring “a community leader who is not necessarily your biggest fan, but who has credibility in the community.”

Advice from Police Chiefs and Community Leaders on Building Trust

Our report has a lot of good advice, starting with “Don’t be afraid to apologize” and “Be open to hearing people’s negative experiences with the police.” (By the way, it was two  big-city police chiefs, not the community leaders, who offered those points.)

But when you turn on the news today and see the turmoil in American cities, it seems like we haven’t made too much progress  in implementing the advice since the report was released. So we have our work cut out for us.

Thank you for all you do.  The Weekend Clips are below. 

Best,

Chuck

 

Weekend Clips

CBS News video: What it will take to reduce deadly use of force by police

Activists and community organizations are calling for sweeping changes within police departments across the country after the death of George Floyd. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, joined CBSN to discuss what it will take to create a lasting impact.

 

Miami Herald op-ed by Florida International University Police Captain Delrish Moss, former Ferguson, Missouri Police Chief and Miami Police Major: Why do ‘good cops’ just stand there when a ‘bad’ cop goes rogue? Lack of leadership from top

Like many, I have watched and re-watched the video torture of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. What I saw broke my heart, as a man and law-enforcement professional. It was painful to watch a human being struggle to breathe under the crushing weight of a knee on his neck, and it was reminiscent of challenges that Ferguson, Missouri, faced when I was sworn in as police chief. It also reminded me of Miami’s challenges in the early 1980s and the all of the work that has been done — and still needs to be done — in policing.

Like Minneapolis, Ferguson erupted in protest after now-former police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown Jr. Like Minneapolis, and other cities across the nation, such incidents sparked conversations and debates about race, policing and the justice system. Unlike Ferguson however, Minneapolis has sparked protests across the nation. The horrors of watching Floyd’s death struggle has affected the nation in ways I never imagined. In fact, I struggled to sleep after watching the video; its images still play in my head.

Friends and colleagues have asked me about the incident, most focusing on the actions, and inactions, of other officers on the scene. In fact, a social-media post has been circulating for years in which comedian Chris Rock is said to have asked why “good cops” never seem to be around when their comrades are killing innocent people. Over and over, we have seen videos of police violence leaving us to wonder why other officers stood by watching and did not intervene.

In Ferguson, we implemented policies called, “The Duty to Intervene,” “The Duty to Report,” and “The Duty of Candor.”

While good policies are important, clear direction and leadership are equally critical. In Miami, Chief John Timoney, through leadership and clear direction, reduced the number of police-involved shootings to zero in more than two years by strengthening the department’s shooting policy, but also by making his direction unambiguous. After he left, the same policies were still in place, but the number of fatal police-involved shootings went up. The only thing that changed was the messaging from the top. The consequences were dire. Clearly, leadership matters.

 

Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel op-ed by Santa Cruz Chief Andy Mills: Leaders must change culture of policing

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis disturbs me to my core. It bothers me as a leader, human, and person of faith. This brutal and compassionless behavior is not the profession I joined in 1977. We have to get policing back on track, and that will take a concerted effort of cops with integrity, humility, and a genuine sense of justice. Actions like we saw in Minneapolis, and the police officers standing by watching excessive force happen without interference must be pushed out of policing for the police to be the legitimate protectors of society.

I am hopeful because the newest generations of police officers are changing the dynamics of policing. Our cops are smarter, more aware of personal bias, and are more willing to police justly than my generation. Our new generation of Santa Cruz cops are more enlightened about race, and this will help to improve how we police.

Police executives must now facilitate the opportunity to change the culture of policing. We must train effectively and ensure direct and deep community engagement with all segments of the community. The police cannot be a distant force of power separate from the hopes, dreams, and desires of all people, but rather an integral part of this community’s fabric. We must hold our organizations accountable for our actions without making excuses or equivocation for errant behavior.

 

Washington Post op-ed by Savannah, Georgia Police Officer Patrick Skinner: I’m a cop. I won’t fight a ‘war’ on crime the way I fought the war on terror.

When I left the CIA, I no longer wanted to fight our “war on terror.” For seven years after the 9/11 attacks, I served as an operations officer in the CIA counterterrorism center. My role in our efforts overseas was small but left a large impression on me: We were creating more tensions and threats than we countered or mitigated. By approaching the issue as a “war,” we fought it as one, and this was a categorical mistake. There were significant tactical achievements, but overall it has been a strategic defeat, costing lives, money and opportunities. We focused on who and what we were fighting against instead of who and what we were fighting for, and in the shade of that difference, a rot grew. So I came to worry about what we were doing. And then I came home.

I’m now a cop in my hometown, Savannah, Ga., and I don’t want to fight another war — our “war on crime.” But I’m not going anywhere. I’m just speaking up, to propose that we end what never was a war to begin with. We need to change our mind-set about what it means to “police” in America. At this moment of maximal national tension and outrage, when national leaders are calling the streets of America a “battlespace,” with police officers as warriors who should “dominate” and give “no quarter,” I am telling whoever will listen: Police are not warriors — because we are not and must not be at war with our neighbors.

 

Portland Oregonian op-ed by Portland Police Officer Peter Braun: Police officers like me must earn our community’s trust

Last December I wrote an op-ed discussing the challenges of working as a police officer in the city of Portland. Since then it feels like the world has come apart around us. Just over a week ago, along with the rest of the world, I watched the video of George Floyd’s final moments as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the handcuffed man’s neck for nearly nine agonizing, soul-rending minutes. I was in shock.

I spoke to other officers, and I watched the video again and again. We all wanted to know why the other officers involved had stood by and let that happen in front of them. We wanted to know why Chauvin, at least, was not in handcuffs the minute someone saw that video. The only answers I have are ugly ones. I have never been so ashamed of something in my life.

What has happened over the last week should be a wake-up call for all of us, but especially for law enforcement. No matter who we are, no matter what background we come from, no matter how we personally do our job, we have to go back to work tomorrow and try and find some trust and common ground so that we can help our communities. I remain proud to be a police officer, especially one for the Portland Police Bureau. I see the good work we do. I see the values we express to each other in our work. I also know that I have to live with the shame of what Derek Chauvin and others who have worn a badge have done. I know I cannot ask many of you to trust me, but I promise you, each and every one of you, that I will try my level best to earn your trust every day that I put on my uniform. I promise that I will not let what happened to George Floyd happen on my watch.

 

New York Times op-ed by former Burlington, Vermont Police Chief Brandon del Pozo: Justice is about more than the killing of George Floyd

A series of shootings by the police have accumulated into a national nightmare. They betray a profound vacancy of values, and the profession hasn’t been able to prove that they are just aberrations. Jordan Edwards, a boy of 15, was shot in the head in Balch Springs, Tex., as a passenger in a car leaving a party. Walter Scott was shot in the back as he fled a South Carolina traffic stop on foot, and the cop planted a Taser next to his dead body. Philando Castile was shot in front of his girlfriend and her young daughter in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn., as he reached for his identification after telling the officer who pulled his car over for a broken taillight that he had a licensed handgun in the car. Atatiana Jefferson was shot to death through the window of her Fort Worth home for apparently no reason at all.

The entire profession needs to take responsibility for these acts. I always told my family that no matter where we were driving, if I ever saw an officer struggling with someone at the roadside, I would have to stop and help him. But every officer should also promise to help anyone struggling under the knee of a brutal officer.

The nation’s police need to start acting and speaking in unison in ways that bring people together. They have to unite in taking responsibility for the flaws in the profession and adopt a set of standards and values that may well mean treating a colleague, rather than a suspect, as the greater threat to public safety. Especially one who puts his knee on a handcuffed man’s neck until he dies.

 

CNN op-ed by Kevin McAleenan, former U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner and Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Law enforcement leaders are essential to overcoming systemic racism

Racism exists across all of our nation's institutions and it's as old as our republic. Our system of criminal justice is based on discretion -- the officers' decision in who to arrest, the prosecutors' in who to prosecute, the jurors' in whether to find guilt or innocence. That means our efforts to mete out justice will necessarily be burdened and undermined by the racism and inherent biases harbored by the people that administer it. The rage in black communities across the nation, then, is real and well-founded. The question is not whether racism in law enforcement exists, but how to combat it.

We aren't powerless to respond and this devastating cycle does not have to repeat itself. Justice for George Floyd will be fundamental and while that process unfolds, we are starting to see law enforcement leaders demonstrate what we must do to emerge from this difficult reckoning.

 

New York Times op-ed by Charles H. Ramsey, Ronald L. Davis, Roberto Villaseñor and Sean Smoot, members of former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing: There is a playbook for police reform

Policing has always been one of our country’s most complex and challenging professions. People call the police when they cannot solve problems themselves. And when other systems, institutions and parts of our social fabric fail, the police inherit the problems that others want to ignore. The police are called in to repair, or at least lessen, the damage.

Right now, members of our communities are wondering whether our police really do help lessen the damage. The need for police accountability has never been more apparent, more visceral, than now. Last week, people in this country and around the world watched in horror as they saw George Floyd, an African-American man, die at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The horrific death of Mr. Floyd graphically demonstrated what people in communities of color across the country have complained about for decades: the blatant use of excessive and deadly force by the police.

The demand for accountability is not new. Too many of our communities have grieved too many times. We have been here before. Yet nothing seems to change.

As former police chiefs and experts who have spent careers working to reform and transform policing, we have too often lived these moments — where the weight of community grief at treatment by the police has boiled over into unrest and uprisings. For us, a diverse group of people of color and career police professionals, this just hurts.

The problem is not that we lack a playbook for fixing the police. We have one. The problem is that we have not successfully followed the one we have.

 

Wicked Local Cambridge (MA) op-ed by Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville Bard: Cambridge Police commissioner responds to George Floyd’s death

After witnessing George Floyd’s death, the evidence was quite clear. The officers’ actions were depraved, indifferent, senseless -- and to be clear, it was an unlawful killing. I offer my prayers and sincere condolences to the Floyd family and to all who are enduring the traumas associated with this tragic incident.

For many minority communities, this is another in what may seem to be an unending series of police abuses of authority, dehumanizing events, and misuse of force against unarmed minorities. The damage done to trusted relationships between the police and minority communities is incalculable and colossal with each successive incident. Too many times, race as a factor, is minimized by law enforcement; which only serves to stoke already intense flames.

As a student of history, I know that much more is needed than law enforcement officials speaking out with condemnation if we hope to prevent future occurrences.

What is needed is something, “more than words.” Much more than words will be necessary to heal the fracture between law enforcement and members of the minority community. Many times in our history, we have seen perceived and actual police aggression within minority communities lead to large-scale civil unrest. When this happens, we often enter into a cycle where officials offer pacifying words, a study is commissioned, an official report is produced, some degree of the report’s recommendations are implemented, and conditions improve for a time. Then conditions surrounding police-community relationships begin to deteriorate again and the cycle is perpetuated. You only need to look at the Kerner Commission Report from 1968 and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Report from 2015 to see that the cycle repeats itself. Though 50 years apart, both reports were the result of a cycle that began with large-scale civil unrest brought on by discord between law enforcement’s handling of minorities and both reports made similar recommendations.

What I fear is that many drastically underestimate how some in the minority community have come to view those who are sworn to serve them.

 

Washington Post op-ed by Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo: As a police chief, I see Minneapolis as a crucial test of our profession. Here’s how we can avoid failing.

The demonstrations in Minneapolis reveal the searing pain and anger that many Americans feel in response to the death of George Floyd while being taken into police custody. The actions of the four officers involved shock the conscience, are inconsistent with the protocols of the policing profession and sabotage the law-enforcement community’s tireless efforts to build public trust.

We hope the swift and decisive actions taken by Hennepin County authorities and Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo — and the good work performed by police officers in Minneapolis and across our nation — do not get lost in the backlash. But tragedies such as this one occur far too frequently in our country, especially in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. There is still much work that our profession must do to prevent more deaths like Floyd’s and the destructive outrage that follows.

 

Washington Post op-ed by Tracie Keesee, co-founder and senior vice president of the Center for Policing Equity and former Denver Police Captain and NYPD Deputy Commissioner: After this crisis, policing should never be the same

As the nation reels from the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, leaders in law enforcement have an obligation to offer an alternative to the violence and excessive force that Americans are witnessing. The best in the profession already understand that compliance with the law begins with trust, not fear. This moment demands a new way of policing built around that understanding. There is no better time to start than now.

I served as a police officer for almost 30 years in Denver and New York City. I can tell you firsthand that we still have too many officers who subscribe to the belief that specific communities are full of threats to neutralize, not people to serve and protect. A new way of policing, one based on the consent of the community, can never take root in that poisoned soil.

Officers who see only threats are more likely to use force before exhausting other options, increasing the chances of tragedies such as the one in Minneapolis. Officers who don’t see humans first bristle at the simple, pro-human statement that "black lives matter." When the fires die down, law enforcement leaders across the United States need to ensure that toxic beliefs die with them.

Police Executive Research Forum
1120 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 930
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 466-7820