How to build better police departments
In 2016, our nation witnessed an unprecedented number of videos showing the moments police shot and killed citizens. In some cases, these citizens were unarmed. Other deaths happened when the citizen was restrained or in custody. In at least one of the cases, an unarmed person was killed by a law enforcement officer who had initially stopped to render assistance.
The question on our minds should be “What can we do to build better police departments and improve how communities see those who serve as sworn law enforcement officers.”
I take this opportunity to outline a process that fundamentally changes the conditions that determine how a police officer is hired by, trained for, and serves their community. The goal is to create a consistent process that results in better policing of communities, increases trust in those departments and ultimately reduces the tragic encounters that are becoming all too common.
This is just seed to start a different conversation on how to grow modern police departments and help police officers balance their prospective duty and the community they serve. Another hope is to reduce and eventually eliminate any culture within law enforcement departments that fosters a “we the police, versus them, the community” state of mind.
I propose that hiring new police officers begins with establishing new career tracks. Also, I’d give sworn law enforcement professionals Civil Service status and credit. This is a plum to both encourage and protect careers in law enforcement. Those who serve as sworn officers are in some case, far more important to our nation than many who currently get Federal Civil Service status and rewards.
Like military recruits, new candidates for local law enforcement would sign a contract of two to four years, with a matching commitment to serve in an active or inactive reserve police role. After training and if possible, officers would be assigned to serve in areas close to where they live.
Training would be planned and overseen by a board of both existing police officers and administrators, as well as local citizens. This board would also be charged with reviewing incidents that suggested a need for additional training, as well as assessing if the officer involved was properly vetted, prepared and responsive to the incident.
This board would be elected every two to four years by their communities. Board members could only serve one term as either citizen, administrator or active police officer. To guarantee equal access, all those pursuing a seat on the board would be limited to applying the same resources to their campaign efforts. No external funding, third-party organizations or even “donations” to enhance any campaign for a seat on the proposed board would be permitted. Board members could serve more than one term, but only if they qualified due to a change in their status.
As an officer’s contract was coming up for renewal, there would be a performance review of assigned duties as well as other community involvement. The idea here is to see how that officer performed in both their sworn position and his or her participation in the community. Duties beyond those typical of a sworn peace officer such as volunteering, mentoring, as well as working with the youth and elderly organizations would factor into a police officer’s career.
The results of that review would lead to at least three options for those officers:
~ Those whose service exceeded review standards would be offered an opportunity to renew their contracts with a promotion or leave the department with a six year “Law Enforcement College Grant” (LECG).
~ Those whose service meets expectations would be offered to an opportunity continue in their existing position or be priority candidates for other positions for which they qualify within their police department. Those officers who decide not to renew contracts would also qualify for a two to four year LECG.
All who used the LECG to attend college, and graduate, would get credit towards their Civil Service status. Those who take advantage of the LECG to purse degrees that support the science, psychology, or management of law enforcement agencies, would qualify for stipends or zero-interest loans. I’d suggest that in certain highly technical areas where need is forecasted, loans would be either zero interest or payments forgiven while that person was serving in a qualifying law enforcement or military job.
~ Those who graduate with degrees funded with the LECG would have priority access to any local, state or federal law enforcement job for which they are qualified. Promotions to senior field supervisors or shift administrators would also require advancing one’s education outside of experience in the field and required department continuing education. I think a desirable result would be that we’d never see a sergeant retiring from 27 years on patrol. That sergeant would instead retire as a senior administrator, department manager or maybe as a police chief.
In all cases, I see advantages for communities, police departments and those serving as sworn law enforcement officers. New field supervisors will bring a history of exceeding expectations and education that will be fundamental in leadership. Those who choose college, will return to their communities with enhanced educations and perspectives focused on modern law enforcement practices.
Some officers, through review of performance or by choice, will move on to other career paths. This is where Civil Service status and a college grant helps them move forward with their lives. Not everyone would choose to go to college. In those cases, let them convert their LECG to a college fund for one of their children or donate it back to their community as a scholarship.
Understand this is just an outline designed to provoke thought on how we can create better community police departments. Although I know that police departments are continuously working to improve their role in communities, on the surface, it appears that it takes a tragedy to cause policies and training to change. Reviews of incidents that create new policies can take years and then longer for policy changes to make a difference.
A the same time, communities have a responsibility get beyond “Us Versus The Police.” Law-abiding citizens need become more involved.
Paraphrasing a famous civil rights activist, communities need to “Be part of the solution.”