Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A response to recent Kansas City Star articles regarding low clearance rate for KC homicides

What if the low homicide clearance rate is the logical and inevitable outcome of systemic flaws embedded in our current systems? What if genuine solutions were simple, but by necessity challenged some of our most cherished assumptions?

The experience of teaching and consulting in various parts of the country has convinced us that one could not find a harder working, more dedicated group of homicide detectives than those who serve Kansas City MO.

Chief Corwin is correct; the department needs more community partners like Lynda Callon. The strength of the partnership built with Lynda is primarily due to the efforts of Chief Corwin. To further this goal, the Chief and his Deputies support programs aimed at creating a more responsive, compassionate culture on the KCPD.

Beyond support of Chief Corwin’s efforts, however, we would like to offer some alternative thinking regarding this issue. After all, one cannot separate human thinking from human being. Albert Einstein said it like this; “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking (the term “thinking” is used loosely, see our first bullet point) we used when we created them.” We do not claim to have easy answers, but we would like to offer a paradigm-shifting perspective from which answers could spontaneously flow (as they did at the Westside CAN).

We submit a brief address of three points: 1) Why the KCPD does not have more effective community partnerships. 2) Why the Star, our city and our Chief, herald Lynda Callon and the Westside CAN, and yet the model is uncharacteristic in KCMO 3) Hope for the future

Why the KCPD does not have more effective community partnerships

• The men and women of policing work in a profession steeped in outdated paradigms, traditions, values and norms, (as are the governments that oversee the profession). As a result, policing as a profession has grown increasingly narrow-minded and unresponsive to the “people” realities of the 21st century.

o Equal to and growing out of this narrow-mindedness, the profession experiences ever-increasing levels of self-righteous indignation toward members of our disenfranchised communities (we could tell countless stories about how officers feel righteously indignant towards community members).

• On the other hand, we continue to be haunted by heartfelt stories from people who see the police as an oppressive force that carries out minutia acts of “law enforcement.” They see the police as doing this to them, while having no compassion for the real suffering people experience daily. We know people who have moved from the suburbs into the east side of KC expecting to work with the Police to help revitalize the area, who are shocked by the hostility they sense from Police.

o The angry resentment members feel when confronted with these perspectives exacerbates and perpetuates these problems.

• At the same time, those who desire to “fix” the problems naturally (but thoughtlessly) tend to do so by hurling accusations and condescending comments; thus completing and perpetuating the malicious blame cycles to which our city has become so accustomed. Real solutions tend to be remarkably simple in nature (see final section, Hope for the Future). Nevertheless, embedded in all levels of our local geo-political systems are complex social, structural and functional maladies that will not be “fixed” with a few adversarial comments. Everyone must come to the issue with deep humility – only then is genuine empathy possible. The synergistic results our city desperately needs will grow only in the fertile soil of humility and empathy.

We submit that the above stated collusion cycles between the KCPD and our communities make relational partnerships practically impossible.

Why the Star, our city and our Chief, herald Lynda Callon and the Westside CAN, yet the model is uncharacteristic in KCMO

• The systems and culture within the KCPD generally work against this type of partnership. The CAN Center in its current form only exists because of the direct intervention of Chief Corwin. If it were not for Chief Corwin, the systems on the KCPD would long ago have rendered the CAN Center ineffective or non-existent (ask Lynda).

• The current idea of how to “police” high crime areas is to do zero tolerance enforcement activities. This policy sends officers into high crime areas seeking to do enforcement activities (write tickets, stop pedestrians, and do car and residence checks). This amounts to what we like to call “mindless enforcement of laws” rather than “impartial service to the Law.” For this reason, people who live in high crime areas come to see the police as oppressive predators prowling after them and waiting for them to break some minor ordinance. Some actually report being afraid to move about their own communities . This is NOT to say officers should back off on proactive policing activities. Nevertheless, with relationships formed, policing activities could focus on the type of criminal activity that destroys our communities, not mindless enforcement of laws. Until we accomplish this:

o People feel trapped between two fears: the gang members and drug dealers on one side, and the snarling “sheep- dog” police on the other. This creates what the military would call a PIN (Pro-Insurgency eNvironment). Gang members and drug dealers will move about feeling exempted and immune from law and order in such an operating environment.

o The fact that community members do not cooperate with Police, leaves officers with attitudes of disdain toward community members. It is impossible not to communicate disdain; people react to the disdain - which justifies more disdain… etc…etc…etc…

This stuff is tough to say and tough to hear, but seeking to understand this reality is the first step to changing the social climate that supports the "us versus them" mentality. The community support we once took for granted has eroded, and we simply cannot be effective without re-establishing mutual trust. Standing back and pointing the finger at the community might feel justified, but we exist to serve THEM, not the other way around. It is our responsibility to build these relationships...this is what we signed on for - whether we admit it or not. If it were easy, we would be out of a job. As Westside CAN has demonstrated, it is possible to achieve exponential results when you care enough to approach public service with humility. As leaders, we must do all we can to equip our fellow servants with the spiritual, mental, and physical toughness they need to be relevant in the struggle for the hearts and minds of our community members. "We can't talk our way out of a problem we behaved our way into...”

The basis of the problem is our innate unwillingness (not just cops, all of us) to have a true sense of respect for the realities of other people. We tend to focus on our personal goals while minimizing the needs and desires of others. At the same time, we drastically over-estimate the relevance of our own opinions and ideas to what is really going on around us. When our best-laid plans fail, we automatically present ourselves as the victims of forces we cannot control (like the attitudes and values of "these" people, etc.) This is a false presentation - and all of the emotions and solutions that flow out of it are by necessity false.

Hope for the future

We ALL tend to be indifferent toward the plight of others to one degree or another. As a result, our minds manufacture “self-justifying capital” out of the weaknesses of others. Unfortunately, “self-justifying capital” is like an addictive hallucinogen. It makes us feel better, but deteriorates quality of life, while simultaneously isolating us from reality:

• The reality of the operating environment (what forces are at work, how people and situations really are)

• The reality that we are in fact the cause of our own demise (by manufacturing “self-justifying capital” out of the weaknesses or misfortunes of others)

We offer some simple solutions with far reaching implications. Anyone who would be part of the solution should consider:

• Unconditional respect for my own humanity (humility)

o The weakness I see in others is simply a reflection and reminder of the weakness in me

o Invite candid, ongoing accountability from others around high core values

• Unconditional respect for the humanity of others (empathy)

o See others as people deserving the basic human dignity of my efforts to seek to understand their challenges, struggles and sorrows

• Unconditional respect for my responsibility to be responsive to the needs of others (synergy)

o Prioritize personal accountability and responsibility – especially with “subordinates”

o Minimize / eliminate the use of authoritarianism, and instead rely on relational influence – this is where real power resides

It does not take everyone being on board to make a significant difference; a humble, dedicated few can “tip” the organization and then the community. We got to this place in the exact same manner we will evolve from it: one contact at a time.

Because the KCPD employs the finest group of men and women serving our country in this profession, and because caring, responsive people primarily populate our communities – all we have to do is break the self-perpetuating collusion (relentlessly blaming each other) cycles! Once these cycles are broken - deep, responsive, meaningful partnerships will spontaneously emerge. “Robo-Cop Herding the Dispirited” will be a thing of the past. Light will dawn on a new day of currently unimaginable resources, ideas, real answers and synergistic results!