Friday, September 26, 2014

Ferguson, Lessons Learned

There are many high-quality proposals under consideration in the aftermath of Ferguson.  These proposals offer the promise of improving on what local police do when performing their jobs.  At the same time, it is important to remember that it is possible to do all the “whats” of policing the right way but to be wrong at a much deeper level.  This involves one’s mindset, or how one is in relationship toward others while performing the tasks of policing.  

The following link presents an example of a Deputy who intuitively understands this difference:  Consider what Deputy Simmons does—writes tickets. Consider how Deputy Simmons is in relationship with others while he writes tickets.  He does not look down on people; “I am right here with you,” he says.  

The truth is that people really feel it when officers look down on them.  Dick Gregory explains this in the following segment Looking down on another person while exercising a position of authority produces “hurt” and a “whole lot of emotions… that has nothing to do with the other night.”  This hurt can be deeply felt, even while all the rules and protocols are being followed.  

The unfortunate reality is that there is no hope in the near future of somehow eliminating challenging use of force events.  While it is impossible to predict when one will strike a community and police department, such events are sadly inevitable.  Also, there are people who, because of a deep hurt, feel a sense of responsibility to leverage local outrage following the event.  The media also feels the need to leverage local outrage in order to hold police accountable, not only for the challenging use of force event, but also for the deep, longstanding hurt felt by the community.  These realities will inevitably converge to create a kind of negative synergy against the police.

Police can complain, or they can begin to take responsibility for how officers see and respond to every person, during every contact.  Police must do this as officers go about fulfilling all the improved protocols and policies that are on the table.  Otherwise the hurt will continue even as the protocols improve.

The single safeguard police have is the establishment of a track record of respectful, high-trust relationships with every person, during every contact, every time.  Policing in today’s America requires a mindset which takes responsibility not only for what police do, but also how police see themselves in interactions with others while doing what they do.  

For an organization that is in deep conflict with their community, the solution would be a comprehensive threefold process that has real-time, publicly available accountability to be 1) Mission ready, with concern for the wellbeing of every officer;  2) Community centric, monitoring the quality of every contact officers have; 3)  Strategically focused to verify that community and organizational goals and objectives are being met.  These three feedback mechanisms are backed by constant training, coaching, counseling, mentoring, and accountability for officers and workgroups who struggle in any area.

More examples of how viewing people as people affects every aspect of policing can be found here: