Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's not the equipment

There has been a lot of talk this past year, in the wake of Ferguson, about militarization of the police. Most of the commentary on this issue has focused around the acquisition by local police departments of surplus equipment from the armed forces. Police departments have been using military surplus equipment for decades. As a rookie officer in 1974, the S&W .38 revolver issued to me was stamped "U.S. Navy" on the back strap.

I see no major concern in police agencies taking advantage of this surplus gear, within reason. A few rifles, a truck, a night vision scope, or a HumVee doesn't really worry me. Police need this kind of equipment from time to time, and normally buy it (or something similar) brand new. If you can save a few tax dollars by reusing something the taxpayers have already purchased, that's generally OK with me. Look over the list of gear Nebraska agencies have received, and it's pretty typical stuff for which there are civilian counterparts: nobody is acquiring RPGs, mortars, and land mines.

The issue of militarization of the police that concerns me, rather than surplus equipment, is the intrusion of a war-fighting ethos into police culture that is not properly counterbalanced with an even stronger mentality of service and guardianship. There was an interesting article about this recently in the Harvard Law Review. I'm all for good training and tactics for protecting police officers from the risk of violent assault. Policing is one of only a handful of occupations with a sustained record of practitioners facing felonious attacks in the course of their employment. Safety is good. Better training and procedures, along with body armor, have dramatically reduced the number of officers killed in the line of duty in felonious assaults during my career.

But it is critical for police officers to recognize that the vast majority of citizens--rather than representing a threat to their safety--are firmly on our side, and depend on us from protection and service. The public is not the adversary. Many of those citizens would put themselves in harm's way without hesitation to help an officer in distress. When police officers begin to view citizens as a population of which they must be constantly wary, it is difficult to develop and sustain good relationships. Suspicion, distrust, and fear are corrosive to trust, collaboration, and partnership.

The line between good safety practices and good interpersonal relationships is a fine one, to be sure. I don't think relationships with the community are strained when a police SWAT team executes a high-risk arrest warrant. On the other hand, it's pretty tough (although not impossible) to have a friendly rapport with an officer decked out in fatigues, a load-bearing vest, and a slung MP5, which is why the drift towards military-styled language, BDUs, and tactical gear for street officers bothers me. It is the attitude and outlook behind the uniform, however, that matters most, and that one must be one dominated by the desire to protect and help others.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

First impressions

The Lincoln Police Department is preparing to start a new recruit class in July. I happened to be at police headquarters yesterday, as the soon-to-be-trainees were getting some preparatory administrative work out of the way. I was pleased to see a young woman in the class that I met earlier this year over a cup of coffee at Bruegger's. I did not intervene on her behalf in any way, but I could tell from our conversation she'd be an excellent candidate.

During my entire career, the LPD recruit academy has been based on an academic model, rather than a military one. Sgt. Lancaster, who ran the short academy when I was a newbie, was a friendly, avuncular fellow that set a nice tone. When I was running the academy in the early 1980's, I tried to avoid the drill instructor style you see in the movies and on TV. My current role is only a couple of days, but along with other instructors, I try to follow the principles of adult learning.

It's not this way everywhere. David Couper, who served as the Madison, Wisconson chief for twenty years, reminisced in his 2011 book, Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police, about the paradigm that was common in police academies, and still persists in some places:
"When I was introduced to the academy class that was already in training before I was appointed, the class stood at attention when I entered the room. In fact, I found that not only did they stand at attention when I entered, but that they did so for every supervisor who came into their class. A coercive, top-down leadership model had no place within a police department that was seeking highly educated people to come and join it. Some of the people we were trying to attract into a police career were currently in business, law, social work, or teaching. And most of them wouldn’t choose to remain in a police department that ran like an 18th century British warship."
Jack Lancaster set a good tone for me in 1974. I hope I'm doing likewise for trainees today. Its great to see these folks beginning their career, and the impression we make at the outset is an important one throughout their careers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Strat plan at hand

We're at the Municipal Services Center out by the airport this morning, with labor and management from Lincoln Fire & Rescue participating in a half-day strategic planning session.  This one is professionally facilitated by John Beranek.

A good discussion is taking place on how we can do a better job collaborating to move the organization along towards our key goals. I wish there were ways, in this day and age, to step back from our daily work more often, and take a deeper dive into the bigger issues.

I don't think I'm alone: the issue just came up from across the room!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hour of bliss

I was just checking CrimeView Dashboard this morning, when I noticed the widget for calls for service at LPD yesterday. Check this out: between 0400 and 0459, there was not a single dispatched incident. Can't ever recall that before, an entire hour with no police calls for service.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The latest gun

It has been quite a while since I have blogged about what is arguably Lincoln's most famous burglary, the 2007 break-in a Scheel's All Sports. Monday, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms sent a telecommunications message to the Lincoln Police Department advising us that a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol stolen from Scheel's was recovered in Mexico, where the gun had been involved in a crime.

The message didn't contain much in the way of specifics, but we've requested more reports, and might get some more details when and if those arrive. Three years have passed since the last gun was recovered in Petaluma, California. Of the 79 guns originally stolen, 51 have been recovered, and 28 are still out there. More will trickle in as time goes by, as they have over the past seven years.