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Law Enforcement Leaders: A Call to Take Charge

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Ygnacio Flores
June 21, 2020

The unfortunate killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer was the latest stone thrown into the waters of distrusting law enforcement in America. The ripple effects of Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck and staring at the camera with the confidence of immunity has called into question the practice of using force by law enforcement officers across the nation. To many, their image of law enforcement is not that of a protector of society but rather an oppressor of society. Social movements, local and national elected officials have also called for the defunding of police to stop the excessive use of force by officers on the street. This too is dangerous ground.

As society questions the value of law enforcement, those in leading law enforcement positions—chiefs, sheriffs and special agents in charge (SAC)—need to peer deep into the mirror and ask themselves the same question. With a recognized history of abuse, discrimination and racism in law enforcement, contemporary leaders need to step up and start a revolution in the affairs of law enforcement.

Law enforcement officers perform the way they are trained and educated. The tone for learning how to be a law enforcement officer reflects the ‘top cop’ in the organization. Regardless of the mandatory training required of officers, if the senior leaders in an organization do not live and model behavior that is absent discrimination, racism and using excessive force, the mandatory training is only a valueless tick in the box of pseudo compliance. Absent the fog of being a cliché, law enforcement administrators need to be the linchpin of change in their organizations.

Law enforcement leaders must hold their officers accountable for improper and unprofessional behavior. Most officers whose unprofessional behavior is noticed by the communities they serve prove to have a record of questionable behavior. Law enforcement officers that know how to maneuver the gray area of policy manage to escape effective administrative and disciplinary action for their unprofessionalism. Without reason to correct their behavior, these officers receive a tacit license to continue their unprofessional practices. 

Despite the complex environment of disciplining a law enforcement officer—unions, collective bargaining agreements and legislation—leaders must ensure their decisions do not place a dangerous officer on the street. Law enforcement leaders need to really understand those they hire to serve the public. New cadets and lateral transfers require proper vetting to ensure the organization is getting an officer that meets the diverse and complex requirements of being a contemporary law enforcement officer.

The beacon of law enforcement reform is burning bright throughout the nation. The best people to shape the future of law enforcement are law enforcement leaders. Trusting the emotions of people not trained in law enforcement to make critical changes to the fabric of our social contract not only jeopardizes the law enforcement career field, but will also endanger the communities that are calling for reform. A community without the means to enforce the laws of society will become a lawless landscape where the pendulum could swing in the opposite direction where the call for a police state is the answer. This is not a consequence America needs to experience.

Now is the time for police chiefs, sheriffs, SACs and other senior leaders in law enforcement to take control of the unrest and set a meaningful revolution in law enforcement affairs that will benefit society first and foremost. Personal engagement in the national conversation, working with concerned citizens in the communities and modeling what a professional law enforcement officer is forms the foundational stone of a new way to protect and serve society.

Current law enforcement leaders must lead the national debate on reform. Their absent voices create a void that gets left to those lacking the intricacies and nuances of serving as a law enforcement officer. A key to reforming law enforcement is collaboration across various spectrums of society. The way ahead will not be without trouble and hot spots. Reshaping new perspectives and images of law enforcement is possible. The City of Camden, New Jersey can serve as a benchmark on how to reform a police department. Camden disbanded their police department seven years ago, resulting in better community relations through an emphasis on professionalism, sans the toughness of robot-officers previously practiced throughout the nation’s history.

The example of Camden also points to a need for a law enforcement organization to protect society. Disbanding a law enforcement organization is not commensurate with no law enforcement entity in the community. Shaping the ideas of what a safe community is must include law enforcement leaders who are willing to take charge of the problem space with an eye to a better future where law enforcement is part of the community and not outside of the community.    

Author: Dr. Ygnacio “Nash’ Flores is a regular contributor to PA Times, led several law enforcement/security organizations in the Navy, and was formerly the Dean of Public Safety at Rio Hondo College where he headed the leadership that resulted in the recertification of the Police Academy after it was closed for a cheating scandal in 2010.

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