Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Redefining Law Enforcement

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

By Peter Melan
February 12, 2021

Local governments continue to face challenges in evaluating their police departments amid public outcry over reform. The overall opinion is to integrate other services into law enforcement, such as utilizing social workers when responding to calls or in some cases re-evaluating funding. The concern is that many of these decisions become politically motivated without input from administrators. The legislation may sound attractive to constituents who may oppose law enforcement and create talking points during elections. The reality is that implementing such a drastic change requires input from a variety of stakeholders, including residents.

Recently, the city of Minneapolis made national headlines regarding their police department. Two varying articles, “Minneapolis Councilors Float New Plan for Reimagining Public Safety,” and, “Minneapolis City Council Votes to Move Public Safety Proposal to Committee,” offer stark differences in how the pending legislation is conveyed to readers.

The Minneapolis Council is on track to create a newly formed Department of Public Safety due to recent police shootings and in the wake of public outcry. According to the Star Tribune article, the lack of input brings to question any validity to the change in policy. Both links point to similar articles of the proposed charter change; additional information found on the Police1 website raises alarms with how the Council proposes to change the leadership structure.

Dating back to Woodrow Wilson, the intent of public administration is to be devoid of politics. When council members begin a process of amending their charter to create accountability of the Department of Public Safety, they essentially become de-facto administrators. Council members are elected to legislate and create laws, but not to govern. The chief executive of the city, such as a mayor or administrator, provides this type of oversight. When a director is held to a standard by 14 elected officials with varying opinions on how to operate their department, government efficiency is diluted, resulting in a high cost to taxpayers.

The instruction of David Rosenbloom articulates three approaches to the role of public administrators: managerial, political and legal. Each play a significant part in the democratic beliefs the country is built upon, yet legislation that seeks to benefit elected officials without the input of administrators is a frightening reality.

Another concerning point made in the Star Tribune article is the lack of feedback from residents. One of the most basic functions of law enforcement professionals is to protect citizens and their property. The lack of public input speaks volumes when a charter amendment’s overall intent is to increase accountability, yet the elected officials have chosen to avoid hearings to obtain information on how their constituents feel about the proposed changes.

The use of data or additional research to help substantiate the argument of creating an independent department of public safety appears to be irrelevant in this particular case. A talented administrator would advise the Council of the potential pitfalls associated with the proposed charter amendment based on quantitative information, further proving their independence without political influence. Based on the political climate in Minneapolis, the appearance of data-driven decisions is non-existent. The desire to change the police department is on the forefront of legislating in order to create a false sense of accountability perceived to be inadequate by Council.

The trend for administrators moving towards adhering to political ideologies of elected officials seems to be growing. There is a tendency for monitoring how the public will react to this particular legislation, with a focus on effectiveness. The issue being discussed in the articles is extremely sensitive, with careful consideration being given to the proposed language of the charter amendment. The administrator in this particular scenario is caught in a precarious position; whose interest is ultimately being served? Is it the constituency whose interest are paramount or the elected officials who have personal agendas?

An external factor to also consider is the force of a national and alternative agenda to law enforcement. It is a manageable effort to cope with a local issue by engaging stakeholders in open dialogue and public hearings. The national sentiment derived from other parts of the country are simply unavoidable, and as seen through the media coverage, what happens in one metropolitan area is easily replicated elsewhere. Rapid, uninformed decisions without the input from administrators dealing with a political issue are becoming the norm and not the exception. It is incumbent on all who are responsible for maintaining the safety of residents to consider all options, especially with public safety.

With the proposed charter amendment, oversight of the Department of Public Safety rests with elected officials without reliance on studies or data. The Council does not appear to engage in a public debate with citizens that could either solidify or nullify their position. Regardless, the intended change is to redefine law enforcement as a result of prior acts. A decision to restoring trust in government should include all stakeholders, from elected officials to constituents to administrators for the purpose of efficiency, creating transparency and ensuring accountability at all levels. It is where the administrator falls into a position that presents the challenges of any laws and how to properly overcome them with consideration given to citizens and the government.

Author: Peter Melan is the owner of PeterMelan.com a consulting firm specializing in local government. He is a second-term councilperson in Easton, PA. Peter is also a public speaker and a writer for several online publications. He recently received his MPA from Ohio University and is in his first semester of doctoral studies at West Chester University.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *