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To the PA Times: Letter to the Editor

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

By Lisa Dicke
June 9, 2020

In response to the death of George Floyd

Perhaps public statements or letters to the editor do little, but I’m going to try. This is a call for all of us in public administration to continue to help to promote professionalism and to insert leadership where it can do the most good—publicly, openly and always.

I don’t pretend to know how to fix people, but I do know that there is an absolute need for integrity in a professional public service. If we are to call ourselves professionals and work to train others we must listen and act when there are problems to be addressed. Everyone needs to step up their game, myself included. It’s past time for listening to, learning from and reaching out to those that our public service professionals serve. Which means everyone. That is how the justice and professional apparatus works when it works, and in many ways it does work. But, the qualities of integrity, a public service ethic, empathy and innovation need to be used and upheld to work for everyone.

Recently, with the death of George Floyd we see the worst of the worst as it relates to professional behavior. Everyone has heard of the “thin blue line” but whether one is in law enforcement or another public service field, we also know that there are times when something is just plain wrong. Covering for workplace friends? I get it. Tough jobs, continuous attacks and disrespect, whether in the media or on the street, for our front-line workers? I don’t like it, but I get it. Entrenched and structural racism? In all honesty, I’m learning but I’m also listening. Today, with this statement, I’m acting.

In public service, professionalism is paramount—there is no other way. There is no place for a lack of professionalism in public service. Period. I also believe that it is the only way to reduce the lack of respect that seems to continually present itself in public forums today. How much of it is truly a lack of respect for the institutions of government? I suspect very little. Most is likely driven by frustration and fear.

Policing problems, among others, must be addressed openly and with integrity. Cameras help but they don’t replace behaving professionally. Even if one does not receive respect from the public (a problem that also needs addressed), how about a little respect for your position, profession and community? I’ve always been skeptical of the “bad apple” argument. Usually an existing culture tolerates or encourages behaviors. These must be fixed—Here, there and everywhere. People in the public service who have lost their desire to serve, or are confused about how to act, at minimum, need a time out (requested or mandated) before they cross a line with deplorable intent and outcomes. Or, they need to get out of public service. The organizational structure also needs resources to support and develop public service employees.

I have no firsthand knowledge of the people involved in Minneapolis’s police force, but we’ve all seen the videos showing the death of George Floyd. On a personal level, I’m disgusted—no one has their hands in their pockets when they are fearful of attack. On a positive note, from what I’ve observed so far, no one in law enforcement is standing by the policing “option” that was used on Mr. Floyd. Justice requires appropriate charges, arrests and integrity in the processes to come. These are underway. I’m hopeful that justice will prevail, but I know that many are not optimistic.

This really is a time for action for public service professionals across the board. For all of us who value public service (and people!), we must act now to address the problems we are able to address. For public organizations this means recruiting, hiring, training and retaining decent people who care about integrity and improving the lives of those that they serve. Politicians also need to care about public service and help public administrators with required resources. Everyone needs to demonstrate integrity.

There are short-term and long-term options to address policing culture that people more knowledgeable than I have already identified. Other, new ideas are also needed. We all understand the multitude of problems that exist in communities—that’s why we have a public service. There is a need to create opportunities that work for real people with real problems. People also need to have a genuine intent to work with our public service to better themselves and the lives of their families. Yes, there are challenges, but the efforts are worth trying. Once, and then again, and even again when necessary.

In a sentence—People need to act right. Professionalism includes having respect, integrity, empathy, and the training, knowledge and tools to carry-out your professional activities. These are part and parcel of the trade. The strength to be proactive, active and courageous is also good advice for anyone. But for professionals, these values and characteristics are not a wish list; they are a requirement. And a privilege.


Lisa Dicke, PhD, professor
University of North Texas
Department of Public Administration
[email protected]

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