Chapter Three: The Police Culture
Never flinch. Never weary. Never despair. ―Winston Churchill
Believe people when they show you who they are the first time. ―Maya Angelou
Vignette 1: Smith and Kane
Officer Smith and Thomas Kane are working together to research police culture and address problems within it. Mr. Kane has a lot of ideas that he thinks would be both helpful and easy to implement. However, every time he brings up a new idea Officer Smith quickly voices his objections to the suggestions, saying that Thomas’ plans are not good and wouldn’t work.
Vignette 2: Vasquez, Jenkins, and Berry
Sergeant Vasquez has had to pull Officer Jenkins aside and speak to him about a citizen complaint. Mrs. Berry asked for his assistance because her car wouldn’t start, and she was locked out of her house without her house key. She felt that Officer Jenkins was arrogant and annoyed when she asked for help, and she subsequently called in to complain about him. Officer Jenkins is frustrated and notes that Mrs. Berry flagged him down to ask for help when he was trying to finish up another call. Sergeant Vasquez asks Officer Jenkins to call Mrs. Berry and apologize, noting that there are already two other complaints in his record.
Introduction to the Chapter
The police community and the police service today are faced with the task of cultivating relationships between themselves and the members of their diverse communities, of facing situations that must be effectively managed and understood by the current community while helping to confirm the social covenant that must exist for all of us to exist in these United States. While no entity can be all things to all people, and while there will always be some not predisposed to voluntary compliance, we must always be prepared and properly trained, qualified, and educated to seek the best of possible solutions to these real-world needs. The police must continue to do what they are sworn to do, and they must do it better and better, and more intelligently and realistically. Professionals act professionally. We must always and continually seek our professional standing. After all, at times, swords may be needed. Plowshares always will be.
Police and policing are facing some of the most important changes. These are called for by the changing
nature of our society and the need for law enforcement officers to do their jobs better, more effectively, and with greater sensitivity than ever before. While important skills currently are taught to aspiring officers, other skills and abilities will be required by all. Skills now manifest by specialized groups, both police and civilian, are available and necessary, and must be utilized in the everyday world in which officers all function.
Can We Turn Swords into Plowshares?
Swords are used to cut or to divide. Plowshares are used to cultivate in an effort to bring forth sustenance. A mindset change will be required at all levels to make this work. Even though police carry guns and other weapons, emphasis in their training must be placed on alternatives to deadly force. They need solid training, not just exposure to de-escalation tactics and officer survival skills. They must be trained just as well in the alternative approaches that will allow and provide de-escalation to police encounters at all levels. Training places deadly force as a last resort alternative in applicable situations. In reality, occasions that offer no chance of de-escalation are few and far between. We are living in a time in our history when being justified in using deadly force is not enough. An evolution is taking place where in addition to being justified for using deadly force, an officer must show that there were no other alternatives and that their actions did not place themselves in a situation that caused no alternatives to be possible.
The legal definition of when applied to the use of deadly force was acceptable in the early days of law enforcement, but we have evolved to the point where officers should be skilled enough to not create a situation where no chance of de-escalation is possible.
Do not misunderstand, there are times when the suspect will not give the officer any alternative other
than deadly force. It is most important in these situations that officers are tactically sound in their approach, not rushing into a situation, instead giving the incident careful consideration and observation before acting. This less than lethal mindset and action will provide evidence that the officer was planning to de-escalate the situation and that was made impossible because of the aggressive actions of the suspect. Like any organization or company that has been in business long term, police departments can no longer stay stagnant and be satisfied with the status quo. They must progress with society and offer better service to the community. Any business that does not evolve and serve the needs of the community will not survive.
New officers are given a lot of good training. There is a lot more that they need to know to develop their de-escalation skills. Crisis intervention, negotiations techniques used by hostage negotiators, skills provided by suicide hotlines, and others as well must be emphasized. Once exposed to this training, they must be held accountable for the skills learned just as we hold them accountable for weapons proficiency. If we spend 40 or more hours on the firing range and in the classroom, similar time must be spent for these additional crisis management skills. And, just as we recertify officers with their firearms, at least once per year and sometimes two, three, or four times per year, recertification of these additional de-escalation skills must be recertified as well. Failure to recertify or requalify indicates the need for more training or retraining. The same should be true for those de-escalation skills.
It must be noted that the Police Executive Research Forum and the International Association of Chiefs
of Police (IACP) are moving quickly and forthrightly to find the best ways to move forward. Developments by the IACP and the on suggested by the Police Executive Research Forum (2019) are an important start along the path that we must travel. It is hoped that what is herein will help in this effort.
This may be the most difficult part of changing the face of policing in the United States. Certainly, the mindset regarding policing has changed over the years to become what it is today. Further adjustments in that mindset may be needed to address the world as our officers find it today. It will be resisted by some who say it is a way of turning police officers into social workers. It will be resisted by others because they may see it as a plea to take guns and other useful weapons out of the hands of our officers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But, as the world changes and as our communities change, the police must make adjustments also. These adjustments are for the purpose of increasing their effectiveness, de-escalating high-stress dangerous situations, reducing injuries, and building trust within and among the citizenry of our communities. Officers must continue to do our jobs and even to rely on Robert Peele’s admonition regarding voluntary compliance. Also, they must continue to find and utilize ways to be more effective in the work than they have ever been before. And, we don’t even have to invent the skill sets to be learned. We have just to embrace what is already there and find better ways and opportunities to utilize them.
Some of the important issues that could prove problematic and that require direct attention:
• Choosing the wrong officer for the specific situation. • Not understanding the type of situation that is encountered. • Timing the intervention incorrectly. • Not making meaningful contact with the others involved. • Failing to use appropriate intelligence intelligently. • Failing to keep all parties focused on problem solving. • Not recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of those encountered. • Not understanding the mindset of the others involved. • Avoiding safety issues. • Intervening without sufficient time. • Not knowing when to walk away from the encounter. • Intervening without understanding the prime objective. • Failing to understand the needs and interests of the other side. • Not appreciating the validity of an argument. • Having no sense of alternatives to intervention. • Failing to understand the nature of the relationships between the multiple parties who may be involved. • Utilizing ineffective communication skills. • Proceeding without knowing the willingness and ability of the parties to make and abide by their commitments.
• Entering an intervention without considering other options. • Approaching an intervention without first analyzing the perspectives of all parties involved. • Taking the attitude of “winner-take-all” and “loser-takes-nothing.” • Adding information to the intervention, or doing something during intervention, “for what it’s worth.” • Failing to practice communication and intervention skills. • Treating the intervention as an individual endeavor rather than as a team process. • Failing to understand that the relationship between officers and citizens and between citizens and officers depends on each recognizing their responsibilities to each other and to themselves. Nothing in our culture will work without this recognition.
Us Against Them
One mindset that manifests itself within a police department over time is the “us against them” mentality. Take your choice on who the them is. This mindset is due to the adversarial system inherent to the criminal justice system. Law enforcement officers new to the business of policing are trained by officers who are already.
A part of the culture that exists within a police department. Unless from the very time of creation of a department there was something done to prevent this mindset, the “us against them” mentality will be part of the culture, and as time goes on it will be part of the normal course of business and never be questioned. Officers who do not agree with this philosophy will not question it publicly, as they do not want to deal with the drama associated with their difference of opinion. Officers who are not mature enough to resist the “us against them” mentality or do not have the courage to buck the system soon forget that they are employed to serve everyone in the community. Whether they like those persons in that community or not, this is their responsibility. Referring to suspects as “scumbags,” “dirtheads,” et cetera and using such terms as common language might be funny, entertaining, or in line with the beliefs of how a cop should talk and act as glamorized by fiction writers or Hollywood has become the norm. Unless corrected, this language and belief system gives credence to the “us against them” mentality. Police departments who have this mindset at their core must take steps to rid themselves of this thinking. This type of rationale places all persons who come into contact with the police at risk of being placed in this adversary category. If departments are not careful and do not draw clear lines of understanding within the agency, then citizens who call the department for help on minor legitimate calls for service will be categorized in the same group as adversaries. The people the police serve are not all adversaries and that should be made clear to officers from the onset of their training. Real police business is not fiction. It is dealing with real people and real lives. These people and these lives can be adversely affected by just one officer. One single officer has the ability to take away everything a person has worked for or will ever earn by the decisions they make. This is why the most important person in the entire scope of the criminal justice system is the patrol officer, not the detective, not the district attorney or the judges. The one person in the entire process who has the power to decide whether an incident can be settled on the scene or in the courts is the patrol officer. Yet the patrol officer is the least trained, least cared about, and the least listened to. And more than not, they are given too many tasks that do not fit within the parameters of their mission. When I say the least trained, I mean just that. Most so-called training for officers is nothing more than mere exposure to a topic. Training must include an extensive study of a subject coupled with exercises designed to be replicated in the field so that the training becomes second nature to the officer. Experience indicates that this seldom happens. (Walles, 2020).
Sometimes the officer will communicate effectively but the complaining party wants the officer to do something he cannot legally do. Rather than listening to the officer, the person will complain to the department and needlessly generate a complaint that will have to be investigated. These unfounded complaints will go on the officer’s record to be used against them at a later date, even when they did nothing wrong. This may be much the same way an insurance company may raise your rates even when the accident was not your fault.
There are other occasions when a complainant generates a complaint about the officer and embellishes
the event. Sometimes they downright lie about what the officer did or said. Even these investigations, where it is proven that the complainant lied and the officer is exonerated, still attach to their record as an investigation. When an incident such as this occurs and there is clear and convincing evidence that the complainant lied to investigators in order to cause harm to the officer or department, the officer’s department should take appropriate action. The department should take civil and criminal action against the party who filed the false complaint. Most departments do not want to stir this pot and thereby allow the reputations of their officers to be sullied by false complaints. This is totally unacceptable, as the public should be held to the minimum standard of the truth. There must be trust on both sides in order for the system to work or it becomes an us-against-them environment for both sides.
We have all heard the old cliché, “There’s never a cop around when you need one.” When there is one around, the officer usually encounters one of two types of complainants—the one who is reasonable and grateful for the quick response and action and the other who believes they are entitled to tell them how to do their job. In either case, the officer has to communicate effectively and ignore the distraction while taking action. In instances where the response time is longer than normal, the officer is faced with a complainant who is outraged by the delay. The response time is not usually the officer’s fault. The long response time is due to heavy call loads, insufficient staff, and poor planning on the part of city leaders. Officers are not responsible for budgeting, hiring strength, or any element of staffing. Yet the city leaders allow them to take the brunt of the criticism when it is not their fault. In other words, years taking the criticism on the front line for the mistakes of others leads to a situation where officers feel they are attacked by the public and unsupported by management. They feel the city will throw them under the bus at any time in order to save face with the public. Otherwise, the city leaders would make it publicly known in a regular course of action that patrol officers are not responsible for the anomalies that occur. You never see city leaders throwing the fire department under the bus for a building that burned down. Police departments are a convenient scapegoat for city leaders to place the blame for their own incompetence. I believe that many times they will hire a chief from outside the department because that person will have no emotional ties to the officers and that will make it easier for them to conform to the city’s idea of how the department should be managed, not necessarily what is best for the officers and the department. All of these things influence police culture. Unfortunately, there are more negative things than positive ones.