Walter A. McNeil, Chief of Police, Quincy Police Department, Quincy, Florida
hroughout its history, the mission of the IACP has required the association to be actively involved in deliberations over public safety and homeland security policies. As police leaders, it is part of our responsibility to ensure that policy makers at all levels of government hear the insight of law enforcement professionals when they are considering matters that will affect our ability to protect the public we serve.
We must not only serve as a resource for our elected leaders, to let them know which proposals would help us and which would hinder our ability to fulfill our mission; we must also speak out publicly and ensure that our communities are aware of our capabilities, our limitations, and how the daily changes affect how our officers police.
Unfortunately, however, I believe that chiefs all too often tend to focus on the day-to-day details of running their agencies without engaging in the larger public debate that has a direct and fundamental impact on our ability to police our communities effectively. This cannot continue.
We must realize that, as chiefs, we possess the expertise on law enforcement issues that others lack. As a result, it is our duty to work with our community leaders and representatives—on the local, state, and federal levels—and ensure that we are speaking out about the challenges and difficulties our officers and our departments are facing.
For example, over the past few years we have witnessed several fundamental changes in the way we do business and, I believe, a significant change in policing as a whole. One of the biggest challenges that we have faced is reduced budgets—an issue that all of us in the law enforcement community encounter. Reductions in staffing are at an all-time high. The negative effect of reducing services to our communities cannot be overstated.
These cutbacks come at a time when our departments are facing new and unique challenges. In addition to addressing traditional issues of crime and violence, police agencies also are being asked to respond to large-scale protests and acts of civil disobedience. These events often inject law enforcement personnel directly into charged, confrontational environments with the various citizens they are sworn to protect. This causes a strain both on departmental resources and on the vital police-community relationship.
For this reason, it is more important than ever for police chiefs to be actively involved in speaking out. It is imperative that we address not only our communities but our leaders as well. Only by speaking up can we ensure that the needs and concerns of the law enforcement community are heard.
This is true both on the local level in your community and on the national level. When chiefs speak with one voice, we are heard loud and clear on Capitol Hill and with policy makers throughout the United States. The IACP will continue to work closely with members of Congress and the administration to make sure that policy makers in Washington are aware of the important issues that the law enforcement community is facing. But we cannot do it alone; we must have your involvement.
I am sure I can count on you. Historically, IACP members from all over the United States have contacted or met with their senators and representatives to press for high levels of critical state, local, and tribal funding and to discuss other issues important to the law enforcement community. We must keep up our efforts and continue to build upon established relationships with our elected representatives.
I not only encourage you to participate in IACP activities like Day on the Hill, which will be held this March 27, but also to independently contact your senators and representatives. Visit with them when they are back in your district. Call them, write to them, send them an email message, send them a fax, and make every effort to make certain that they are aware of your concerns and those of the law enforcement community.
It is my firm belief that at this critical time for our profession—when federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies are striving to protect the public from terrorists, sophisticated international gangs, online predators, and other violent criminals—it is extremely important that we, the law enforcement community, make our voices heard.
We must continue to build on the hard work that the IACP and you have done in the past. If our efforts to reduce crime and promote homeland security are to have any chance of succeeding, it is absolutely vital for Congress and the administration to take the necessary steps that will allow the United States’ first line of defense—law enforcement—to mount effective programs to protect our communities from both crime and terrorism. I urge you to act today. ■
Please cite as:
Walter A. McNeil, "Chiefs: Make Your Voices Heard," President’s Message, The Police Chief 79 (January 2012): 6.