As law enforcement leaders, we know that our success in fighting crime can be traced to several factors. In 2006 the typical police officer is better trained, better educated, and better equipped than his or her predecessors. In addition, advances in communication and information technologies have allowed law enforcement administrators to develop comprehensive, integrated crime reduction strategies.
But no factor has been more crucial to our success than the partnership between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. By embracing the philosophy of community policing, law enforcement agencies have been able to work with citizens to create safer towns and cities. We have learned that to be effective, police cannot operate alone: they must have the active support and assistance of citizens and communities.
Unfortunately, the strength of this vital and essential partnership can be eroded or even destroyed if community members fear that police officers have switched from serving as guardians of their civil rights to violators of their civil rights.
Sadly, over the years there have been isolated incidents in which law enforcement officers have acted in an unconstitutional or criminal fashion. Clearly, this is unacceptable. When it does occur, we, as law enforcement executives, must act quickly and decisively to ensure that the individuals responsible are removed from positions of authority and, if warranted, prosecuted for their criminal acts.
Unfortunately, these isolated incidents often nurture the perception that this type of behavior is institutionalized, and that police departments cannot be trusted to treat all members of the community in a fair and equitable fashion. Although not accurate, this perception is extremely damaging to crime reduction efforts. Without community confidence and support, law enforcement agencies cannot succeed.
The root causes of tension between police officers and the communities they serve are as understandable as they are historic. Law enforcement officers occupy a unique position in a free society. They patrol the narrow line that separates freedom from lawlessness, and even the most basic enforcement action taken by police officers can appear to infringe on the rights of others. The nature of their duties ensures that law enforcement officers will be placed in the center of situations that are typified by stress and hostility. As a result, law enforcement officers are often the focal point for rage and confusion. If you add to this already volatile combination the perception that the officers are acting in an unfair or inequitable fashion, it becomes clear why some members of the community view law enforcement officers with suspicion and contempt instead of with trust and respect.
Although achieving an understanding of the causes of these difficulties is helpful, we, as a profession, must not be content to merely understand the problems that face us. We must seek and develop affirmative solutions.
It is for this reason that the IACP, with support from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, has released a new publication aimed at helping law enforcement agencies enhance their efforts to uphold and protect the civil rights of the constituents they serve.
The publication, titled Protecting Civil Rights: A Leadership Guide for State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement, provides a comprehensive overview of the civil rights issues and challenges that today’s law enforcement leaders face and gives specific, everyday recommendations on ways to both protect and promote civil rights.
This leadership guide not only provides suggestions that are designed to prevent civil rights violations but also highlights ways in which agencies can work with their communities to build a better partnership. It is our hope that this book, with its practical guidelines and recommendations, will help all law enforcement leaders recognize the need for visionary leadership in this critical area and allow every agency to strengthen its resolve to be a part of the solution.
The guide offers recommendations in six areas: early intervention, the civilian complaint process, use of force, racial profiling, personnel management, and data management. Some of the key recommendations are as follows:
• All departments should have a clear and unequivocal departmental policy prohibiting racial profiling and promoting bias-free policing.
• All agencies, regardless of size, should strive to incorporate the core concepts of early intervention into their personnel management practices.
• Every department should have a clear policy and well-defined practices for handling civilian and internally generated complaints against officers or the department as a whole.
• Agencies must recruit, hire, and promote personnel in a manner that best ensures that officers throughout the ranks reflect the communities they serve.
Copies of Protecting Civil Rights: A Leadership Guide for State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement are available on the IACP Web site at www.theiacp.org.
Establishing and maintaining a safe community is difficult at the best of times. When the bond of trust and confidence between a police agency and its community is strained, the task becomes almost impossible. It is my belief that this guide will help agencies ensure that this vital partnership not only survives but flourishes.