We’ve all seen it. From many angles. We’ve heard it too. The plea for help. Voices of disbelief in the background. The taunting by the officers. We’ve all seen and heard it.
It’s on every newscast, streamed on social media, and commented on by pundits, elected officials, and social justice philosophers. It’s disgusting and the police officers’ actions were unequivocally wrong. There are no “but ifs” nor “if it wasn’t for.” It was just plain wrong.
We’ve also seen in dozens of cities large gatherings of protesters, with signs condemning police brutality and systematic racial injustice, turn into violent, destructive waves of criminal acts. Dozens of marauders breaking storefront windows, then piling in to loot the goods. That too, is wrong.
Trashing and fire-bombing police cruisers is wrong. Setting police stations and other public buildings ablaze is wrong. There are no “but ifs” nor “if it wasn’t for” justifications. It was and is just plain and unequivocally wrong.
This festering sore has been present throughout many of our lifetimes. My family lived through the Watts Riots in 1965. The catalyst: an African American male being arrested for intoxication while driving, and questionable force used by the Caucasian arresting officer. Then there was 1968 and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy setting off multi-city riots, protesting police violence and racial injustice, causing billions of dollars of damage, several lives lost, and the continued tarnishing of our nation.
So, when does this festering sore heal? There are cries up and down society to reform police departments. Calls to commission yet another study adding to the dozens of studies over the decades on how police should interface with the public. The last major one, commissioned during the Barack Obama administration, was the result of police shooting Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. The task force made several constructive recommendations that, if followed, could make a difference.
Now here is the “but” — the No. 1 thing that makes a difference if we are to achieve reform is leadership. When I see police acting the way the four in Minneapolis did, the first thing that comes to mind is, how competent are their leaders? I’m no novice to this. I spent four decades leading law enforcement organizations and private companies securing critical assets and infrastructure for our nation.
Leadership, or lack thereof, is at the heart of this problem.
Every outfit has bad apples in their bushel. Minneapolis had one, now under the cloud of second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder charges. He was the catalyst to this upheaval. In case there is any doubt about whether his actions were justified, there is no police tactic, technique or procedure taught to place your knee on a restrained suspect’s neck.
You won’t find it in any police manual, just like you won’t find choke holds as a sanctioned technique to control a suspect.
So why was the police officer using this technique and even more revealing is why did his three accompanying officers allow him to use it? These are questions I would be asking their patrol supervisor, assigned sergeant, district captain, and yes, the chief himself about their culture. Leadership is a 24/7/365 post. Where was it before and where is it now in the Minneapolis ranks?
If we want reform, just like in any organization, start at the top. Chiefs of police or sheriffs have to believe reform is necessary to successfully protect the public. Then, they have to invest the time and resources to effectuate it. They have to build a culture that isolates and terminates the bad apples and places the sanctity of life and citizen rights as the foremost priorities in department operations. They have to invest in training, not only for the officers on the beat, but also for the chiefs and sheriffs and their teams who lead them. They have to constantly and consistently communicate values and the responsibility of their police force and deputies to uphold them.
And most importantly, they have to push aside the administrative work they get saddled with and train, walk, ride and be among their troops. That’s how you detect bad apples and reinforce the values that serve as the backbone to your organization’s culture.
I love our men and women in blue. I’m one of them. They do exceptional work for the public every day, many times at risk to themselves, and it often goes unrecognized and unreported. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the bushel.
Chiefs and sheriffs, it’s your duty to find the bad apples before they commit criminal acts against our citizens; isolate and terminate them when they don’t place the sanctity of life and citizen rights as the foremost priority in your organization. If we want reform, start at the top!
That’s how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it.
Paul Raggio is a Valencia resident.