Commentary By Lee P. Brown, Ph.D.
On March 3, 1991 several members of the Los Angeles Police Department were captured, on camera violently beating Rodney King, a young African American man. At the time I was Police Commissioner of New York City and President of the International Association of Chief of Police and felt compelled to do something.
So, I convened a meeting in my office with several progressive police chiefs from across the nation. Collaboratively, we agreed upon the following statement which in light of the recent killing of George Floyd by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department as other officers looked on, I am now compelled to share that statement which is as valid today as it was in 1991:
Police agencies across America are moving toward a community-based style of policing. This style of policing values partnerships, problem solving, and accountability and service orientation to our citizens. Our hope is for the Los Angeles tragedy to have a positive outcome by accelerating change for this new form of policing in order to better serve our diverse communities.
It further committed to:
• An open, thorough investigation of all citizen complaints of police abuse; within the limits of the law to share the results of those investigations with complainants and civilians in our communities.
• Eliminating the code of silence by furthering those values within the profession that clearly establish the necessity for a personal commitment of every police professional to a reverence for the law.
• Accountability for actions of our employees. Recognizing that most police officers are dedicated and hardworking in very difficult situations, we will move decisively against those officers who violate the trust they have been given.
• Reinforce Robert Peel’s admonition to “keep peace by peaceful means” as the dominant ethic of police work and search for metaphors that reflect lawfulness, constitutionality, justice and peace. We reject metaphors such as “war on drugs” and “war on crime” that imply violence. These metaphors create mixed messages.
• Enhance the training necessary to deal with difficult conflict situations, ensuring that officers do not use excessive force to solve problems.
The statement had its desired results. Most, if not all, police chiefs in America considered the beating of Rodney King reprehensible. Today, all people, including the police must come together to ensure such tragedies never happens again.
But for that to happen, we must bring about fundamental changes in how we deliver police services. In Houston, we proved that Community Policing, when clearly understood and properly implemented is that better way.
But let us clearly understand Community Policing is not just another program, rather it is a philosophy of policing. Properly implemented, it involves all of the systems that the police.
For example, how do we recruit and who do we hire? Ideally, the police should hire in the spirit of service and not adventure. They should be trained to solve problems and not just enforce the law.
They should be rewarded for the absence of crime and not just the arrests they make. Their values should clearly stress that protecting citizens’ constitutional rights is even more important than making arrests.
Dr. Lee P Brown is the former head of police departments in Atlanta, Houston and New York City; former US Drug Czar and member of President Clinton’s Cabinet; former Mayor of Houston; founding member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and The Police Research Forum and Past President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Author of Policing in the 21st Century: Community Policing Lee P. Brown, Former Houston Police Chief