Opinion Columns & Blogs

America must embrace new ways of policing

Policing in America has made great strides over the last 30 years. I have witnessed first-hand many positive actions and efforts by officers in difficult situations. Yet recent incidents demonstrate that the profession needs to embrace the next step in its evolution. We need to be more transparent, more open and more accountable.

We can no longer base our success on crime numbers and crime rates. We must understand that our role has evolved to one of being a guardian for our community. We are more than enforcers, much more. We are educators and counselors, mentors, and facilitators. The safety and vibrancy of our community can only be realized through positive relationships based upon respect and the protection of dignity for all people.

Police are faced with complex challenges every day. We interact with individuals who have been cast aside by the system. Mental illness, substance abuse, family violence, and homelessness all tear at the fabric of our sense of community. Law enforcement has become the caretaker on the streets with limited resources to turn to for help. If we are waiting for the silver bullet to solve these problems, we are simply wasting time. To create a truly safe community, we must work with other community resources to reduce the impact of these difficult conditions.

The conversations are difficult because the problems are complex and hard to resolve. We must not shy away from the community conversations. Law enforcement needs help; many systems are broken and we know incarceration is a band aid to a gaping wound.

At the same time, we must be responsible for providing the appropriate training our employees need to deal with difficult populations. Crisis intervention and management skills and de-escalation techniques are essential to modern policing. We must set the expectation for our departments that effective communication and procedural justice is our way of doing business. We must hold ourselves accountable for meeting these expectations.

Policing is not easy in 2015. Events that occur across the county are used to paint all law enforcement agencies. The expectation for officers is constantly changing, officers feel pressed between those who want every law enforced and those who want no laws enforced.

We have few dollars available for training yet officers are expected to be experts on many issues that have not been a traditional issue for officers to solve. One moment they are arresting violent offenders and then quickly shift gears to address behaviors by the mentally ill on the street. They are expected to be at their best when they are working with people at their worst. All of this is done under the microscope, evaluated at every turn by internal policies and external expectations.

We cannot tolerate willful violation of law or improper police conduct, but we must also recognize officers need to learn and in that process mistakes will be made. We must be transparent in evaluating those mistakes and making necessary changes. We need to strengthen the concept that we are the community and the community is us. In so doing, the larger community gains a measure of trust in our officers and an understanding of the complexities they face.

Our mission at the Olympia Police Department is to consistently earn the public’s trust. That trust is given based upon the level of dignity with which we treat people and the respect we show them. It is also based upon how effectively we deliver service and how we use our authority to create positive changes in our community. The authority is given; trust is earned. I believe we are working hard to earn that trust. I also believe we need to continue to learn and train to be a police department that provides the kind of service our community demands from us.