First goal of any government: Peace and security
We are living in unprecedented times. I was asked to write a column on my views on this question, "If you could build a Police Department from scratch, what would it look like?" I concluded my answer had to be broader than this question.
The first function of government is to provide peace and security for the people it protects. It is why governments exist to begin with. Everything else is "mission creep" — the steady drift of organizations into functions beyond their original intent.
Law enforcement agencies are the government executive tool that ensures that those who choose to violate the rights of others are held accountable for their choices. If various levels of the executive branch of government become desynchronized from the mission of its law enforcement agency, that agency is in danger of becoming delegitimized and therefore unable to provide a credible deterrent to crime. In a recent interview, Chief James Craig of the Detroit, Michigan, Police Department was asked why his city has been spared the violence seen in Portland. He said, "Our mayor stands with this chief, stands with this police department. We are not going to tolerate this uptick in violence, that's the key."
I have personally worked alongside the great men and women of the Portland Police Bureau during protests that numbered in the tens of thousands. These protests were largely peaceful, permitted and gave law abiding citizens a safe forum upon which to exercise their First Amendment rights of peaceful assembly. Yet, among those thousands, a tiny fraction are simply criminals — anarchists who primarily want nothing but violence. Because of their small number, their strategy was, and I believe is, to incite the crowd into crossing the line into criminal activity, thereby provoking a reaction from law enforcement. When this happens, mayors and councils must do everything possible to support their peace officers, rather than get caught up in the anarchist mob narrative themselves.
Government leaders must stay ahead of the decision cycle of organized criminal activity. Once accomplished a government should ensure a law enforcement agency is founded on these basic philosophies. They include, but are not limited to:
• Ensure there is an agreed-upon set of social expectations for action. A local government must make a clear agreement with the constituency on what services can and cannot be provided by a police department, within available resources, and regularly report back to the community on how they're investing available funds toward improving the quality of life for residents, businesses and visitors. This builds trust.
• Recruit and hire exceptional people within exceptional standards. If expectations are high, compensate officers accordingly and tie compensation to performance goals. A positive side effect of this is that builds trust and reinforces values.
A winning team has high standards. Be consistent with high standards when recruiting is hard, don't lower them. Lowering standards might get more applicants, but you'll be sorry with the outcome in the long run.
A critical issue for police officers today is mental health and resiliency. Psychological examinations and background investigations are a critical part of the hiring process. Police executives must have ready access to highly qualified police psychologists. A highly independent and experienced staff that conducts robust and rigorous background investigations is a must. It's cheaper and safer to get rid of a bad apple during the hiring process than after being hired. Over the life of a career, people change, especially people regularly exposed to trauma. I am an advocate of psychological evaluations for all first responders on a periodic basis over the course of their career.
• Officers must clearly understand what is expected of them. Well trained, not only in tactical skills, but in contemporary and relevant interpersonal and community relations. Set clear expectations and have written rules and policies that meeting the highest standard of accreditation and legal litmus tests. Establish a process to review and update these policies and procedures regularly.
• Organizational culture. It must embrace and mandate a clear and concise set of core values and trust on duty and off duty. The department's mission and values are something that everyone buys into. The chief executive must live it and "lead up" when working with the governing body. There is no room for "gray areas" or cutting corners. If they're "too busy" to do things by the book, then they are doing too many things. Leadership must be fair. Treat everyone the same. Ductus Exemplo. This builds trust.
• Diversity: A hot topic with a simple answer. The police department should reflect the values, culture and overall expectations of the community. If it doesn't, it is impossible to maintain trust among constituents.
• Know the constraints and look for opportunities to eliminate them. Law enforcement and government leadership must have a good grasp on resource, legal, staffing, binding agreements and equipment constraints and be able to articulate those to your citizens and governing body, in order to maintain support and cohesiveness.
In conclusion, what do most law-abiding citizens want? When you peel back the layers you find the answer is simple: peace and security. Abraham Lincoln once noted, "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate, and individual capacities."
Government can only do what we cannot do for ourselves, effectively, if it is unified with coherent, consistent public policies, a dedicated team of ethical public servants and community members who understand and actively participate in keeping the peace. If that is not the focus, it is indeed, time for change.
Major Gen. Eric Bush of the Oregon National Guard owns and operates a family ranch in Central Oregon where he raises cattle and Arabian horses. He is a retired chief of police for the city of Prineville, Oregon.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.