Op/Ed: Avoiding Police Misconduct


Avoiding Police Misconduct. The following article has been written by David Sullivan. It includes editorial content which is the opinion and story of the writer.

In 1829, Sir Robert Peel, London’s Home Secretary, developed nine Principles of
Policing that 194 years later are still the benchmark for police actions and conduct. I submit my humble viewpoint on each one.

1). The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder. Police are constantly developing crime prevention initiatives. Some have worked, others have not. The final assessment is that police alone cannot prevent crime, they must form partnerships. Police simply do not have the time or the resources to prevent crime as a lone venture. Through police leadership, communities, individual citizens, and city officials must all be active participants in crime prevention.

2). The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions. Public approval of police actions can’t come without public knowledge of police operations. Citizens must realize the successes, failures, barriers, and restrictions police encounter. There must be forthcoming, straight forward dialogue between the police and the public. Those who self-appoint themselves as “champions” of the people must be especially aware of all aspects of the reasons behind police operations. Police operations cannot be viewed as an isolated community or neighborhood function, they have to be viewed as a commitment to the city as a whole.

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3). Police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the law. There is little doubt that the police exist solely for the citizens of their city. There is also little doubt that the police exist because of the citizens. It remains a reality that no matter what initiatives the police employ, no matter how many educational programs are implemented, not every citizen will voluntarily comply with the law. The police, however, must still strive for voluntary compliance as opposed to enforcement. Efforts must be made to convince citizens that voluntary compliance, rather than the cost of enforcement, can allow funds to be redirected to other city priorities that could enhance the overall community’s quality of living.

4). The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessary use of force. Police must use only the force necessary to safely gain compliance. Excessive, unnecessary use of force will alienate the public and give community activists a platform for anti-police rhetoric. Use of force begins with police presence at the scene and can escalate to deadly force. Through various outlets, police leadership should make the public aware of the Use of Force Continuum and also aware the suspect, not the police officer, forces the escalation.

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5). Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law. Police departments monitor crime trends daily and respond accordingly with numerous initiatives. Many in the community are only aware of what is happening in their immediate surroundings and try to redirect police operations to suit their needs. This leads to public perception that the police department shows favoritism. Police leaders must ensure that outside influences do not shape police operations while at the same time welcoming input from  all aspects of the public and city leaders. Citizens must be aware that police operations are based on credible intelligence which is not profiling as activists would lead the community to believe.

6). Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient. Again, the use of force comes into play. Police are responsible for maintaining order and public peace under a multitude of situations, many within direct view of the public. It could be a simple celebration or a complex demonstration. The first level of force is the arrival of the police on the scene. The second level of force is verbal communication. When this doesn’t bring compliance, empty hand force may be necessary. From there the officer could use a baton, stun weapon, or chemical spray to bring compliance. Police department credibility with the public demands that police use only the minimum force necessary.

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7). Police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition; the police are the public and the public are the police, the police being the only members of the public paid to give full time attention to what is incumbent on all of the citizens. It should be sufficient to say that citizens have a duty and responsibility to be law-abiding and not commit crimes. Of course it would be naïve to assume that would ever happen. It would not be naïve however, to think that citizens with knowledge of criminal activity and criminals should come forward with that information. Community indifference can compromise even the best attempts of police to bond with and become part of the community.

8). Police should always direct their actions strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary. Police functions in this area are basically limited to responding to calls, investigating crimes, and turning any arrestees and police reports over to the prosecutorial arm of the criminal justice system. Police must accept the fact that prosecution methods and the length of incarceration for criminals processed through the court system is out of their hands and will almost always be far less than should be expected.

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9). The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and not the visible evidence of police actions in dealing with it. In 1829 Sir Robert Peel could not have envisioned today’s technology. The visible evidence of police actions is being seen and recorded everywhere with news cameras, camcorders, video surveillance, and now cell phones. Police are being recorded from the moment they leave the station. As with any other profession, there will be police officers who don’t use their best judgment all the time.  But in the end, video surveillance of police officers performing their duties will exonerate police actions far more often than it will show police misconduct. In fact it will show that police officers perform the first eight principles of policing with honor and integrity.

David Sullivan, a former police officer, is a retired 26-year Air Force veteran where he was a hospital laboratory managing director and superintendent of Bacteriology and Hematology training responsible determining Air Force laboratory training needs, developing lesson plans, study guides, workbooks and measurement tests. He got into policing with the Dallas Police Department at the age of 48 and stayed in patrol until retiring at the age of 65. At the age of 76 he returned to policing with the Lakeview Police Department serving the cities of El Lago and Taylor Lake Village, Texas as a patrol officer until retiring once again at the age of 82. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and is now working on his second book.

Op/Ed: Avoiding Police Misconduct

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