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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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The End of Professional Policing?

Bargain-basement policing may sound the death toll for professional policing.

August 14, 2013  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of 401 (K) 2012/Flickr.
Photo courtesy of 401 (K) 2012/Flickr.
It is practically impossible to scan the headlines without finding yet another city or county that has declared that they are in financial distress. Detroit's bankruptcy filing means police pensioners and current officers will probably suffer draconian cuts. So let the slapping around of their cops and firefighters over budget cutbacks begin!

The vogue term in headlines now is "distressed cities," which means hang on to your hats, here it comes. All of emergency services are told to "do more with less." This motif from the elected dais is the new way of business and the command staff's marching orders. It's hard to say when this will cease, and we return to normalcy.

Elected officials seeking reforms seem to lack the respect for the men and women of emergency services. As one said recently to me, "There is no difference between a police officer and ditch digger, you are all my servants." This set me back in trying to find some reasoning in his off-handed statement. We're both citizens and taxpayers but the ditch digger, as he so fondly referred to a public works employee, does not run toward the trouble. They also call 911.

This depersonalization of first responders makes it easier to treat them with disdain. Callused public statements will garner support with the tax-paying public. Our counterpoint is the reeducate the public about the services we provide them.

One thing that allows this depersonalizing environment to take hold is an old statement from the community policing days. The average citizen has three-plus contacts with police in their lifetime. One is usually a traffic citation; the second will be their involvement in a motor vehicle accident; and the third comes when they are the victim of a crime.

None of these encounters are pleasant, and if the citizen could obtain their pound of flesh from the evil copper who gave them a speeding ticket, then so be it. These elected cop-berating officials now feed into a mindset wanting cop-payback time. Just as it was in the late 1980s, we need to win the public's hearts and minds all over again.

Most of professional administrators use various methodologies to determine departmental effectiveness in addressing criminality. Many chiefs use the CompStat method in some format. Elected leaders then question police leaders about the trends. While trying to extol the successes of my agency, I was asked why I wasted all that money solving crimes. When I asked what that meant, I was told that most crimes in this elected official's view were not important to him or his dais. He said just take the report; if they have insurance then it's taken care of.

I retorted that this validates criminal behavior and gives petty criminals the green light to go free-ranging with their crime sprees. Still, if it's not him (or someone important to him such as family or a political supporter) then all go free.

I'm observing "bargain basement policing" in some areas where a report is taken (for insurance purposes and tax write-offs) with no follow-up. Unless it's a violent crime, it doesn't get a second blush. The real victims will be the citizens who applaud this now. As the pendulum swings off its hinge, their safety and insurance rates will also become unhinged.

Community policing and other forms of outreach will be another passing fancy without philanthropic assistance or the support of a community foundation. Community policing is labor, time, and investment intensive. If you still want safety programs and citizen police academies, offer them online. Forget the personal touch.

It's imperative that all of us, from the youngest street copper to the crusty old chiefs, need to reeducate the public. As I have always said, "If you don't blow your own horn, someone else will use it as a spittoon."

Give real answers and real service. Don't shortchange our customer base. They can defend us, when they're told that the officer who helped them was no different than some elected official's idea of a servant. We must seize every opportunity to regain trust and loyalty from our customers. They're also voters. 

Tags: Elected Leaders, Budget Cuts, Professional Image, Detroit PD, Community Relations


Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

Troop @ 8/14/2013 7:34 PM

Rubbish.

ARby @ 8/19/2013 7:53 AM

"Troop" - Are you referring to the article or to the policitos the article is talking about?

Capt. Crunch @ 8/20/2013 6:43 PM

There is no differance between a elected offical and a criminal they both get money that they did not earn.

Ray @ 8/21/2013 8:00 AM

PLease identify the politician who made that assinine commet

FireCop @ 8/29/2013 5:56 AM

Many of these politicians are upset because they no longer can get away with the corrupt and illegal activities that enabled them to gain wealth under the table for so many years; mostly thanks to honest cops who wouldn't put up with this crap. I say stay the course, continue to be good, honest, moral, ethical officers, treat the public with respect and show the people that live, work and recreate in our jurisdictions that we are humans, with families, just like them. Those in our line if work that take a strictly business approach need to find a desk job, and let the officers with character and human relation skills deal face to face with the public. Even traffic stops can be an avenue for good public relations; not just a lecture and a ticket. The public doesn't have to love us, but it helps if they respect us. We gain that respect by being fair and consistent. Stay safe.

Lt Dan @ 8/29/2013 6:11 AM

All levels of government are and have been filled with actors who desire to convert public funds to private pockets. It is organized crime without all of the risks. Top POLICE officials who are lap dogs for their corrupt elected bosses are just as culpable. To allow ANYONE to equate "ditch diggers" with Police Officers is a travesty. That "Elected Official" would have certainly known my name following his statement. The willingness to call out a politician pretty much precludes one from consideration for Police Chief. So tell me, what was THE AUTHORS response to the elected official? Silence is endorsement.

Jelly @ 8/29/2013 6:17 AM

Let’s dig a ditch and throw the politicians into it. Their greed and selling their soul to the devil for a vote is the reason we are in the financial mess in the first place. Strict enforcement of the small problems makes the big problems go away.

Todd Miller @ 8/29/2013 6:49 AM

While I agree that the comments by the politician are out of place, and I have heard them before in my 37 years as a Chief, I believe the author is a bit misguided in his comments about community policing. Community Policing is a philosophy, it is not labor, time and investment intensive. Any agency can do it, just look at how small police agencies operate. CP is more needed and relevant today than ever before, especially in light of the points the author makes. If we want to build allies and support in the community, we have to get out into the community, build partnerships, get to know our citizens, build trust, and work with our citiznes to help solve their problems and community issues. This not only makes us more effective, but guards against the downplaying of the importance of public safety among some politicians and anti-police activists. I know many agencies who are doing community policing, without a separate budget, and that have great community support because of it.

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