Can the Culture of Law Enforcement Change?

The Denver Sheriff's Department has been been justly slammed by an outside report of its performance, including multiple incidents involving the use of excessive force. Can it -- or any law enforcement agency -- change the culture that breeds such abuses?

The Denver Post reports the Sheriff's Department is trying. The largest recruitment class ever has begun training, and the recruits are being taught their role is one of a guardian, not a warrior. They are told that even when deadly force is legally authorized, it may not be the best option. It can also jeopardize their careers.

"We're in a monumental cultural change — not just us, but law enforcement nationwide. It's a culture of service. Our duty is to protect life. That's the message we want to convey...."


We tell the officers that their actions may expose them to criminal liability," he said. "It's a big burden.

How do they work towards the culture shift in training? One technique:

Verbal judo," said Kafati, invoking the vernacular for strategic communication skills. "It's de-escalation at its best, redirection. We implement scenarios that may appear to be use-of-force-type scenarios. But if the recruit opts to use force, they fail."

The new message:

"Law enforcement has an old saying: At the end of the day, we go home safe. Here's what we say now: At the end of the day, everyone goes home safe."

The training may last up to 20 weeks. I have no idea whether this new culture change will take hold -- it's one that is expected to take a minimum of 3 to 5 years and could take between 10 and 20 years. But the effort is worth mentioning.

< Ramadi and the "Scars of War" | Mexico Arrests Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman-Loera >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Changes in the law... (5.00 / 2) (#6)
    by kdog on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 11:20:59 AM EST
    are required before the culture can really change.  Namely, accelerate the complete and utter surrender of the drug war.  

    Limit the instances of cop and citizen butting heads over stupid sh&t and the culture will change...both the culture of police hostility towards citizen and citizen hostility towards the police.

    I think trying to change the culture (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Anne on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 12:12:31 PM EST
    means having to look at who wants to be part of law enforcement and why; I think it's pretty clear that there are more than a few who are attracted to this field because of the power it gives them, and too often, the license it gives them to do things that, as private citizens, they could be arrested for.

    You can change the training, you can change the goals, but if you aren't attracting people to the job who want to work in accordance with the training and goals, seems like there will be a lot of investment with little return.

    Hence the rub... (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 12:46:53 PM EST
    Same problem we have with elected officials Anne...most people who would be really good at it are the people who want no part of it.  And the people who want a part of it, well that's your first red flag right there.

    Many law enforcement officers (none / 0) (#32)
    by oculus on Sat Jan 09, 2016 at 11:16:05 AM EST
    are high school graduates with honorable discharges from the U.S. armed forces. I don't envision college graduates applying for these positions.

    And different states have different requirements (none / 0) (#38)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Jan 12, 2016 at 01:43:41 PM EST
    In Colorado and Wyoming a psych evaluation is part of the final pick, and in both states any history of family violence sets you aside but I think only Colorado is mandatory. I know someone with a law enforcement degree though who could not pass a psych evaluation in Wyoming's opinion, and he applied and applied and applied, and he was never hired.

    My knowledge of their hiring practices is 15 to 20 yrs ago, and the criteria may have loosened since then. Colorado was very strict when we left. And here, just about anybody can get a job in law enforcement.


    I think the culture (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by KeysDan on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 01:19:24 PM EST
    must change.  It is not really an option--policing as if an occupying force has no future. The "broken window" policing, for example, increases the interactions with citizens with potential for, if not the reality of, oppressive actions.

     The failed drug war is another opportunity for segments of the population to formulate negative impressions of policing. Police action needs to be reserved for important and serious assumptions of law breaking. The training of police needs to stress judgment and discernment skills.

     Many citizens gain their impressions of police from friendly or benign interactions, such as traffic control outside of church on Sunday mornings, and find it difficult to understand that police relationships could be anything other--unless a criminal.

    Community policing has proved effective both in police relations and crime deterrence. The needed change will be a challenge--long term and ongoing. The culture was not gained over night and will not be unlearned in a short time.

      Policing is not an easy or unimportant job. It is demanding and dangerous, yet requiring responsive and responsible actions. The citizens, too, need to realize the role and importance of police work--and be willing to provide commensurate remuneration.

    no, it can't change without... (none / 0) (#2)
    by Dadler on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 09:39:10 AM EST
    ...the disbanding of ALL police departments and their complete reorganizing under strict psychological testing for recruits. Short of that, you can piss into the wind and wonder why your eyes are burning, cuz nothing will really change. America has let too many problems linger for far too long to think ANY solution that isn't excruciatingly difficult will work.

    Speaking for Me Only... (5.00 / 3) (#3)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 10:48:37 AM EST
    ...I would rather not go through any time period without the police, that is insane.

    Yeah they have some problems, but given a choice, I will take cops with problems over criminals with no police every day of the week.


    Insane? (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 11:17:50 AM EST
    I call that a lifestyle.

    Like Mogadishu... (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 02:03:14 PM EST
    ... or Burundi, I'll pass on a lawless nation, I mean lifestyle.

    I am not interested in living (none / 0) (#39)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Jan 12, 2016 at 01:45:24 PM EST
    In that jungle....ever

    Actually, applicants, at least in CA, are (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by oculus on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 12:04:32 PM EST
    subjected to mental health review.

    Yet the cop in Cleveland (none / 0) (#12)
    by jondee on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 01:55:12 PM EST
    who killed Tamir Rice was evaluated as being emotionally/psychologically unsuited for police work only to find a home with the Cleveland police department..

    We used to have the "Uncle Dominic" syndrome at work here in Rochester; as in, my Uncle Dominic is a cop who knows a lot of people and can get me a job..

    Supposedly the culture here changed after the chief and his second-in-command were sent to prison back in the eighties..


    That happens in a lot of departments. (none / 0) (#19)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 03:12:52 PM EST
    The Honolulu Police Department is no different, in that the in-house culture has long bred contempt by rank-and-file and leadership alike for nominally established protocols.

    HPD Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Deputy City Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, are both presently under federal investigation for abuse of power. Specifically, it's alleged that they used their respective offices in an attempt to resolve what was a rapidly escalating family dispute, which resulted in the arrest of Katherine's uncle on what appears to have been a false charge of mail theft.

    And thanks in no small part to the curiously incestuous nature of island law enforcement (read the linked article and you'll see what I'm talking about), the matter is presently being handled by the U.S. Attorney's office in San Diego.



    yes it can change (none / 0) (#4)
    by CST on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 10:53:03 AM EST
    The Boston police department did not have the best reputation a few decades ago (to say the least), but they did a lot of work reaching out to the at risk communities and working with neighborhood leaders, even going as far as to coordinate cease fires between local gangs.  It's not perfect, but it's so much better than it used to be.

    Pretty good article on the subject.

    And your recent former police chief, (none / 0) (#15)
    by shoephone on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 02:21:11 PM EST
    Kathleen O'Toole, is now the police chief in Seattle. She's doing better than the previous one on reform, but I think her biggest foil is the jacka$$ who heads up the local police union.

    I know from the troubles we've had (5.00 / 2) (#17)
    by Anne on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 02:40:41 PM EST
    here in Baltimore that the police union is a major stumbling block to reform, as is the "Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights," which is codified in the MD statutes.

    Enacted in 1974, Maryland's LEOBR is one of the most extreme such laws in the country. It covers two components of the disciplinary process: the internal investigations that may lead to a recommendation of disciplinary action against a police officer and procedures that must be followed once an investigation results in a recommendation of discipline.

    As currently structured, LEOBR grants police officers special rights when they are investigated for misconduct, imposes significant impediments to conducting an adequate investigation and takes responsibility for discipline away from police chiefs. Significantly, LEOBR is a substantial barrier to transparency that precludes meaningful civilian oversight of the disciplinary process. And because of these flaws, a great many people have no faith that the officers who police our communities will be held accountable when they act improperly.


    Currently superiors may not question their officers for 10 days following an incident. Not only are officers entitled to an attorney, union attorneys are usually available to them immediately. There is no need for an additional waiting period. Ten days simply impedes investigation and significantly delays the ability of police departments to communicate effectively with the public about what happened.

    Other timelines are too short and must be lengthened. Excessive force complaints are required to be brought within 90 days and must be notarized. That means anyone in the hospital, in jail, or unaware of his or her rights is effectively prevented from filing an excessive force complaint. And all administrative actions must be brought within one year under the current law. However, in several cases crucial information has been discovered in civil litigation after a year has passed. At that point, the agency is then barred from disciplining the offending officer.

    Under the current Maryland LEOBR, a police chief also has little to no authority to discipline an officer. Discipline may not be imposed unless recommended by a hearing board comprised of other sworn officers. So regardless of the findings of an internal investigation, a police chief cannot impose discipline unless the chief's subordinates approve, including one of equal rank of the officer being investigated. This process is not just a barrier to discipline for misconduct. It is upside-down. Instead of an officer appealing a disciplinary decision to a hearing board, the process starts with the hearing board. This process should be brought in line with the norm for all other government employees.

    The possibility for civilian review should also be preserved. Self-review by public institutions is rarely the best form of ensuring a thorough, transparent and effective evaluation. Yet currently LEOBR precludes meaningful civilian review by mandating that only police can investigate or discipline other police. Reforms will preserve the ability of localities to construct meaningful civilian review boards.

    If the culture is to change, these laws also need to change.


    Yes, (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by Zorba on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 05:16:32 PM EST
    At the very least (and this would be a first step), "civilians," and let's read that as the taxpayers who are actually paying their salaries and expecting decent law-enforcement efforts and treatment from police, should have a meaningful review board.
    And I have no problem with the police officer having immediate access to a union (or other) attorney, but get rid of the timeline.
    And reform the disciplinary procedures.
    No wonder the police culture is so messed up in Baltimore.  There are no timely, meaningful consequences for police misconduct.

    I think it is likely a systemic problem (none / 0) (#21)
    by sj on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 05:29:22 PM EST
    There are no timely, meaningful consequences for police misconduct.
    It's true here as well.

    Unfortunately, (none / 0) (#22)
    by Zorba on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 05:36:52 PM EST
    it seems to be true in way too many police departments.

    This will give you a taste (5.00 / 1) (#34)
    by shoephone on Sun Jan 10, 2016 at 02:54:10 PM EST
    of how the Seattle Police Officers Guild conducts itself. Its president, Ron Smith, is a rather odious character, and a major whiner, to boot.

    In the article that you provided (5.00 / 1) (#36)
    by sj on Sun Jan 10, 2016 at 03:27:40 PM EST
    I found this link. Detailed and disheartening.

    There is a lot of work to do.


    Two things about that mess: (none / 0) (#37)
    by shoephone on Sun Jan 10, 2016 at 04:27:24 PM EST
    Jim Pugel was a good man, a very good interim chief, and he should have been made permanent chief. Harry Bailey was a disaster, something that was made clear from the get-go--it's the reason O'Toole was brought in so soon afterward.

    As for Ed Murray, I cannot stand the man. He was a corporate lawyer, then a do-nothing state senator, whose job as chair of the transportation committee yielded zilch, because he made legalization of same-sex marriage his #1 priority. He became mayor almost by default, because former Mayor McGinn made enemies of everyone on the city council. Murray has been as slow as molasses to get on the police reform bandwagon. He is in the pocket of the elites. He is a whiny, thin-skinned cheapskate, who doesn't tip service workers, even though he expects them to hop to it and wait on him hand and foot.

    At least there's one upside: Murray, who covets power and would looooove to take soon-to-be-retiring Jim McDermott's place in the U.S House, doesn't have a chance of that this time around. Seattle is too much of an unaffordable, traffic-jammed city for him to try and escape the mayor's office before achieving anything without receiving even more derision. Murray is someone who really needs to be kept out of Congress, at all costs.


    well (none / 0) (#18)
    by CST on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 03:03:05 PM EST
    I didn't say it would be quick.

    I think the biggest change that occurred was when Mayor Menino was in office, he really set the tone to try and create a more inclusive city across all levels of government.  He was also in office for 6 terms and it didn't all happen on day 1, or for that matter by the last day either.


    Nope, not overnight. (none / 0) (#35)
    by shoephone on Sun Jan 10, 2016 at 02:56:29 PM EST
    Police reform takes time, and it has to be headed up by people on the inside that are truly dedicated to it.

    Incidentally, Kathleen O'Toole is slated to be Michelle Obama's seat mate at the upcoming SOTU.


    It can change if they want it to (none / 0) (#11)
    by sj on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 01:31:35 PM EST
    A number of years ago there was an effort to implement an oversight board due to the number of brutality claims at that time. After major push back from LE a toothless board was created that can provide "recommendations" which can pretty much be disregarded at will.

    This sounds a touch promising, but I'm not holding my breath, the Denver PD being what it is.

    This is the Sheriff's office... (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 02:19:45 PM EST
    so while there are still problems with brutality and lawlessness on the part of the officers, at least they aren't out running loose on the streets like the DPD.

    whoops (none / 0) (#16)
    by sj on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 02:37:10 PM EST
    you're right. Well, there goes that.

    All you need to do is go back to the 60's (none / 0) (#23)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 06:25:31 PM EST
    and you can see the start of the "us against the world" mentality that developed when it became cool to call the police "pigs" and killing them was sport.

    Now that doesn't forgive the police for their actions but it should give you a base line to think about.

    et al (5.00 / 2) (#24)
    by sj on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 06:33:38 PM EST
    Please ignore the "killing them was sport" trolling. I assure you, trying to make sense of this will lead to lots of comments and the only one who will get any sport out of it is guess who.

    "Pig" has been an underworld slang term (none / 0) (#25)
    by jondee on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 07:10:09 PM EST
    for cop for at least a hundred plus years..

    Of course, it would require a degree of "secular" literacy to know that..


    Brits call them the Filth (none / 0) (#27)
    by Mr Natural on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 09:28:19 PM EST
    Think for a ,minute (none / 0) (#31)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Jan 09, 2016 at 09:59:59 AM EST
    Folks I don't know about degrees but a little common sense would tell you that there is a difference between a word used as a derogatory expression being "around" and it being cool to use by students and supposed "future leaders."

    Conflict resolution, and that is what is needed here, requires communication. And you aren't going to get it by riots and demands that only one side change.


    Is this so? (none / 0) (#26)
    by thomas rogan on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 09:02:21 PM EST
     "They are told that even when deadly force is legally authorized, it may not be the best option."
    When deadly force is "legally authorized", it is a mighty dangerous situation.  If cops shoot, then one hundred of one hundred alleged crooks are seriously injured or die.  If cops don't shoot, then some number of unshot alleged crooks will assault and injure or kill cops or civilians.  What is an acceptable number of deaths of innocent cops/civilians to justify using this verbal jujitsu instead of police deadly force?  

    "legally authorized" (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by sj on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 09:37:26 PM EST
    is not the same thing as mandatory or required. Or even necessary. Ergo the caveat that it may not be the best option.

    Seriously? (5.00 / 2) (#29)
    by Anne on Fri Jan 08, 2016 at 09:54:45 PM EST
    You are assuming that in every case where deadly force is legally authorized, the consequence for not exercising it is the death or injury of the cop involved.

    How many instances where deadly force was used did it turn out that the citizen wasn't armed?  How many times was deadly force used against people who were moving away from the cop?

    What would have happened if the Chicago cop in the LaQuan McDonald case hadn't shot McDonald 16 times?  Would the cop be dead?  Not likely, since McDonald was moving away from the cop right before the cop opened fire on him.

    Walter Johnson.  What would have happened to the cop if he hadn't shot Johnson, who was running away from him when he opened fire?  Would he be dead?  I don't think so.

    But in those cases, and many others, cops invoked the standard cop response of "I was in fear for my life" as justification for the use of deadly force, in situations where it was determined the suspect was no threat to the officer.

    Why didn't the cops shoot Robert Dear in the Planned Parenthood situation?  Pretty sure deadly force was authorized, and yet...they didn't exercise it, did they?  Should they have?  

    When they took the Charleston church shooter into custody, I'm guessing no one would have questioned a deadly force decision, and yet...they didn't use it, did they?

    I could go on, but my point here is that it is actually possible for cops to make arrests without shooting the suspects, even in high-tension situations where the suspect is known or believed to be armed.

    If cops don't reflexively shoot, citizens live.  


    High Stress (none / 0) (#30)
    by TrevorBolder on Sat Jan 09, 2016 at 06:21:52 AM EST
    How many instances where deadly force was used did it turn out that the citizen wasn't armed?  How many times was deadly force used against people who were moving away from the cop?

    Wasn't armed is different from moving away from the cop. Citizens actions may cause the police to react, sudden movements, not listening to the officers commands, sudden movements of the hands to pockets, may ignite a already volatile situation.
    I went through FLETC in Georgia many many years ago (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center), I am sure it has changed, but they had many training  applications, in a room with a video projected with a suspect scenario, live action scenarios with actors recruited locally. Many rookie officers "were killed" when they didn't secure the situation properly, and also accidentally "killed" innocent suspects. It really is a highly tense situation, and at that time, the safety of the officer is paramount in the training. You are NOT there to get yourself killed, or kill unarmed suspects.
    When reporting back to my post another old adage was drilled into me, and I would guess all new recruits, better to be tried by twelve than carried by 6.
    I would say once the citizen (suspect) directly ignores or acts contrary to the officers verbal commands, that is what sets many of these scenarios up. The officer is then put on extreme edge, dealing with someone openly disregarding their commands, and the thought is always in the back of their head of the officer, this could be my last day on the job.
    That is high stress, and in todays attitude towards law enforcement in high crime areas, not a job many would want.


    End qualified immunity. (none / 0) (#33)
    by Chuck0 on Sun Jan 10, 2016 at 10:10:17 AM EST
    Make individual police financially responsible for the bad acts or bad decisions instead of the taxpayers they supposedly serve. Bankrupt them if necessary. Barring that, at least require that police carry some kind of malpractice insurance much like physicians. At their own expenses.

    . . . constantly insist on reminding us, at every possible opportunity, of the risk they carry in "putting their lives on the line every single day."  But here's the thing:  Since police officers are authorized to use lethal force whenever they think their lives may be in danger (without being required to determine whether there actually is a threat to their lives, then effectively they are not actually carrying that risk, but are merely transferring it to the public at large.