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Frederick is an Example for the Nation

by Chief Kim Dine (ret.)

Congratulations to the march organizers, the Frederick Community, and the Frederick Police Department (FPD) for their outstanding managing of events last week.

As people across the country rightly expressed their outrage over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police, unfortunately at some of these events a small minority of participants engaged in crime and disorder. For chiefs and departments tasked with managing protests and related unrest, this is one of the more challenging aspects of urban policing. Almost no choice made by the police in those instances is fully embraced by the community or ends up being one hundred percent right; the police are criticized for being either too lenient or too overbearing in their response.

In Frederick the results were different. Community organizers and the FPD did an excellent job. To my knowledge there were no injuries and there were no arrests. This is a credit to both the community and the police, and the bond of trust built in our city. Why these events were so peaceful is a valuable question upon which we should reflect.

Good policing is predicated on respect, trust, legitimacy, accessibility, accountability, empathy, transparency, communication, and collaboration. It centers on a foundation of dignity, respect, and “seeing” the people we serve. It includes hiring the right people, providing them outstanding training and leadership, and adherence to best practices. And that is just the baseline.

It requires relentless engagement with the community — literally becoming part of the community of those we swore an oath to serve. It is based on making continued deposits of goodwill, so that when a withdrawal is needed, the community faith and trust in the police are strong. These are not trite or empty words. The police literally derive their power from the people. We must never betray that trust or authority, and recognize that our existence is to serve the public.

In 1829, Sir Robert Peel, accepted by many as the father of policing, established nine principles of policing. They remain as relevant today as they were then. Given the multi-disciplinary responsibilities now asked of the police (more about that later) and the astounding increase in weaponry among the police and citizens, it is arguable that these principles are more profound and relevant than ever. Key points from these principles follow.

“The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.”

“…the police are the public and the public are the police…”

“The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”

– Sir Robert Peel

Peel’s Principles intersect with current best practices, including the 2015 Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st century policing, which provides a blueprint for reform. Likewise, the National Police Foundation, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Police Executive Research Forum, the Commission on Accreditation in Law Enforcement, and the International Association for Chiefs of Police all provide roadmaps to excellence.

But Peel’s principles also inform today’s relevant discussions about “defunding” the police, which does not mean doing away with the police, but does mean imagining and realizing what many police leaders have been asking for decades-what does society want/expect from the police? Are police, “a sworn officer with a gun and a badge,” best suited to address issues in society such as drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, hunger, joblessness, homelessness, truancy, etc., or are experts trained in appropriate disciplines better suited to focus on these challenges?

And we must acknowledge that reforming the police is not enough — we must reform the system which criminalizes homelessness, addiction, and mental illness. Defunding the police approaches the logical concept of appropriate allocation or reallocation of funding so that the best services may be provided by those that have expertise to more effectively address these social needs. We must have the imagination and the will to see and do things differently. While we won’t do away with the police, what we must eradicate is the basis for the general fact that historically, those who have needed us the most have trusted us the least.

Peel’s Principals intersect with current best practices, including the 2015 Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st century policing, which provides a blueprint for reform. Likewise, the National Police Foundation, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Police Executive Research Forum, the Commission on Accreditation in Law Enforcement, and the International Association for Chiefs of Police all provide roadmaps to excellence.

But Peel’s principles also inform today’s relevant discussions about “defunding” the police, which does not mean doing away with the police, but does mean imagining and realizing what many police leaders have been asking for decades-what does society want/expect from the police? Are police, “a sworn officer with a gun and a badge,” best suited to address issues in society such as drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, hunger, joblessness, homelessness, truancy, etc., or are experts trained in appropriate disciplines better suited to focus on these challenges?

And we must acknowledge that reforming the police is not enough — we must reform the system which criminalizes homelessness, addiction, and mental illness. Defunding the police approaches the logical concept of appropriate allocation or reallocation of funding so that the best services may be provided by those that have expertise to more effectively address these social needs. We must have the imagination and the will to see and do things differently. While we won’t do away with the police, what we must eradicate is the basis for the general fact that historically, those who have needed us the most have trusted us the least.

Kim Dine is a 41-year veteran of law enforcement, having served with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington DC., the Frederick Police Department, and the United States Capitol Police. Dine was Chief of the Frederick Police Department for 10 years.

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