I have written about the importance of apology (and its sought-for state of forgiveness) over 10 times on this site. I invite you to search this work for other ways in which I have identified the importance of making an honest and believable apology.
We all know the importance of making an apology and have certainly used it in the past to preserve our most intimate relationships. We all make mistakes. None of us (or the organizations in which we work are perfect and without error.
My position is that apology is just as important organizationally as personally. The problem is that organizations, especially powerful ones, are not often know for their ability to apologize and then, necessarily, take action to prevent future mistakes or errors.
I was pleased this week to hear Commissioner James O’Neil of the NYPD to apologize for a questionable action his department took in deciding to raid a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, in 1969, way before he became a member of the NYPD. So, too did Kevin Murphy in 2013 when he was chief of the Montgomery, Alabama PD, for his department’s treatment of Congressman John Lewis when he was a civl rights worker in the 1960s — before Murphy was even born!
In 2016, Chief Terry Cunningham, the president of the International Chiefs of Police, made an apology “for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”
Perhaps it is easier to apologize for the distant past, but I maintain that to deny a transgression or let it seethe below the surface is not the way to maintain a relationship.
Let’s put it this way, a world-class police agency apologizes when it makes an organizational mistake and then fixes the problem so that it does not occur again. And all of this done in a most transparent and communicative way with the community it serves. That’s how a democratic police agency functions in a free society.
My friend, John Odom, a black educator, warned me that apology “cannot be hollow or feckless. It cannot be disingenuous. And (it) must signal a philosophical and operational pivot from the current status quo. … The black community has to be convinced to accept apologies in a spirit of trust, and police must prove themselves to be trustworthy. If a page is to be turned, both sides will have to make some concessions.”
See below Commissioner Neil’s response.
June 6, 2019, 12:27 PM CDT
ByTim Fitzsimons and Brooke Sopelsa
New York Police Department Commissioner James P. O’Neill on Thursday apologized for the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, that caused an uprising and helped launch the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement.
“What happened should not have happened. The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple,” O’Neill said at a briefing on security preparations for the 50th anniversary of the riots on June 28. “The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize.”
The fatal shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston in April, 2015
I ran across a most interesting podcast from Prof. David A. Harris on his site, “Criminal (In)justice” concerning where we are today in struggling with the reasonable use of force by police. In this podcast, Harris has recently interviewed George Washington University law profess Cynthia Lee who updates us on bills in the California and Maryland legislatures addressing this problem.
During the last five years, case after case of “questionable” uses of police killing unarmed citizens – even people running away (as in North Charleston).
More often than not, police officers who use deadly force do not face charges and when they do, juries often acquit them.
Listen to this excellent discussion on this current topic — where we seem to be headed after Graham v. Connor (1989)
Professor Cynthia Lee, is one of the leading thinkers on use of force law, and she’ll discuss proposed changes.
I have been reading through the years a number of on-line comments allegedly posted by police officers. It got me thinking then (as now) the core of police education must be education in the humanities and strong emotional intelligence. The task of policing can easily be taught to competent candidates but important core of the role and values of police a democracy cannot.
Now I know our nation has an assortment of police
officers and a great range in their preparation and supervision; at last count
about 600K police operate in our nation.
And I know about the “only a few” argument (mainly
brought up after a questionable shooting by police) as well as the “bad apples”
argument (a few can spoil the barrel).
But what puzzles me as a former chief of
police for 25 years is the silence that follows revelations of police misconduct – often only
after a journalist poses some uncomfortable questions.
The below article is such a journalistic effort (as was finding a significant undercounting of persons killed by police in our nation by journalists from The Washington Post and Guardian newspapers).
After reading the various comments on social
media by active duty police officers just adds to the negative perception many
people have of our police.
This article found: “Of the pages of officers whom the Plain View researchers could positively identify, about 1 in 5 of the current officers, and 2 in 5 of the retired officers, made public posts or comments that met that threshold — typically by displaying bias, applauding violence, scoffing at due process, or using dehumanizing language. The officers mocked Mexicans, women, and black people, celebrated the Confederate flag, and showed a man wearing a kaffiyeh scarf in the crosshairs of a gun” (my emphasis).
They also found that experts in race and
criminal justice were alarmed at the data.
“This blows up the myth of bad apples, by the
sheer number of images and numbers of individuals who are implicated.” — Nikki
Jones, an associate professor of African American studies at the University of
“This is the kind of behavior that
confirms the worst suspicions on the part of communities about the police… it fuels
and cements the convictions of people in distressed communities have that the police
are not to be trusted. — David Kennedy, a criminology professor at John Jay
Yet in defense, “Peter Moskos, a sociologist
and former Baltimore police officer, argued that among the police rank and
file, such comments may just be expressions of officers who recognize the
dangers of the profession. ‘I think a lot of that language serves a purpose. It
implies, ‘We’re all in this together.’”
I will argue that these kind of behaviors publicly posted by police are dangerous and undermine the very nature of policing a free and diverse society! They most certainly do not build needed trust and support.
CHICAGO — When an armed, would-be robber
backed out of a liquor store after the clerk pulled a gun on him, the
surveillance video was posted on Facebook with a comment: “Should have shot
Another commenter responded, “I would of
pulled the trigger.”
These comments weren’t from your everyday
Facebook users. They were the words of Philadelphia police officers.
Local law enforcement departments across the
country have grappled with officers’ use of social media, often struggling to
create and enforce policies that restrict offensive speech.
“If you’re in a leadership role now or aspiring to one, the journey toward leadership greatness never ends. But it does have a starting point.
The question to ask
“Ask yourself this question: Did I have an impact
on someone today?
“The best of leaders in the most desirable companies on the planet aren’t characters in some rose-colored Hollywood script. They are real humans beings that arrived there through hard work, trial and error, and a wholehearted commitment to change the lives of people.
“The question posed has to be firmly embedded in the back of your mind and at the forefront of your mindset every single day. It’s used as a constant reminder that will help you take ownership of being the very best leader you can be for the people entrusted under your care as leaders.
“By asking the question, it forces you to measure up
against the high standards of leadership, as outlined below, which
will open up a world of opportunities to make an immediate impact on
people. Remember …
Leadership is about giving
“One of those reminders is counterintuitive. It’s to
become a giver: a giver of your time, energy, wisdom, and knowledge.
Furthermore, it’s about their development; pouring into your people’s
growth to make them better (which makes you, and your organization, better).
Leadership is about selflessness
“It’s ultimately doing the unthinkable in the top-heavy
world of command-and-control management styles: putting your followers’
interests ahead of your own. But when you do, it leads to unprecedented
Leadership is about humility
“Larry Bossidy, the former CEO of Honeywell and author of
the book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,
explains how humility gets results and makes you a more effective leader:
“The more you can contain your ego, the more realistic you are about your
problems. You learn how to listen, and admit that you don’t know all the
answers. Your pride doesn’t get in the way of gathering the information
you need to achieve the best results. It doesn’t keep you from sharing the
credit that needs to be shared. Humility allows you to acknowledge your
Leadership is about serving others
“To seriously elevate your impact and influence as a leader,
you have to remember that leadership is about service and making those around
you better. To assess where you are against the high measure of a
servant leader, there’s another very powerful question you need to ask right
now: What am I doing every day to improve the life of an employee
in the workplace?
“Answering the original question–whom did I impact today?–with a level of honesty and confidence means you’ve arrived at taking the higher leadership road of success. If your desire is to place others in the position to be their very best, you are well on your way to becoming an exceptional leader.”
SAN DIEGO — They’ve lost colleagues to suicide, had people die in their arms, seen horrifying injuries and had to tell family members about a loved one’s death.
It takes a toll on law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first-responders, and a San Diego filmmaker is telling their stories in the new 30-minute documentary “Keeping the Peace,” which premiered at the University of San Diego last week before an audience that included police officers, sheriff’s deputies and paramedics.
“When I address the new troops I say, ‘I need a healthy you,’” San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said in the film. “I need a healthy you at home. I need a healthy you at work. It’s OK for you to go and talk.
Sara Gilman, president of the Encinitas counseling service Coherence Associates, Inc., discussed the importance of making mental health care available for first-responders in a keynote address before the screening.
“I have seen the look of fear and sadness in officers’ eyes when they have come upon the last and latest wreckage of the human condition,” she said. “Their reaction is not the problem. This is their humanity. Their compassionate hearts being exposed to human pain and suffering over and over and over for decades. And they say it’s just part of the job.”
Gilman, a mental health critical-incident responder who has worked with police officers and sheriff’s deputies in the field, said there has been significant progress over the past 30 years in making counselors, peer-support and chaplains available when they are needed.
Director James Ellis, owner of Legacy Productions, said he started work on the film about a year ago as a way of promoting mental health services among emergency workers while also helping the community understand the trauma often experienced by law enforcement officers.
Badge of Life has reported that law enforcement officers are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, although last year the organization stopped its annual reports after finding data on unreported suicides was not accurate.
El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis, who appeared in the film, addressed suicide in a panel discussion after the film.
“I think it’s ironic that we spend so many resources in our police academy and in service training recognizing potential threats and taking measures to mitigate them with policies, practices and procedures, but in 2018 more of us took our own lives than were killed in the line of duty,” he said. “So where’s the threat?”
The film featured San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, retired SDPD assistant Chief Sarah Creighton, SDPD Chaplain Erin Hubbard and officers from National City, La Mesa, the Border Patrol, Anaheim and Santa Barbara.
Interviews in the documentary included several gripping tales of the emotional trauma experienced by officers from various departments. Retired California Department of Justice Special Agent Victor Resendez recalled the time he broke the news of a son’s death to his parents and sister.
“I went to the house and told the mother, the father, and the 5-year-old sister, and she gave me a teddy bear and said, ‘My brother gave me this. Can you take it and put it with him?’” he said, barely able to speak through the tears brought on by the memory. “Wow, I remember that.”
In the documentary, Nisleit said the San Diego Police Department has a robust program to help officers deal with post traumatic stress.
“When I address the new troops I say, ‘I need a healthy you,’” he said in the film. “I need a healthy you at home. I need a healthy you at work. It’s OK for you to go and talk. In fact, I want you to go talk to those folks.”
San Diego Police Detective Heather Seddon appeared in the film and at the screening to talk about the day she was shot while on duty and the emotional support she received during her recovery.
It was May 17, 2015, and she was assisting another police unit that had pulled over a vehicle known to have been involved in a series of shootings, she said. After the vehicle pursuit turned to a foot chase, Seddon described seeing the man being chased run into a garage and dig into his backpack.
“I knew at that point there was going to be a shooting,” she said.
Seddon was struck in the neck by a shot that was determined to have come from another officer.
She was rushed to a nearby hospital, and her husband Brian Crilly is shown in the film recalling getting the call saying Seddon had been shot.
Her physical injury healed, but Seddon said there still are times when something can trigger memories of the shooting. She said she is grateful counseling was available.
“I was a little hesitant at first to use it, as I’m sure most people are,” she said. “As much as I fought it in the beginning, it was a very, very good thing for me to experience. I can’t tell you how many times I just felt better when I walked out.”
The documentary ends on a positive note, with Seddon saying she still believes she was born for the job, which has brought her many great and positive experiences.
Ellis said he has received a grant from the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to develop a mental health program based around his film over the next two years, and he has partnered with the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma to work with other police departments across the state.
For information on how to see the film, visit Ellis’ website.
“SAN FRANCISCO – A showdown over when police can use deadly
force is set to unfold in the California Legislature next week, which could
result in sweeping changes to law enforcement departments that give
officers broad latitude in deciding when to shoot to kill.
“At issue is Assembly Bill 392, known as the California
Act to Save Lives, which would put the onus on officers to justify discharging their weapon,
shifting the standard from ‘reasonable” – as defined by the Supreme Court’s
Graham v Connor ruling in 1989 – to ‘necessary.’ That
means that, under the proposed bill, police must feel confident it is
necessary to shoot to protect themselves or others from danger, or they could
be prosecuted for killing a person.
“Instead of reaching for their guns, officers would be
pressed to engage in de-escalation tactics that aim to reduce tension
between officer and suspect. Experts said these include listening to
the suspect’s story, explaining the actions an officer is about to
take and ensuring that the suspect’s dignity is preserved throughout the
“California has the highest percentage of police shootings
per 100,000 people among states with more than 8 million
residents, said Seth Stoughton, a former police officer who is a law
professor at the University of South Carolina and an expert on deadly force
‘The states are all over the map in the way they regulate
deadly force, with some being very permissive, and that’s where
California is right now,’ said Stoughton, noting that the Western
state shares that reputation with Georgia, Texas and Florida. Among large
states, New York has the fewest officer-related shooting deaths.
“’This new bill would make the preservation of life law enforcement’s top priority in California,’ said Stoughton, who wrote letters to California lawmakers in support of the bill. ‘Having the state Legislature tell police officers, ‘This is the job we expect you to do’ is an important piece of symbolism’…”
Read the full article from USA Today HERE
and why some people don’t think it’s a good idea. [Ed. Note: Frankly, I think
it is and agree with Prof. Stoughton.]
It didn’t take me very long at the beginning of my police career to see that handguns, easily concealed, were killing police officers across the country. So why don’t we seek to control these weapons? Well, most of you know the story…
My professional police organization, the Police Executive Research Forum (of which I am a life member) has now put together, with the input of its members, a comprehensive report on the control of firearms in America (yes, enough is enough!) and I have listed their specific recommendations below.
I broke ranks with the NRA (National Rifle Association) early in my police career. It occurred when teflon-coated ammunition started to appear on the market. If you remember, this ammunition was designed primarily for one thing: to pierce the body armor worn by police officers. The NRA opposed legislation which sought to ban the sale of this type of ammunition. I said “goodbye” to the NRA.
Let’s work to implement these specific recommendations in our cities and states! Blue lives matter, too!
Actions That Will Have the Largest Impact in Reducing Gun Violence
The following recommendations reflect the thinking of leading law enforcement executives regarding principles and actions that would make a difference in reducing the numbers of deaths and injuries from gun violence.
Keep guns out of the hands of people who are legally prohibited from owning them.
[This is PERF’s #1 recommendation because it has the
potential to reduce fatalities in all four categories of gun deaths: suicides;
street crime; domestic violence-related shootings; and mass shootings.]
o Strengthen the federal Background Check system by:
Ensuring more complete, timely, and standardized reporting
of information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, with a
particular focus on criminal convictions and drug abuse and mental health data.
(Implementation of the Fix NICS Act should be a priority.)
Requiring background checks for all private sales and
transfers (potentially through Federal Firearms Licensees), to include weapons
sold at gun shows and over the Internet.
Increasing the length of time during which background
checks can be completed, so as to minimize “delayed denial” situations.
Expanding disqualifying criteria for purchasing a firearm
to include intimate partner domestic violence (closing the so-called “boyfriend
loophole”) and the misdemeanor offense of stalking.
o States should enact licensing or permitting systems for
gun owners as another mechanism to help ensure that people who purchase and
possess firearms are responsible gun owners.
We can prevent future killings by deterring people from illegally carrying
o States should enact swift, certain, and proportional
punishments for those charged with illegal possession of a firearm and other
o Penalties should be modest for first offenses, and should
increase significantly for each subsequent offense. The purpose is not to
incarcerate large numbers of offenders for long periods of time, but to convey
a clear message that illegal carrying of firearms will not be tolerated. The
goal is to break up the common pattern of repeated arrests for gun possession,
with little or no consequences, eventually leading to an arrest for a homicide
or other serious gun crime, with severe consequences.
o Accountability measures should be supported by an
education campaign alerting the public to the consequences of illegally
o Law enforcement agencies should work closely with state
and local prosecutors, early in the investigatory process, to build strong
cases that can be successfully prosecuted.
o As part of their focused deterrence strategies, agencies
should form close partnerships with federal officials on prosecuting high-risk
gun offenders in federal court.
o Agencies should create and support victim and witness
protection programs to guard against intimidation and to support cooperation
with investigators and prosecutors.
What every gun owner must do: Secure guns in the home, and remove guns from
homes where they pose an extreme risk.
o Enact and enforce laws (such as Child Access Protection
statutes) that mandate the safe storage of firearms in homes and vehicles.
These laws should be supported by public education campaigns that explain how
to safely secure firearms, as well as prosecution of violators.
o Enact and utilize Extreme-Risk Protection Order laws that
allow family members or friends to petition the courts to order the temporary
removal of firearms from individuals who may be at risk of harming themselves
or others. Police Executive Research Forum o Enact and enforce laws that
provide for the immediate surrender of firearms upon conviction of domestic
violence offenses or other disqualifying events under federal law. Agencies
should create and train specialized units to enforce protection orders and
remove firearms from these offenders.
o Develop and use lethality assessments tools for officers
responding to the scene of a domestic violence incident to help determine if
the victim is at an increased risk of being killed in a subsequent incident.
Such tools can complement problem-oriented policing strategies aimed at curbing
o Enact laws requiring gun owners to report to police the
loss or theft of their firearms.
Implement evidence-based policing strategies to target the small number of
offenders who are responsible for most gun violence.
o Law enforcement agencies should vigorously investigate
non-fatal shootings and gun possession cases, as a strategy for preventing
future shootings and homicides.
o Agencies should implement evidence-based enforcement and
prevention strategies that include: Focused deterrence Hot spot policing
Directed patrols Problem-oriented policing.
o Predictive Policing Models can help agencies more
effectively deploy resources to support these initiatives.
o Efforts to build community trust and engagement can help
ensure that community members will tell police what they know about gun violence
Ballistics technology is extremely powerful.
o Law enforcement agencies should collect ballistics
evidence in all shootings, including random shootings and those in which no one
o Agencies should strive to develop the necessary resources
or partnerships to run all ballistics evidence through NIBIN (National
Integrated Ballistics Information Network) and aggressively pursue all
investigative leads. The goal should be to submit casings and receive results
from NIBIN within 48 hours.
o Agencies should test fire all guns they recover and trace
all crime guns through the eTrace system.
o The ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Centers should be a
priority for federal funding, and local agencies should take full advantage of
Reducing the carnage: Limit the availability of high-powered firearms.
o Limit the capacity of ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
Police Executive Research Forum
o Ban the sale and importation of bump stocks.
o Ban the future sale and importation of military-style
weapons that have no purpose except to kill large numbers of people as quickly
Stop guns from entering the black market.
o Law enforcement agencies should vigorously investigate and
prosecute both individuals and gun dealers who engage in straw purchases and
other illegal gun trafficking schemes.
o To guard against gun store burglaries and robberies, there
should be strict physical security standards at federally licensed firearms
o Individuals should be required to report stolen or lost
firearms. To support the reporting of stolen firearms, there should be public
education campaigns to explain how to record identifying information about the
firearm (e.g., serial number) and how to report it as stolen.
Connecting the dots: Assessing threats to intervene in mass shootings.
o Develop and use threat assessment protocols for
individuals who come to the attention of law enforcement as potential mass
attack offenders. Police Executive Research Forum
o To combat school shootings, school resource officers,
teachers and other school personnel should be trained to look for tell-tale
signs of crisis or violence, and protocols should be established for reporting
and following up on those threats.
Verifying what works: Dramatically expand gun violence research.
o The federal government, through the CDC and other
agencies, should support high quality research on evidence-based strategies for
combating gun violence.
o Private foundations should continue to support gun
o Law enforcement agencies should work closely with the
research community to engage in research projects that examine the
effectiveness of their gun violence programs and strategies.
o Special attention should be given to researching the recommendations made in this report.
Chief Couper serves up a delightful blend of war stories, step-by-step instructions and aspirational goals in his career memoir: Arrested Development. [He] is an excellent story-teller who uses his anecdotes to drive home a much needed message to American law enforcement: Don’t stop improving; get closer to the communities you serve; be respectful and helpful to those you are privileged to serve. Couper was a pioneer who took the principles of Total Quality Management that so successfully transformed Japanese and American manufacturing and adapted them to the delivery of police services. Chief Couper also led the way in finding new and safer ways to police mass protests and demonstrations, something a place like Madison gave him plenty of chance to practice. Having read more than a few memoirs from retired cops, I prepared myself for the usual mixture of confessional material, endless whining about being misunderstood, and self-serving “now that I’m retired, I can say what I really think” claptrap. Gratefully, I was completely unprepared for what Couper had to offer. This book provides the reader with a reliable and sweeping eyewitness account of the challenges American policing faced in the later part of the 20thCentury… Evident throughout this account is his unquenchable desire to learn from experience and continuously improve as a leader and as a public servant, all with the goal of improving the service his agency provided to its community. I couldn’t help wishing I’d had a chance to serve with and learn from this remarkable leader.
I have read David Couper’s book two times, and have purchased copies for police commanders in multiple departments. As a police researcher, I have read a lot of books on the subject. This is, by far, one of the best books that I have read. Every person working in the policing field, whether a scholar or practitioner, needs to read this book. You may not agree with every point Couper makes, but you will walk away with a better understanding of organizational transformation and what it takes to change an organization’s culture – both personally and professionally. I attended a Chief’s Track Panel at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference on October 19, 2013, and Couper’s police work, legacy and book, “Arrested Development,” were being discussed by a panel of city police chiefs. That, in itself, provides an indication of the significance and relevance of Couper’s work in contemporary policing. Couper presents an impressive, direct and unveiled look into his experiences in the Madison Police Department. He provides his readers with an inside look at his 20+ years as Chief of Police in the Madison Police Department and his “lessons learned.” I am grateful that Couper took the time to write his book. I have learned a lot from him.
This is a great read on many
levels and for readers with varied interests. It is informative, insightful,
balanced and at times, provocative. For law enforcement executives there is a
compelling call to action.For aspiring leaders of all kinds there are lessons
in leadership, the influences and power of organizational culture and
implementing sustainable change. For community leaders it offers ideas on a
better direction for the future of police/community relations. For students of
the 1960’s and 1970’s unrest, there are glimpses and perspectives from a fully
involved insider. Lastly, it is the fascinating story of one man’s journey and
his evolution as a person and as a leader.
David Couper brings his years of
experience and study to look at ways our police work and the political
environment they operate within. He opens a door to a profession that is not
well understood, and gives suggestions on how to improve the current state of
affairs. Whether you’re a professional officer, politician, or engaged citizen,
this book is well worth the read.