The Need for Removal of Public Disclosure Exemptions
Having spent the last three weeks focusing on all the problems associated with the American judicial system, I’d like to shift the focus and begin to offer possible solutions.
It is clear that law enforcement must shift its paradigms away from its current ‘thin blue line’ approach to ethics, morality, and politics and develop a new and innovative approach. This approach must be the new mandate industry-wide to reverse the ever-swelling tide of public distrust, cynicism, and negative word of mouth responses to police actions.
Managing the Flow of Information
Perhaps the greatest thing needed for police service organizations in the United States is critical evaluation in an open, unbiased manner. Police administrators need to recognize that police services are not closed systems with limited input from outside sources. In fact, police service organizations are actually open systems in which a vast amount of input is received. Learning to manage this flow of information within this context, and having the strength and moral conviction to confront criminal and ethical failures within their own organization, is required to improve public trust. Developing the political will for transparency in decertification procedures and demanding adherence to the profession’s code of ethics, coupled with effective and adequate discipline for those individuals refusing to comply with these standards will result in the organization and its leaders earning the public’s trust back.
Minimize Police Administrators From Hiding Police Malfeasance
Simply removing the exception from the public open records law 1 that is granted to personnel matters (like disciplinary actions) as it pertains to police personnel or any other public sector employee whose salary is funded at or in excess of 50% of tax revenues, would accomplish this goal. This approach becomes beneficial from a public and political transparency perspective and would significantly minimize police administrators from hiding police malfeasance within their own organizations. While it is recognized this proposal may inflame the ire of some police services personnel, one must not forget that the purpose of such rules are to reduce the opportunities for officers to violate the public’s trust. 2 In a system of transparency, it wouldn’t matter whether the betrayal came from an individual officer, police administrator, or entire organization because the way it was handled would be public record. Furthermore, since police services are funded primarily from taxpayer revenues, the public has the right to information about people and events paid for with taxpayer money. 3
A Self-Serving View
Throughout the years, the law enforcement profession has developed the self-serving view that it knows what is best for the community and therefore has developed programs around its own worldview. Unfortunately, the community often doesn’t view the circumstances in the same manner or from the same perspective as law enforcement. Typically, the breakdown occurs because police services administrators see community involvement as a means for the citizenry to force their views of policing strategy and practices onto law enforcement. That is not how it should work, however.
Assurance Through Transparency and Education
What customer relationship management seeks to receive is customer loyalty and service improvement via enlightened and productive interactions between the customer and service provider. Police administrators need to fully understand seeking and receiving citizen input does not remove their ability or authority to conduct police services according to proper police protocols, which are focused on officer safety and valid tactical approaches. What the public wants is not to tell law enforcement how to conduct their operating protocols with regards to day to day enforcement actions; they are simply seeking transparency and education as to why certain protocols are conducted the way they are and the assurance when an officer steps out of line, the officer is dealt with appropriately.