KPD takes cues from proven best practices

Editor’s note: This is a longer version of an opinion piece that appeared in the July 3 edition of the Keizertimes.

In his opinion in the June 20 issue of the Keizertimes, Gene McIntyre rightly said, “It appears timely and appropriate to hear from Chief Teague as to what the people can count on from him and our taxpayer-funded police officers….” Though it necessarily requires some unpacking, which I’ll strive to do within these one-thousand words, what you should expect of us is succinctly expressed in our mission statement: Our mission is to help the community maintain order while promoting safety and freedom and building public confidence.

Modern policing began two-hundred years ago, and the first principle of that first police department (the London Metropolitan Police Force) was that the “basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.” We at Keizer PD actively try to prevent crime and disorder. We do not carelessly wait for crimes or violations to happen and then numbingly compare people’s behavior to a set of laws and ordinances and send to jail or to the courts those who are not in compliance. Applying the law is not among the first things we do or want to do, yet this disposition toward the law is far from common.

Most police agencies do not first seek to prevent crime from occurring or recurring. Most agencies measure the performances of their officers by, for example, the number of citations they write, the number of arrests they make, the number of calls they handle. Keizer does not. The ninth principle of modern policing is, “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”

Neither does Keizer first police people (except, of course, those persons who chronically, repeatedly make problems of themselves). Policing problems, not people, has the supremely important benefit of being race neutral because officers are initially agnostic toward the cause of a problem—what is the problem? not, who is the problem? Combined with Procedural Justice, problem-oriented policing puts the police in a posture of assisting and serving, not of imposing. This should not be overlooked or dismissed as unimportant: a police agency is either oriented toward the law and looking for violators, or oriented toward problems and looking for solutions.

Note our obligations to the public in these principles of policing—every one is cooperative:

• The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval.

• To secure public approval, the police must secure the public’s willing cooperation and voluntary observance of the law.

• Public cooperation diminishes proportionately to the use of physical force.

• Police preserve public approval not by catering to public opinion but by demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

• Police should maintain a relationship with the public that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen.

These principles are two hundred years old, yet they’ve rarely been fully exercised. There is an almost unavoidable history, a necessary arc to the two hundred years it took for these principles to come to fruition. That history is beyond the scope of this piece, but it does beg two closely related comments. The first is that the sins of our predecessors should not fail to inform our present and future decision-making; subsequently, we should neither erase nor dismiss them and the milieus in which they lived. The second is that there has never been a more appropriate time to engage in original policing than right now. Still; many agencies will not because they are neither vested in it nor structured for it.

It took medicine 450 years to make the turn from an arguably harmful art to an art informed by science, yet policing has only just begun its earnest move toward an evidence base. The move was first attempted 50 years ago but a misinterpreted experiment left the academics telling themselves and the police that what the police did in response to crime was neither harmful nor helpful, that neither crime prevention nor mass arrests could affect the crime rate. Twenty-five years later, researchers looked again at that experiment and discovered they’d erred, that, in fact, the police can have profound impacts upon crime, people, and their communities. Thus after 200 years of policing, it’s only been within my career of 30 years that this nascent redirection has begun.

Serendipitously, that redirection also includes a prescription for how the police should interact with the public. When I returned to Keizer PD seven years ago, I told the officers that I expect them to treat the public the same way I treat them, the officers—with Procedural Justice: Treat people with dignity and respect; give them a chance to be heard; convey trustworthy motives; and make reasonable, informed, and transparent decisions. This is what you should expect of every important relationship, and it’s what you should expect of your police officers.

If one relies upon state and national comparisons (which many do), Keizer PD is allegedly underfunded, but we’ve not asked to be staffed with another 19 police officers (to meet the state average) or another 46 (to meet the national). Frankly, if policing is done reactively—that is, if the police only respond to crimes that have already occurred—then you really can’t have enough cops to affect the crime rate. If, however, policing is done as originally designed—to come alongside the community to prevent crime and disorder from happening in the first place—then there is a point of economic stability, a point at which an agency has enough resources to do more than merely react to crime, where it has just enough resources to prevent what crime can be prevented, maintaining the order the community wants but without over-policing it. Keizer, I believe, has struck that balance, but we’ve only done it because we value procedural justice and we’re actively, thoughtfully, purposefully problem-oriented.