Issues in Policing

Welcome to the Issues in Policing Blog. This new feature of is specifically designed to provide a forum where members of the profession can address the contemporary issues of the day. This blog is hosted by Dr. James R. Walker, Ph.D. Rick’s criminal justice career spans 40 years where he served in a number of key positions that include patrol officer and deputy sheriff, investigator, and later as Sergeant of patrol and investigations units within law enforcement agencies in South Carolina and Texas. Rick is the Executive Director of the Accrediting Commission for Law and Justice Education and serves as a member of the Board of Governors of You can email him with your comments at [email protected]


10 thoughts on “Issues in Policing”

  1. Fairness and Quotas in the Hiring and Promotional Process
    Although I have touched on the issue of fairness previously in a blog article I penned regarding refugees and public safety in this blog I would now like to focus on examining fairness and quotas in the hiring and promotions process in law enforcement. Why would I want to write something in regards to such a political sensitive issue as fairness and quotas in law enforcement, one might rightly ask, since this sensitive subject has been the focus on numerous past articles on the subject? Quite simply it is because it seems that every so often I hear some comment or read an article where some law enforcement official (this actually happens in other professions as well) raises the issue of how important it is to have diversity in the law enforcement profession. Who can argue with this statement, right? Certainly, if you do then you stand a chance of being labeled at the far end of the spectrum as a racist and at the other end of that spectrum at least as someone stuck on the ideals and beliefs from centuries past. Unfortunately, I feel that this tendency to be hell bent on fairness in the hiring and promotional processes and the negative labeling of persons bearing unfavorable opinions challenging the current political correct mantra on such a sensitive topic may hinder real dialogue regarding our current topical focus in my view. Just because something is a sensitive subject does not mean such subject should not be thoroughly examined, even if it conflicts with what we think is right or wrong.

    In regards to fairness I would like to pose the question to the reader simply of fairness to whom, and does this fairness mean we are somehow magically going to be better or more efficient at what we do? Furthermore, to whom should we be “fair”, or owe this fairness to, and why? Additionally, if we somehow find this fairness or quotas gets in the way of running an efficient and effective law enforcement organization what should we then do? Should we then examine the quotas and numbers to determine if they are somehow the cause, or would such a topic be “off the table” because it is too sensitive for us to even consider as a possible cause? Would we then adjust such quotas up or down dependent upon racial and cultural factors, the same as we used to make our hiring and promotional decisions with in the first place? Does this fairness mean, for example, that we make our hiring, and yes even promotion decisions, based upon being “fair” to the individuals being considered based strictly upon some notion of race or other cultural factor in our search for this so-called fairness factor? If so, this fairness (you could change this word out to say quotas and still be correct) I would argue could in some situations have little to do with qualifications or even necessarily effectiveness in the position being considered (hiring or promotion), but then becomes a focus strictly about numbers and how these “numbers” we came up with somehow trumps all other factors that should be considered. Would, for example, the hiring of a certain amount of any one race or cultural component we consider, make a real difference in how that law enforcement agency responds or reacts to an incident matter, or even be somehow better for the community? What supposed magical number would this be? Would it depend upon the racial or cultural factors from your city, county, or state, or would it perhaps utilize some other process to determine when we have breached that magical number for the hiring and promotional process? In the past, for example, goals have often been set in some jurisdictions for law enforcement hiring to match the racial and cultural make up of such jurisdiction. Once we reach the magic numbers then what are we going to do and how is this ideal number we have set going to affect the law enforcement organizations capabilities in the community?

    Admittedly, the questions posed in this blog post are my own personal opinions on the subject and my own ideas and thoughts on these topical issues I think we need to focus on regarding fairness and quotas in the hiring and promotional processes in law enforcement. Sticking our heads in the sand on such and important topic or just accepting the notion that somehow fairness and quotas should trump other important factors in the hiring and promotional processes, such as qualifications or abilities to name just two, just seems to be too important a subject in our profession to just ignore. Answers don’t always come easy, but basing our responses upon political matters and for political expediency will only hurt the ability of the organization to respond to the challenges it faces on hot button topics such as quotes and fairness in the hiring and promotional processes. I would also like to state for the record that I am not opposed to hiring or promotions of anyone based upon race or cultural composition, however if we are using these factors at the expense of effectiveness or efficiency of the law enforcement organization then we need to give second thought to our reasons for such expectations.

  2. Regarding Quotas and The Measurement of Productivity For The Position of Patrol Officer

    Measuring law enforcement patrol officer productivity and effectiveness has never been easy for the supervisor. It has been made even more difficult by those who profess that measuring what an officer does and requiring them to demonstrate effectiveness by arrest and case clearances, is exceedingly important to the position of patrol officer and the measurement of worth of the patrol officer. At the same time the focus on productivity as a measurement of job effectiveness and the linking productivity to effectiveness, has been viewed by many officers as the setting of quotas by the supervisor or organization if viewed from a work requirement standpoint. These quotas unfortunately have also far too often made their way into many law enforcement organizations efficiency ratings. These ratings of course are important, not only to the department who view the efficiency ratings as a measurement of success of a patrolman on the job, but also is important to the patrolman’s personal assessment of their own accomplishments. Regarding those cases in which the productivity has been measured by such things as arrests and case clearances I can attest from my own past experiences as a law enforcement supervisor that far too often we have often focused too much on an officer’s productivity as an overly important part of the evaluation process. This has been done at the expense of the organization and more importantly, the law enforcement officer, whose self-worth can be damaged by a negative evaluation which has focused to intensely on such things as arrests and case clearances.

    At first glance, the effort to require and measure officer’s effectiveness through setting of expectations regarding arrests and case clearances just seems to make sense. Who can argue that officers should be required to show they are working, right? What better to make this measurement than to count the number of arrests and reports taken or cleared as at least part of the measuring criteria? While it might be a big leap to say that focusing on important elements such as arrests and report activity is setting quotas, I do think we need to carefully consider how we go about measuring the effectiveness and productivity of law enforcement officers serving in the patrol function. I think we can all agree that it is not always that easy in law enforcement to measure certain important elements of the patrolman’s job, as the job has so many requirements that are not always that easy to measure that can demonstrate officer efficiency and effectiveness. For example, stopping a motorist and providing a verbal warning might be just as efficient and effective as writing them a citation, and stopping at the local coffee shop and speaking to a citizen about their challenges (legal or not) are not always contacts that might be measured in the same manner, if recorded and measured at all. If it does not get recorded then it will likely not get measured by the supervisor, and hence the focus falls back on things that are easy to measure, such as arrests and case clearances.

    In closing, I would like to point you to another recent article I wrote on my blog that dealt with the futility of comparing law enforcement response times to the setting of irrational expectations by law enforcement (an interesting read if I don’t say so myself), as I have often speculated if we have not, considering the topic measuring productivity in patrol, far too often also set irrational goals and relied too much on the setting of arrest and case clearances/reports taken for evaluating the effectiveness of the patrol officer. What I believe is needed is an entirely different mindset when measuring productivity for the position of patrol officer and additionally, a better manner of recording of those activities that far too often does not get considered in the process of setting expectations for patrol officers. This is not that easy to do, as patrol officers may balk at recording everything they are doing throughout the day, however in the end it may prove beneficial to both the officer and the organization, not to mention the focus on quotas may end up being pushed from the forefront to the back of the process when we are trying to measure the productivity and yes efficiency, of the patrol officers position. This will require an organizational and cultural shift; do you think law enforcement is up to the challenge?



  3. On Ethics Training

    Recently I was tasked by my university dean with reviewing and updating an online class in ethics, with the general idea of course to develop the class into one that is both interesting to students and what might prove useful for their future careers in the criminal justice profession. While I certainly don’t mind the challenge what I still find difficult to this day is trying to design an informative and transformational class educating students regarding a topic that I quite frankly believe should come natural to those who want to choose a profession deigned to protect and help their fellow man. At least law enforcement officers, whose job it is to serve and protect the public, should already have a general idea about what’s right and what’s wrong, correct?

    I then began pondering if it might be informative in my efforts to improve the university’s ethics class to perhaps think about the required ethics classes that I had been required to go to while I was with my organization. So, I took a short period of time to reflect upon what I had learned in those in serve classes, however unfortunately when I ended my review I had to confess that my many hours of sitting in the ethics classes at the department actually taught me very little, and I still felt the same way about ethics as when I went into the class. I also found it a bit concerning at the end of the day that I was of the opinion that I had just wasted 8 hours of my life on an ineffectual class. That is, unless of course you count hearing the interesting stories told by the instructor about our fellow officers ethical lapses that I had not already heard about through the organization or the newspapers (depending upon how bad the ethics violations were). Now that sometimes proved to be quite interesting indeed. How some of the officers could have gotten themselves involved in the unethical (and sometime illegal) behaviors we reviewed (or that I had previously heard about before taking the class) I will likely never know, and the best it seems I can do to this day is chalk most of the cases up to just plain stupidity.

    Yes, I guess I am a bit jaded from my previous career in law enforcement where the law enforcement department for which I was employed made it mandatory for every officer for the longest time to take their ethics training course. I (and others I feel sure) found it a bit irrational that the department would make the 8-hour class and expect by the end of that 8 hours to influence and change behaviors that have probably been ingrained in the officers for a lifetime. How exactly does one teach someone to be ethical or at least consider ethical principles, after all, do we really think that someone is going to attend our class an unethical person at the start and by the end of the class emerge to be another Aristotle or Plato?

    Oh, how naive I was for the longest, how silly of me in thinking the reason we took ethics training was to attempt to positively influence the officers in attendance, to attempt to change their minds about the topic of ethics and maybe even repent for their prior unethical behaviors! Of course I slowly came to recognize, after it was pointed out to me by a senior officer rather early in my career, that the real reason we were in the ethics class was that the department was trying to lessen the monetary rewards of a civil suit against the organization for an officer’s unethical behavior or it was to shield the department from the public embarrassment when one of our officers would go off the rails and do something that quite frankly was stupid (and yes, the officers likely knew it was stupid I might add). Wow, what an eye opener that was, guess I was being a bit naïve thinking the department was really trying to change hearts and minds, right instead of looking after its own best interests.

    Now, you might be asking yourself how did we get from redoing and improving an ethics class at the university to a short reflection on my past experiences at the police academy taking in service classes regarding ethics? I guess the best answer I can provide is that while it is interesting, and yes usually useful process to bring prior knowledge in the profession we are instructing into the designing of a course or class, it might prove to be a bit difficult in the case of this university ethics class, considering that I realize that ethics is likely already a core part of their being and how they think and act. Unless of course you consider some of the interesting stories of past ethical violations I might be able to impart to my students……….



  4. “It’s not my fault” ……. or is it?

    If you were to visit any jail or prison in the United States today and took the opportunity to speak with just 10 randomly picked inmates chances are very high that if you were to inquire as to why they were incarcerated at least 8 out of 10 would choose to put the blame for their imprisonment on someone else. Choices such as having a “bad parent”, perhaps blaming a sibling for being a bad influence, pointing to an uncle or aunt who taught them the tricks of the trade when they were young, or perhaps even one of their close “friends” would likely come up in that conversation. I once challenged myself to question several inmates when I worked as a new supervisor for Houston Police Department and was assigned briefly to the departments jail. Of course, it has been to many years past to recall the exact reasons that I was given by the inmates for their imprisonment, however I do recall being surprised that it was a rare few that would admit that the reason they were in jail was because of their own doing and further, actually accepted responsibility for their criminal activity. A few actually indicated they thought they would not get caught and arrested for their crimes, but even this excuse was one rarely given in my quest to see how many would choose to blame their own behavior for being in their predicament, however the vast majority chose to blame someone else or felt that society owed them something they could not simply get on their own without resorting to illegal activities. I firmly believe they knew right from wrong, however the blame of others appeared strangely to make them feel that the illegal or immoral behaviors they were involved in were somehow understandable and in their twisted logic, maybe even understandable given the circumstances.

    I am reminded almost daily when I watch the news of those people who choose to blame others for their own predicament. While some of these actions are illegal others are simply the result of someone’s own appalling, immoral behaviors. For example, just today I observed on one national news program where Hillary Clinton was once again blaming everyone else (seriously, only one I think she left out blaming was the Pope) for her loss to Donald Trump for the presidency. This was followed closely by a story regarding Kathy Griffin, who just yesterday took responsibility for crude behavior when she was shown in a photo holding in her hand the mock-up of Trumps head with blood pouring down over the head. One day later Griffin, while standing beside her lawyer at a press conference, then decides that instead of taking responsibility for her crude behavior it was now Trump and Trumps “friends” fault after all for bullying her, causing her consternation and even job loss when several organizations cancelled her upcoming appearances.

    My commentary is not meant to be simple political diatribe or commentary, it just so happens these two incidents today encouraged me to again contemplate the important issue of today’s absence of some for the ability to accept responsibility for their own crude and often illegal behaviors. It also appears this lack of responsibility for one’s own immoral behavior is increasing instead of decreasing in society today, which of course should be of concern for everyone. I then began reflecting just how and perhaps even why accepting responsibility for one’s own behaviors appears to have drastically decreased over the years, what (if anything) had changed in society over the last few decades that made us less willing to accept responsibility for illegal and immoral behaviors, and lastly why it is that so many people often have difficulty uttering the simple phrase “I accept responsibility for what I have done, and I am sorry”. This contemplation could occur when they have done something illegal and of a criminal nature, or simply something one might have done that what most of us would agree is just immoral behavior. When exactly did it become acceptable to blame others for our own shortcomings and illegal/immoral behaviors?

    My conclusion regarding the general failure to accept responsibility for one’s poor behavior (again, it could be criminal or it could just be immoral or unbecoming behaviors) is that I believe the failure to accept responsibility is simply a learned behavior. I personally have found that Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory may help us to understanding how this type of behavior could develop, as I personally believe this so called poor behavior and failure to accept responsibility for one’s own bad behaviors is often learned from a very young age (although this learning process he refers to could admittedly continue throughout adulthood). In brief, Bandura believed young children learned their behaviors from what he termed influential people (or models) that may be around them (parents, characters on TV shows, friends within their peer groups, etc). Children then are blank slates (my term here, not Banduras) on which others in a child’s environment write, and unfortunately not all of those influential people Bandura was referring to in his theory explanations are teaching our kids good behaviors or even to accept responsibility for their poor behaviors or actions. Bandura goes into quite a bit more detail regarding his theory and its applications to explaining how people and especially kids learn, however I think the take away from his theory is that the only way we can influence these bad behaviors and teach kids to accept responsibilities for the wrongs that they may do is that we become good role models for our kids. It’s one thing to talk a good game but quite another to live up to our own hype sometimes, isn’t it? For example, telling our kids to respect their teachers and then when our child is discovered to have done something wrong in school instead of using that as a teachable moment for our child and reinforcing these valuable traits of proper behavior and accepting responsibilities for one’s own acts we choose to instead support that negative behavior by verbally attacking the teacher, therefore teaching the child that accepting responsibility for their behaviors is really not necessary. Ask any teacher if you do not think that the above scenario is accurate, I assure you they will tell you story after story from their own past that will reinforce there is a problem that needs to be addressed both with the student AND their parent or guardian.

    While accepting responsibility for one’s own acts in and of itself is not going to stop all criminality and bad behaviors from occurring I believe at least if we can take responsibility for our own actions, be a role model for kids, and call out bad behaviors when we see it we can perhaps start a trend (even small as it may be) that will hopefully lead us to a more civil and peaceful society.

  5. Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill- My views on this important topic

    In 1975 while I was attending the University of South Carolina pursuing my bachelor’s degree in general studies (there was no real law enforcement program on the four-year level at that time) I was lucky enough to get employed as a law enforcement officer with the S.C. Department of Mental Health. In the mid 70’s, at least in the Carolina’s, law enforcement jobs were hard to come by, and if not for my father working for the organization as a mechanic I most certainly would not have likely had the opportunity to get hired in the first place due to the tightness of the economy at the time and competition for jobs of any kind was fierce. Once I was employed I spent almost four years in the department, and before eventually leaving to work for the local sheriff’s department I had worked my way up to one of only two investigator positions we had at the institution. I still, to this day, firmly believe my position with the organization provided me with what one might term a unique perspective of sorts in the proper management and treatment of those in our society who need extra attention for their mental illnesses.

    While I was with the department I had the opportunity to see first-hand what could be done helping those with a mental illness by a caring institution. Even then I was convinced if left on their own, many of the patients would likely not have sought treatment on their own for their mental illness. I can recall even back then while I was working for the department there was talk of emptying the mental institutions around the nation and moving the treatment back to the local counties in which these individuals resided. Personally, I never saw that as a good idea even then, since from my own first-hand experience I saw far too many situations in which medication was refused by some of those the organization had responsibility for treating, often leaving it up to the ward nurses and doctors calling law enforcement to gently remind them that they had to take that medication. Occasionally it was not so gentle and we had to go hands on to control the individual (basically hold them down if they became violent) until a nurse could give them a shot or medication, followed in many cases by a short trip to the seclusion room.

    As time wore on and I left the organization I never really forgot those experiences I had in the organization and I kept tabs (as much as I could) with how the states were handling the many calls from concerned citizens to return the patients to those countries which they resided due to abuse in the institution of the mentally ill. Unfortunately, a few cases (some legit and some not) I nationwide believe fueled this movement towards deinstitutionalization, as when I was investigating cases of patient abuse (usually by staff members versus a patient) I can recall the upsurge in interest by the local media and “concerned citizens” to get the patients out of the charge of the state for their own safety. Again, much of this was hype, and while we did have a few cases of abuse it was nothing, at least in our organization, that rose to the degree that we should throw good common sense out the window to make a few do-gooders feel better about themselves (my view of the movement). Just another case of people calling for changes about a subject that were not needed nor did they know anything about, except what they read in the local newspapers (and we know how accurate those are, right?). This is not the first time a group of individuals would try to get involved in something they know little about and get caught up in the emotions of the issue (after all, who could be against in our case, the fair and equitable treatment of the mentally ill), throwing common sense out the window just to often feel better about themselves. Perhaps we should have just given out happy face stickers and say “way to go, you’re making a difference!” and they would just disappear into the night (I am NOT hopeful in these regards).

    As previously noted I personally could see the handwriting on the wall and I just knew that far too many of these individuals, once released from the hospital custody, would likely later end up in our county jails and on occasion in our prisons. Far too often they would often not stay on their prescribed medications, would take illegal drugs instead of prescribed ones (illegal drugs, like heroin, marijuana, etc) and certainly in some cases would refuse to seek treatment on their own. It is of course a known fact (and not just in law enforcement) that many of the individuals we have homeless today are in fact mentally ill, and while I agree that not all of these people need to be hospitalized I still am of the opinion that we need to do a better job of management of the mentally ill. The problem we have today is that due to constitutional issues it is not always easy to get these people the help that they need, unless they agree to it of course. Even when you do there is occasional backlash from organizations like the ACLU, which recently filed suit in Houston, Texas because they felt the city, who was simply trying to offer the homeless alternatives to living on the streets, was forcing these homeless people against their wills into these residences, which I found rather troubling. Again, this is the problem that we often appeared when I was in law enforcement full time a few years ago, that when there is a problem that law enforcement or a city or county organization tries to address the do-gooders are out in force to keep us from helping those who really need our help, claiming instead (at least in this example case) we are treating them unfairly or illegally in some manner.

    In the end the failure to meet the needs of the mentally ill, and in some cases failing to treat them in a specialized institution, I believe should be a crime in itself. It is not only a disservice to the mentally ill but also is problematic for us in law enforcement, who far too often are having to address the problems caused by those with mental illnesses, which often range from simple calls for service to check on their welfare, calls of a homeless person with a mental illness threatening harm to themselves or others, or even calls where the illness has led to a person with a mental illness being taken into custody for a law violation. There is little doubt that something needs to be done to better help those with mental illnesses in an organized environment, however I just do not believe much will be done in the near future and the problem will continue to grow.

    I will be writing more about mental illness soon, as this is a topic of interest to me and I would like to share what I know and my experiences with the reader. I don’t suspect we will always agree with each other on this and many other topics, however that does not mean we should not discuss them in dialogue with each other, sharing thoughts and ideas about various topics of the day. Thanks for reading the ramblings of an old retired law enforcement officer, and please, be safe out there.



  6. In Regards to Sanctuary Cities

    I have tried for the life of me to figure out why some sheriffs, police chiefs, and local governments in some areas of our country are forming and supporting what we have come to know as sanctuary cities, seemingly oblivious to the fact that keeping those here with criminal records is likely to result in more crime and victims upon those who not just are legal citizens, but those who are in the United States illegally as well. Granted, the conversation seems to revolved around two issues that seemed to get entertained when we talk about sanctuary cities, which are the treatment of those who are here illegally but not committing crimes and the other group, which is here also illegally, but that are in fact committing crimes. It is my own opinion that in order to have a meaningful conversation about the topic of sanctuary cities that both of these issues need to be separated, perhaps even discussed as issues in their own right.

    Admittedly, there are a number of illegal immigrants who do not commit crimes and chose to live peacefully in our country (admittedly being here illegally IS a problem, but just not for this specific conversation). It probably comes as no great surprise that there are a number of other publicly written articles from reliable sources that proport that the majority of immigrants here choose to simply work and support their families, just as any other person born and raised in the United States. One such article was found in “The Hill”, which reviewed a Cato Institute study that stated “All immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives relative to their shares of the population,” Bernal, 2017). The reason this information is important is that it appears many of the supporters of sanctuary cities tend to focus on these individuals when supporting their arguments and often will argue the fact that the majority of those here illegally don’t commit crimes. They also seem to fear that those here illegally will somehow get lumped into the increased immigration efforts to deport those with criminal records, or that liberties for all will somehow suffer as those who may simply look foreign born will be detained and eventually deported for simply being here illegally. This last group tends to distrust the government even when having repeatedly been advised that the focus will be targeted on illegals who have committed crimes only, and not this latter group of people simply in the U.S. illegally.

    Those who find themselves on the law and order side of the criminal illegal immigrant issue and want these individual deported and do not support sanctuary city status concede the fact that most illegal immigrant do not choose to commit crimes (other than being here illegally). However, this group also does not believe we should lose sight of the responsibilities of the criminal justice system , which is to promote the general safety and welfare of those who are living peacefully and not committing crimes, both legally AND illegally I might point out. It is a known fact that a number of those here illegally who have committed crimes will continue to do so once they are released on bond or after time served in our local jails and prisons. As a matter of fact, a recently released article on Worldnetdaily stated that “An August 2016 study of the relationship between “sanctuary city” policies and crime rates shows that cities refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities consistently have significantly higher violent crimes rates than do non-sanctuary cities with similar populations and demographics, WND has found” (Powe, 2017).

    In closing, it appears that the issue of sanctuary cities will not simply go away anytime soon and instead, we will likely be seeing this topic discussed and taken up in our nation’s highest courts, as the sanctuary cities policies continue to proliferate and get support from certain segments of our society. I believe we should expect to see crime rise amongst this group of illegal criminal aliens, all due to the baseless fears reviewed earlier in this article, of those who support continuing the sanctuary cities policies. Perhaps the real question we need to be asking regarding sanctuary cities is how much risk do we feel our nations citizens must be exposed to and how many crimes committed by this group of illegal criminals accused and convicted of crimes before we finally make a decision to return to the rule of law and demand cooperation between the nations federal and state criminal justice systems on this important problem? Unfortunately, I am not hopeful in these regards, as the past informs us that far too often the general safety and security of our nations citizens has often been ignored for both political and “social justice” reasons.

  7. Fairness, Refugees, Common Sense and Safety

    I don’t believe it is any great revelation to the reader that we as Americans are often focused on fairness, especially when we consider fairness in the legal environment. Certainly no one wants people to suffer different outcomes in the legal system due to who they are or in some cases what they may believe, and it only makes good sense to ensure that in the end the “punishment fits the crime” for those who are accused and convicted of a criminal violation of our laws. Although not entirely the reason why our country was founded, fairness was certainly important focus to our original founders, who eventually provided us with unarguably the most important document (in my opinion) to be developed in our nations short history, the Constitution.

    However, what is problematic is when fairness seems to become more important, and trumps (pardon the use of the word here) good common sense, and more importantly becomes more important than the issue of safety of our nations citizens. Of course, we can view fairness and the refugee crisis from a political perspective, where both the general left and right offer their arguments for more or less refugees to be brought into our country, but these arguments seem to be a distraction from the more important focus, which should be on the safety and well-being of our current nations residents. Again, I am going to skip over most of those comments from the political spectrum, not wanting to get “caught in the weeds” of the real focus of my discussion, however I do note the validity of points from both sides of those political perspectives.

    So, exactly when does the safety of the public become a side issue and fairness come into play in our current refugee crisis? Is it acceptable to let ANYONE in from countries in which proper vetting cannot be done, regardless if we are talking about those of the Muslim or any other religious belief? Or should we throw good common sense out the window and accept all refugees, knowing full well the possibility of someone being admitted who might cause us (or someone else) harm? Is there perhaps an acceptable level of harm we should consider as acceptable before we pull the plug on accepting new refugees?

    I personally will always side with the safety and security of the public, after all that is where I spent the majority of the last 40 years, serving and protecting the public, but I do understand that not everyone feels (or should feel) the same way on this subject. It seems there are those who want to ignore the issues of fact (or at least ignore the possibilities of safety) and think instead with their hearts, ignoring full well the possible consequences, of letting poorly vetted refugees into our country. I believe their argument would be it’s not fair we let in people from other countries while people from some war-torn areas are turned away. Fairness it seems to some will always win out over safety and good common sense of the matter.

    In closing, it is my firm opinion that we cannot always be fair when the subject of safety and security of our nations people are concerned. At some point in time good common sense needs to prevail and safety should become the overriding factor for letting in new refuges, no matter whence they originate from. Admittedly, I do not possess all the answers on this important topic, and the purpose of this missive is to promote discourse and consideration of the presented information among the reader. We cannot always agree on everything, but should we not at least agree that safety should be our main concern when it comes to accepting new refugees when the possibility of harm to our nations people exists?

  8. Deterrence- a term that needs to be dropped from the criminal justice vocabulary

    I spoke on my Blog a couple of days ago about response times, a somewhat sensitive topic (at least to the typical command staff of your average law enforcement organization today) that seems to rear its head now and then in the law enforcement community, especially when it comes to talking about organizational efficiency, effectiveness and citizen satisfaction levels with law enforcement services. Another similar topic that we see appear now and then in law enforcement is the issue of deterrence, which is what I would like to spend time reviewing in this short piece today. Just like the topic of response times law enforcement has also been judged on how well they deter crime, and the topic does have its way of materializing now and then in community conversations, as the community expects law enforcement to quickly and efficiently move to arrest the offender and to just as swiftly punish them to deter other law breakers who would consider doing some reprehensible criminal act. In this commentary, I will first be reviewing the two types of deterrence often seen in the literature and review how ineffective deterrence appears to be in today’s volatile environment, where prison is no longer seen by many (especially the chronic offenders) as a punishment to be avoided, but appears to be just another notch in the belt along an extensive career path. I will also discuss how we as a justice system should avoid relying too much on utilizing the term deterrence excessively in public when discussing the effectiveness and efficiency of our criminal justice system initiatives.

    So first, what is a good working definition for both general and specific deterrence? More likely you have heard of the term deterrence before, perhaps even before beginning service in the justice field (if you have served). Typically, it would be the type of subject that came up in a conversation with a friend or family member, who may have been commenting on how someone they knew or discovered in a news or TV review had committed some criminal act. Typically, the comment would go something like this, “That’s exactly what is going to happen to you to if you break the law, you will end up in prison too if you get in trouble with the law”. As a child, of course this may have even had some positive effect on your behavior (both criminal and non-criminal) and even may have stuck with you throughout your adulthood. However, as quite a number of us aged this lesson regarding deterrence and spending time in prison for committing a criminal act may have been lessened, and we may have even swayed by numerous other negative events we were subjected to along the way. These life events that could eventually affect our thoughts on criminality are many, and range from family risk factors (child abuse and neglect, family violence, family conflict and hostility, divorce etc), peer risk factors (association with deviant peers), school and community risk factors (poor performance in school and exposure to family poverty), and even mental health risk factors, just to name a few. While some may avoid the risk factors and choose to follow the community expectations and the law, many do not. For this group the sway that deterrence may have on their decisions to get involved criminal activities or misdeeds I would suggest is likely poor indeed.

    The other type of deterrence is called specific deterrence, which can quite simply be illustrated as the individual who has been placed into the penal system (prison or jail) after arrest and adjudication, who therefore may no longer be available to prey on the public because they are “not available, or at least we can say they have temporarily being taken out of the pool of possible criminal offenders”. Of the two types of deterrence this one seems to be most plausible, and there have even been some indications of effectiveness of specific deterrence as some researchers have pointed to the decline in crime during the mid-90’s as being attributable to our increased focus on punishment and incarceration of offenders. However, even when we review this type of deterrence I think we should not forget the possible long term implications of specific deterrence, as it is a well-known fact that the vast majority of those who are released from prison or jail eventually work their way back into our community once again. While we really cannot argue the short-term implications regarding criminal offending and specific deterrence I think it’s all to possible to lose sight of what happens to many of those who are released who continue on a career path once released, far too often only to have learned more tricks of the trade while in custody of our correctional system. This may also affect the way in which they view criminality once released, as the chances of getting caught and returning to custody just may not hold the same influence as before they entered the correctional system.

    In closing, while the subject of deterrence is not something that is likely to disappear anytime soon in the criminal justice vernacular I do believe we need to take a closer look at our uses of the term and tread carefully as we navigate through using the term in our daily responsibilities in the justice system. I believe we should, as law enforcement and the justice system as a whole, reflect on the fact that far too often in today’s changing society, as expectations, values, and mores have changed, the term deterrence may no longer serve as a useful descriptor for the affects the justice system may have on someone’s decision to engage in criminal acts. Furthermore, in terms of using the term to gauge such issues as effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system as a whole it is my suggestion that the term use should be dissuaded in our discussions and conversations in public. Advising the public of someone’s arrest and the person was brought to justice should suffice (if anything is stated at all), trying to make points utilizing a term that has little accuracy and value for some in society benefits no one in the long run and may be misleading.

  9. Expedited Response Times – The Irrationality of Getting There Quickly

    I feel fairly confident that if you have been engaged in law enforcement for any length of time that your agency has, at least at some point in time, had a laser like focus on reducing response times to calls for police service. You might even have noted the issue of improving response times may be especially of interest to the command staff right around budget presentation time, given this issue is likely to appear in budget talks with their city council or commissioner’s courts. I can hear it now, if you want quicker response times then give us more funding and we will deliver with more arrest, more crimes solved, and a happy public (who put you in office by the way). For those who pull out these points to support their efforts to receive more public funds they should be ashamed of themselves, for if this were a regular business establishment and not a public entity they would likely be called on the carpet by leadership for trying to pull a fast one on the organization to increase their funding with questionable facts. There are of course other good reasons one might bring up to address law enforcement organization budget needs, but response times in my view should be left out of any requests for public monies.

    Regarding the issue of response times in general I have always found it a bit troubling that we focus so much on getting to a crime quickly when in fact 70-80% of reported calls are those that do not involve a crime in progress and are usually for non-emergency calls for service, such as discovery crimes where the incident has already occurred. Interestingly enough, it has also been reported that only 19% of calls involve crime at all, and only two percent are reported violent crimes. So, why is it that law enforcement for decades now has possessed such a high expectation of their officers to get to a scene quickly, given these facts I just presented that they are likely aware of? Should we seriously take the expectation of getting their quickly for approximately 2% of the in-progress crimes and extrapolate that same expectation to the rest of the 98% that we do that is not of an emergency nature and that does NOT need an enhanced response time?

    How did we get to this point regarding response times anyway? Well, let’s briefly discuss some possible reasons we are where we are today regarding why fast response times are needed in the typical law enforcement organization. If you do a little research on the topic of response times I think you will find that the biggest reason is that we in law enforcement has actually precipitated the problem by convincing the public that a quicker response times will result in more arrests (which is a bit ludicrous) and second offered that quicker response times will improve citizen satisfaction (and whose not for that, right?). In essence law enforcement and our politicians I might add have communicated to the public through its media and communications campaigns that if you call we will come (and we will get their quickly I might add).

    Yes, it is my opinion that law enforcement has no one to blame but themselves regarding the setting of irrational expectations regarding the value and need for expedited response times. Expectations have become so ingrained into the minds of those in the positions of influence (both law enforcement and politicians I might add) and the typical law enforcement organization itself that it will take a change of paradigm proportions to engender some sanity back into the issue of response times. One suggestion that I might offer is that the expectations can be changed over time by having dispatch (the first ones usually to talk to the public about needed police services) advise the public of any delay in responses to a call for service and also perhaps even offering a possible time of arrival by the officer. The second thing that can be done is the department should make efforts to advise the public through something like an ad campaign or similar communication effort made in the local newspaper or by radio of the true value of getting their quickly. I don’t think this will happen because of the focus on public relations, however public relations fears should not really be a concern if the efforts are done slowly over time and with some forethought behind the campaign.

    In closing, I think it is past time we dealt with this important issue and at least make an attempt to change long term public perception and opinion about the need for expedited response times. How about you?



  10. Civil Process and Law Enforcement

    I recently had the opportunity to attend a civil process in service class , which I took on a whim if you will, as it seemed to be a challenging topic and one that quite frankly I knew little about. In my past law enforcement officer career whenever I was approached by a citizen with a question of a civil nature I always either pointed them to a lawyer or asked them to call the local magistrates or constables office for more information, not wanting to mislead them for one, and two, I was unwilling at the time to just admit to them quite frankly I did not have a clue about the civil side of things very well. After all, who in a position of authority like a law enforcement officer likes to admit we don’t know something, right?

    In addition to learning the “process” if you will (the nuts and bolts of service and return) of civil process we also learned about the interesting background of civil process and the many uses that these tools afforded people like you and I for civil redress in our courts. Issues we reviewed , for example, were landlord tenant suits, subpoenas, protective orders, restraining orders, writs of attachment, writs of reentry, distress warrants, eviction suits, etc. While much of the class was spent in explaining when and how to make service and the many challenges and dangers that one can face when performing these court duties as a constable or sheriff deputy the time spent on reviewing the tools themselves was also very informative.

    If you ever have a chance to take a civil process class I highly recommend it, as I think you will be surprised at the tools that are available for us for civil remedy in the event that we or someone we know may be civilly injured by someones actions or in some cases inaction and we suffer a loss as a result. I now wonder why I waited 40 years to take a civil process class quite frankly, perhaps it was because i felt it was the courts or the constables job to explain the process to the citizenry or it just was not my responsibility. After all, I was a police officer who enforced the criminal laws of my state not a civil process officer who needed to worry about such things. I now know that was a mistake on my part, as it was indeed a part of my job functions, even if I did not actually perform those duties or have those responsibilities.



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