Monday, July 11, 2016

Ideas Matter

The news is tragic and yet repetitive. Again we are hearing, and seeing, footage of unarmed men (and occasionally women) dying at the hand of local Police.  In Dallas, we’ve just seen a horrific attack in the reverse.  As appalling and distressing as it is, the actions in Dallas were carried out as a form of retribution for the reckless treatment and perhaps intentional slaying of these victims.  A situation that has been complicated and escalated by our judicial system which so often shields these Police officers from responsibility and consequence.

My greatest struggle with the needless deaths that we are seeing, is the on-going lack of accountability.   How can this be allowed?  Why isn’t it changing?  I believe there are many good cops out there, so why aren’t they leading the public outcry?    

For me it’s frustratingly similar to the infuriating circumstances that led to the housing crisis and collapse of our financial markets nearly a decade ago.  There too, a lack of accountability.  And there too, we felt powerless.  As I see it, our Country is running toward chaos at an ever faster pace.  A look at our political front-runners gives evidence to our dismay and disgust. 

Is it unsolvable?  I don’t think so.  I think we remain stuck because the problems seem too big, or our ideas too small.  I have an idea.  It is small, but perhaps also powerful.  It attends to one piece of the pie - responsibility.  And it's frighteningly simple.  It requires our Police Departments to make a concrete effort to bring change, and to take a firm stand to uphold it. 

Allow me to give an example.  For seven years I ran a Peer Mediation program in two public middle schools.  In that time I trained over 270 student mediators and supervised their conducting of more than 900 peer to peer mediations.  We know that youth in this pre and early adolescence are given to social pressures, gossip, and rumors.  Yet in the seven years I ran that program there was not a single incidence of broken confidentiality.  How is that possible?  Tightly held standards.  

During the recruitment process confidentiality was a major point of questioning.  Did they understand it?  How would they handle issues related to it?  During the training phase confidentiality and its sanctity were again discussed.  It was explained that the nature of their role required complete trust, and that any diminishment of trust would damage the reputation of the whole program.  Finally, before training was completed, students were told how breaches of confidentiality would be handled – with immediate dismissal from the program.  The process was clear and it was fair.  As the head of the program I would investigate any claim of breached confidentiality.  Regardless of whether this yielded proof that confidentiality had been breached, or merely resulted in lingering concerns that the claim was true, the accused student would be dropped from the program.  There was no grand punishment, no humiliation, no other consequence.  And yet it never once happened.  There was pride in being a part of the program, and an awareness that their job as mediators was to help.  I believe that pride and those values are just as strong in the majority of our Police officers.    

If middle-school students, grappling with peer pressure and gossip can be held to this high a standard, how is it that our own Police officers are not?  There are ample opportunities to spell out the consequences of reckless or haphazard performance during recruitment, during training, and during the tenure of a Police officer.  It could be managed with annual bonuses that are denied officers who are suspected of engaging in behaviors that diminish the public’s trust.  This would include questionable uses of force, and convenient losses of body cameras.  Another option would be to place any officer who inappropriately discharges his/her firearm on restrictive duty/desk work for a period of at least 6 months.  These simple solutions create an environment where Police officers are encouraged to make better decisions and take only appropriate actions.     

There is a definitive need for personal responsibility from our law enforcement, and an even more imperative need for a rebuilding of trust with civilians.  We need to share our ideas, however small, and we need to work together to build solutions to this chaos.  We need to focus on creating a world where all lives matter.

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