COMMENTARY ON THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND LAW ENFORCEMENT

This position paper is provided to the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce as a commentary on the state of the Criminal Justice System and Law Enforcement in particular. They are one person’s opinion based upon over forty years in law enforcement (see resume) and providing professional consulting services to many agencies.

The Criminal Justice System, and law enforcement specifically, is in the midst of a “retooling.” Just as many other professions it is time to call a time out, take stock of where we have been, examine what we are doing now and prepare for that unknown future with its host of issues, conundrums and epiphanies. 

If we exam our roots, they are based upon a set of Principles and theories that many of our current members of the System may have either forgotten or missed in the process of consuming the myriad of pieces of information that is thrust upon the public sector. It is important to examine some basic Principles before we go about making changes to a system or non-system, as the case may be. Looking at what works and what is the next new widget on the market requires that each of our agencies know their community and what will work. In Law Enforcement, one size does not fit all. What works in LA does not work in Boston. What works in Inglewood does not work in Pompano Beach. I have taken the liberty of expanding on some very basic set of Principles to consider. Let us take a look at some of the basic Principles that our forefather, Sir Robert Peel, established as it relates to policing our communities:

  • Policing exists to PREVENT crime and disorder. We need the approval of the public for all we do. We also need people to willingly cooperate in a voluntary observance of the law and understand their RESPONSIBILITIES as it relates to being a member of the community.
  • Respect for the law and respect for the community goes both ways. Our degree of cooperation diminishes the necessity of the use of force in any situation. We will work with persuasion, advice and warning in our attempts to secure observance of the law.
  • We should not and do not cater to public opinion. It is the law and a demonstration of absolute impartial service to the law and community that counts.
  • Police are just members of the community that are hired to really do, on a full-time basis, what all citizens should do.
  • The real test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not their visible evidence in dealing with it.
  • In exchange for the trust placed upon law enforcement there is a need to be enforcement and service driven. Both go hand in hand. In some communities, service becomes more important that enforcement. Not every community needs warriors that face danger every day, but there must be a little warrior in all to ensure they can perform their duties. 
  • Assertive law enforcement is a requirement, otherwise disorder will reign. While working to prevent crime there must also be an emphasis on enforcement that embraces pursuit of predators who do not have the best interest of the community at large. 
  • Law Enforcement must accomplish this within the framework of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, our state and federal law and do so with fairness and a reverence for the law. 
  • Access to its Police Department must be more than a 911 call. There is a need to incorporate new methods or ways to create access by the public.
  • Law Enforcement must play a vital role in the economic viability of the legitimate business community. Support of business is the lifeblood of any well balanced community. 
  • The must always be a basic Principle that the Community is ultimately responsible for its own safety. A community’s acceptance of fear or the perception of fear is unacceptable. The presence of responsible people from the community are as significant as a police presence in deterring the conditions that create crime. 
  • Law enforcement requires a willing compliance, not defiance. We first work for compliance and when that fails we are responsible for diverting those who cooperate with our efforts and devote time to those few, the criminal element, who will not cooperate on their own.
  • Emphasis should not be placed on police programs designed to make the community “feel good.” Rather, law enforcement at all levels should be a part of community based efforts such as a Boys and Girls Club, YMCA. Church organizations etc. Involvement, support, sponsorship and networking with other community based organizations pays more dividends in terms of community problem solving.
  • Each problem in the community must be assessed, responded to, analyzed and resolved at the lowest level. The goal is to eliminate problems, reduce them to a manageable proportion or remove the problem from consideration by finding its rightful owner.
  • The entire Criminal Justice System must take stock of the knowledgeable resources available to them in the prevention, enforcement and resolution of society’s problems. Law Enforcement did not create the disorder, the gangs, and organized efforts to disrupt a community’s tranquility. A community’s health, disorder, decay and fixes lie within the community itself. The satisfaction should lie in solving the problem and not just the apprehension of an offender. 
  • While we cannot arrest our way out of the criminal elements that plague many communities, we can design our way to a safer community through the use of crime prevention through environmental design efforts. As we remodel our cities, emphasis can be placed on examining the physical environment that may permit criminal conduct or disorder within.
  • While Police Departments cannot organize themselves out of a community’s problems, nor should they, examining the overall structure and terminology utilized and making modifications to provide action orientation is critical in today’s modern agencies. New management thinking must incorporate information from all sources to include the Community, Organization as a whole, the broad spectrum of the workforce and groups within the Department as well as individuals with key contributions. 

Police Departments by their very nature are the most visible representative of local, county and state government. In today’s new governance, they are not necessarily the one who can resolve all problems. 

Today, the Criminal Justice System must collaborate and network with those who need the services with those who provide specific services. Churches, schools and community based organizations are the keys to a successful community. 

Whether we call it community policing, constitutional policing, problem solving policing, it is basically “policing.” It is not about a law enforcement program, technique or a special style of policing. It is not foot patrols, bike patrols or even community relations. There needs to be an adherence to a set of 

Principles that incorporates a philosophy based upon the demands of the community. Crime is multi-dimensional and its solutions are as well. If crime goes up, the community must accept responsibility for the failure. Not the police. If crime goes down, it is the community that reaps the rewards and should be acknowledged. Not the police. 

A cautious message is required. 

  • Communities must support assertive enforcement and proactivity on the part of their police department. It is still the cornerstone of solid law enforcement. 
  • Each community must shape its own police department. One size does not fit all. 
  • There is clearly a police culture out there but, for the majority of individuals and agencies they do not tolerate misconduct from their peers. It is not about embracing a code of silence. It does support good police work that is tension filled and does not necessarily look the way we would like. 
  • Some police work is ugly. We cannot go to the movies and cheer on a “Dirty Harry,” and then condemn an officer for kicking out someone’s feet while they lay prone on the ground. 
  • Changes in law enforcement and the Criminal Justice System do not come easy. Three to five years is required for a lasting change. One can change Chiefs of Police, Mayors or City Councils but the systemic changes that are required must come from the bottom up. Remember that we do recruit from the human race.
  • Everyone has a better way. We can change our individual institutions with the stroke of a pen but we must also change, educate and train, yes, train, our communities. This starts in the schools, churches and community based organizations. Perhaps this is the element that is most lacking. We have highly trained law enforcement personnel but with the decline of programs such as DARE, we have not done a great job of training and educating the community about their rights and responsibilities.
  • Do not fall in to the trap of thinking that it is all about “driving while black,” or “driving while Hispanic”, “driving while being a teenager” or any another ethnicity. As you motor to your various destinations you will see a variety of traffic infractions. Then ask yourself, what is the sex of the driver? The ethnicity? What is the age? Or look at the car in front of you. Can you see the driver? As you pass a car can you see in the driver’s side window? It is just not that easy!

There is clearly a need to draw attention to the various policing methods utilized in our communities. They are different in many ways. They are not fundamentally alike. They may be alike in all unimportant respects but they are all different in things that really matter. Before we make changes we need to assess where we are and where we have been. Then we will know where we need to go, as a system and as a nation.    

J.C. De Ladurantey
Chief of Police, Retired