Friday, December 12, 2014

The PhD Cop


The post below completes eight years of blogging once a month. Because I think I have a third book in me, I plan now to take a break from the regular 700-1100-word routine. Writing these posts has been fun and stimulating, but it also has become a distraction to thinking about a book. I probably will continue to write an occasional post, most likely shorter comments or follow-ups on previous remarks.

Writing a book is a lengthy process, so don’t expect anything anytime soon. I will say this: the topic I have in mind is independent judgment as the fundamental psychological requirement of a free society.

Thank you for your patronage.

Update. I have resumed once-a-month posts, so ignore the above. I am also working on the book. January 2016.

The PhD Cop

As I have written before (1, 2), I am not terribly impressed by credentials, especially those granted by universities. Nevertheless, when a policeman earns a PhD degree, and does so from Harvard, I have to take note.

The late Joseph McNamara was a by-the-bootstraps scholar and cop. He earned his bachelor’s degree attending night classes while walking a daytime beat in Harlem. He was granted a fellowship to Harvard in 1968 and wrote his dissertation on law enforcement’s handling of drug use before 1914. He became deputy inspector of crime analysis in New York, then served three years as Kansas City’s police chief and fifteen as San Jose’s. He concluded his career as research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Somewhere in that career, he found time to write five crime novels and many op-ed essays criticizing today’s police culture. He was called the father of community policing and hailed as twenty years before his time.

Though politically conservative, he vehemently opposed the drug war and militarization of the police. He advocated the legalization of marijuana and the end of mandatory sentencing.

Community policing operates on the assumption that even in high-crime areas, the vast majority of citizens are law-abiding and want the police to be there to protect them from criminals. It’s the “we’re on the same side” notion that the policemen and the citizens, paraphrasing the song from Oklahoma, should be friends, not enemies.

McNamara learned this lesson on the streets of Harlem and, as a result, insisted on dialogue and cooperation between cops and citizens in his two cities as chief.

Statistics don’t lie (usually)—crime decreased.

In 1991, after the videotaped beating of Rodney King, McNamara called for the resignation of Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates. His point? The viciousness of the beating could only mean that this was not an isolated incident and that the credibility of policing was called into question.

His last op-ed, written for Reuters on August 19 after the Ferguson, Missouri, shooting, is titled “Never an Excuse for Shooting Unarmed Suspects . . .” The cops’ primary goal, he maintained, is to protect human life and only shoot when confronted with imminent danger from a gun or knife.

In a 2006 Wall Street Journal op-ed, referring to two shootings of unarmed victims in New York, McNamara stated that in the two cases neither he, his father, his older brother, nor other relatives—all of whom had worked a cumulative total of 150 years in the NYPD—would have fired a shot.

Though in the Ferguson situation there may have been a justifiably perceived danger from an under-the-influence big man trying to take the officer’s gun away from him, the message from McNamara is clear. Police need to remember they are the citizens’ champions, not their intimidators or oppressors, garbed up in paramilitary, black-shirted outfits with weapons and explosives designed for the battlefield.

The phrases “soldier’s general,” “player’s coach,” “student’s teacher,” and “worker’s manager” describe someone in authority who worked his or her way up to that position but who also has not forgotten what it was like in the lower level.

Empathy and understanding, which is just another way of saying being nice, make respected and accomplished leaders. While there certainly are exceptions, many privileged generals, coaches, teachers, and managers who either do not work their way up to the positions of authority or who arrogantly and deliberately forget their pasts only become fixed-mindset bullies.

Dr. McNamara was the citizen’s policeman and chief. We need far more like him.

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