The 5 big lessons from DOJ’s Ferguson report

Whatever you think of the report, you’d be wise to use it as an opportunity to learn and steer your department away from a similar fate


As expected, the DOJ report on Ferguson released this week basically spanked the department. The “highlights” can be read here, but it took the department to task on a number of fronts, from discriminatory policing practices to use of K9 officers. 

Whatever you think of the report, you’d be wise to use it as an opportunity to learn and steer your department away from a similar fate. There have been a lot of lessons from the Ferguson saga, but brace yourself for a few more. You might think you’re different because your public loves you, but that’s no reason to relax and enjoy being out of the spotlight. The crap might just hit your fan if you’re not paying attention. 

Here are five lessons we can learn from the Ferguson report:

1. Create enforceable policies. Your policy is what you do, not what you have written down. If you have a force review policy, use it or lose it. If your policy says supervisors have certain obligations, make it possible for the supervisors to have time and resources to do what the policy says. No matter how good a policy looks on paper, they aren’t real unless they are followed. 

2. Tattoo this phrase: “Every word is traceable”. Hard to believe that so many still think a radio transmission, mobile terminal communication, email conversation, or cell phone transaction will remain a secret. Open records requests will peel back anything you thought was secret. If you don’t want it in the news, don’t say it.

3. Don’t let your department ethics be held hostage by demands to generate revenue. Fines should be designed with a reasonable prevention incentive in mind as well as a means of financing the court function to administer them. If enforcement of the law is designed around raising funds rather than as means to create conformance with the law for the purpose of health and safety, the justification for policing become suspect. Court functions should be audited for integrity regularly. 

4. Learn to love stats, even if it hurts. Modern policing should be driven by data. Decisions for long term policy and practice must not be based on mere tradition, assumptions, or what you can get away with. More than just pin maps, modern leaders must become literate in reading trends and anomalies not just in criminal behavior, but officer behavior as well. 

5. Don’t get complacent about compliance. Generally we find that people comply with our requests and demands. The fact that most people do what we say is not a license to go beyond what the Constitution allows. No matter how frustrating it is to have a citizen walk away from us, or speak disrespectfully, the law is clear that we must have articulable facts for our contacts unless they are purely consensual. 

The critics won’t always play fair, but with the right preparation you’ll be in a much better position to defend against their criticisms.  

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