Sheriff Susan Rahr

Address at the Community Oriented Policing Services Conference

delivered August 2011, Washington, D.C.



I’m here to talk to you this morning about two topics that you’re going to find on this week’s agenda. On the surface, those topics don’t seem -- don’t seem to be related but I believe as we examine the challenges of policing into the next decade, they’re both going to emerge as critical and related themes.

The topics, of course, are the consolidation of police service and procedural justice. I expect for most of you the term consolidation evokes the image of a large behemoth organization sucking up local police departments that deliver personalized services tailored to their very unique tight-knit communities. It’s hard to image how consolidation could be an improvement.

The term procedural justice probably evokes confusion in most of you and to some probably a groan that this is going to be the next touchy feely thing in community policing. But my goal this morning is to get you to think differently about both of these concepts and consider how they’re both key to policing in our new economy.

But before I delve into that, I’d like to share with you a recent discussion I had with the leadership of my police union. My Chief Deputy and I were asking for input from the union about how to set more clear, straightforward goals for the Sheriff’s office.

Like many other police departments, we’ve ran the -- run the gamut over the last decade trying to set goals for every conceivable facet of policing. They became so complex we couldn’t fit them on a business card and the mention of goals would lead to spontaneous eye-rolling and gagging.

Today we’re at the other end of the spectrum trying to simplify, develop two straightforward goals to direct what we do and how we do it, in a way that doesn’t make the deputies lose their lunch.

The union leaders and I kicked off our discussion with two straightforward goals, fight crime and treat people with respect. Wow, that sounded great! It’s action-oriented for the guys in the street and it has just enough political correctness for those bleeding hearts that control our budget.

We wanted our goals to be useful in helping us decide whether or not we should expend effort and resources into a particular course of action. When we did a test drive on the fight crime goal against our most frequent calls for service, what we discovered is it didn’t quite fit.

A lot of what we do has very little to do with fighting crime, but a great deal to do with maintaining peace and order and protecting people; like trying to find the Alzheimer’s patient who’s wandered away from the bingo game, refereeing two neighbors who are having a dispute over a property line and a tree branch. How many people have handled those calls?

Or rescuing the unprepared hiker who’s next in line for the Darwin award. These kinds of calls have nothing to do with crime. What we have to accept is that fighting crime is too narrow, what we really do is protect people. Gee, what an epiphany!

Our collective two hundred years of experience, education, and creativity brought us to this radical new idea that our core mission is to protect people. It’s amazing what labor and management can do when we work together.

Next we moved the discussion to our goal about how to treat people. Again, it sounds very politically correct to say treat people with respect, but my union leaders challenged me and said be more specific. Does that mean we have to say please and thank you? Address everyone as M’am and Sir?

After a heated discussion and the continuing challenge, what do you really mean Sheriff? I exploded with, "Don’t be a jerk!". There was a stunned silence. Then a cheer. We’ve got our two goals! Fight crime and don’t be a jerk!

But then we had to concede even though it fits on the business card, it doesn’t sound very professional. After a lot more discussion, we agreed that the key to treating people with respect was to have the mindset of service. And that’s what we settled on. To serve. Now, we had two goals that would fit on our business card and had a strangely familiar ring. Protect and serve.

Now this -- this story is mostly true about the discussion that took place in my office. I do have to confess though I didn’t use the word jerk. You can use your imagination and guess which body part I referred to.

I share this story with you to illustrate how with the best of intentions over time, we’ve over complicated our core mission which hasn’t changed in the last decade or even in the last century.

What has changed dramatically are the tools and strategies available to carry out that mission. Today we have the mixed blessing of tremendous advances in technology. On the downside, the internet has given criminals a smorgasbord of victims crossing every jurisdictional boundary. The evil and crazy among us can find each other and conspire with just a couple of key strokes.

On the up side, computers, wireless communication, and forensic science have given us tools to track, analyze, and identify criminals in a way we couldn’t have imagined twenty years ago.

An AP story I just read yesterday talked about cameras and smart phones being the new crime fighters. They quote a Utah police chief who hopes to add an unmanned blimp full of surveillance cameras to his current arsenal of surveillance tools. Chief Jon [Greiner], I hope I am pronouncing that correctly, said, “When I hired on in the seventies (like me) we had 25 thousand calls for service handled by a hundred and twenty-five officers. Today we handle over a 100 thousand calls a year with only a hundred and forty officers.”

Adding to the challenge of having fewer officers, we have so many options for communicating and so much information, that we get buried trying to sort through what’s relevant.

The Director of the FBI Chicago Crime Lab, whose name I can't pronounce, recounted a story where a Chicago police officer dropped off a computer at the regional forensic's lab and said just print up everything that's on it. Those of you that are tech savvy know where this is going. He was stunned to learn that a typical two terabyte hard drive could contain over four hundred million pages of text.

Now, I've been in policing for a long time. I don't know that many cops that would read four hundred pages of text, I certainly wouldn't. The tools and expertise we need to simply manage information and the forensic opportunities are critical but very expensive. More than ever our ability to stay ahead of the criminals depends on our ability to pay for the tools and training.

Most criminals leave a long and winding trail of digital evidence but it takes equipment and expertise to harvest it. Ladies and gentlemen with the new technology it is within our grasp to finally be able to do the stuff that detectives do on TV. We're almost there.

In real life this kind of technology will be the force multiplier we need to deal with crime that's facing us in the future with fewer officers. The only problem and it's a big one is money. This kind of technology isn't cheap. And where's the money going to come from?

I had the good fortune to hear a very creditable economist at a recent cops' forum talk about our new economy. Suffice it to say that I learned that we will not experience again in our lifetime, the kind of funding we've had in law enforcement for the past two decades.

The presentation got me over my delusion that we just have to wait out the recession and then Congress and our local governments will turn that spigot of funding back on. It's not going to happen.

The only place we're going to find funding for this critical technology is to stop spending what we already have on stuff that doesn't directly protect and serve people.

Over the past 50 years for a variety of reasons we've shifted our focus more toward protecting and serving the needs of our profession and our government. I don't mean that as a criticism. We're long overdue in doing a better job of keeping our cops on the street safer with better training and equipment.

Advanced methods and technology help us apprehend criminals more effectively. These are very good and necessary endeavors. But we've also spent a lot of taxpayers' money building separate and parallel and redundant infrastructures so that every city, no matter what size could have their own freestanding police department with the unfettered control of their local government.

I know in my county of about two million, we have 39 cities. Most of which incorporated to fulfill their desire for local control. There was a time that our economy could support this model of service delivery. But it's a very expensive way to deliver the full range of police services.

Now before those of you in city police departments start throwing tomatoes at me, I want to be clear. I believe local control is critical in delivering creditable and effective police service.

Communities are not well-served by a nameless, faceless bureaucracy that is not tied to the people. What I'd like you to consider is a model like the one that we've used in King County for 25 years that allows 13 or our 39 cities to exercise local control and ownership of police service while sharing the infrastructure and specialty services that make policing so expensive.

Thirteen of fourteen cities incorporated in the past 20 years have a police service contract with the Sheriff's office. Each city selects their chief from a pool of more than a hundred command staff members of the Sheriff's office. Each city, the city chief operates the same as any regular police chief. The city council and city manager decide what the priorities will be and how the resources will be directed. The officers wear blue uniforms selected by their city and drive police cars with the city logo. Most of our citizens have no idea that their police officers are supplied or supported by the Sheriff's office.

In fact, I remember in one of our cities shortly after the contract started, a citizen told me these officers are so much better than those damn Sheriff's deputies. They do a better job and by God they look better. Well, I will concede blue is slimming.

I didn't have the heart to tell these city officers. These were the exact same people that were Sheriff deputies last week. The only -- only they're wearing blue uniforms and driving city cars.

What was truly different though was their chain of command. Now they reported to a local chief who reported directly to the City Manager rather than the nameless, faceless bureaucracy. Their allegiance was to the city and the residents who lived there, just like any other city cop. The city government got local control but the per capita cost for police service using this model was about half of what it would be for a similar sized agency.

This model for policing is only one of the ways to share and consolidate services without sacrificing local control. There are many other models that range from sharing only support services like dispatching and records management to forming a single metropolitan agency.

My point is this, we have roughly 18,000 police departments in this country. Imagine the money that can be saved and reinvested in technology for crime fighting and officer safety.

Having all that technology will be a huge step forward but it's not going to be enough. At the end of the day we're still vastly outnumbered by the people we serve and we're going to have to rely more and more on their cooperation and support. The good news is that over the past 20 years we've made great strides in implementing community policing strategies. And we've engaged our communities and built ties between the police and the neighborhoods.

The crime rate in my county is lower than it's been in 50 years. Similar trends are being seen all over the country. You would expect that public trust and support for law enforcement would be at an all time high.

Now, the bad news, with record low crime rates and the best trained officers we've ever had, the public's perception of the police has not improved. It's especially bad in low income and minority communities.

For those of you who don't believe this or wonder why, I encourage you to attend a workshop in procedural justice. You'll get your answers from a leading expert in this nation whose been studying this phenomenon for 30 years. What he's discovered is people don't care as much about the crime rate as they do about how they're treated by the police.

Their trust in law enforcement depends on their perception of fair treatment. Their willingness to cooperate with police and obey laws is directly tied to their belief that police authority is fairly exercised therefore legitimate. Simply wearing a badge doesn't give you legitimacy and doesn't ensure cooperation.

So what does that mean for law enforcement leaders? If we're truly going to engage people in improving the safety of their neighborhoods and keep their support for adequate funding we must improve trust in police.

To be honest, it isn't that hard to do in middle and upper class neighborhoods where the crime rate is always low and people rarely have direct contact with the police. Where the growing challenge lies is in minority and low income communities where residents already feel disenfranchised by a history of negative interaction with government and law enforcement.

If they haven't personally felt mistreated by the police, they've heard stories from friends who have. And those bad stories stick for a long time. Rebuilding trust in a community that's been broken or damaged can be done most effectively one interaction at a time. It doesn't matter how many showy programs or community meetings you have, they don't make up for bad one-on-one street contacts.

So how do we as leaders improve individual interactions between the deputies and the people that we serve? We have to effectively convey to every cop on the street the importance of people feeling like they're being treated fairly. This isn't a public relations issue, it's an officer safety and a crime control issue.

Professor Tom Tyler from New York University through his 30 years of research has given us a tested and validated recipe to ensure people -- to ensure that people feel that they are being treated fairly.

I've taken the liberty of simplifying that recipe into four specific steps represented by the acronym LEED, L-E-E-D. That stands for "listen" and "explain" with "equity" and "dignity," -- equity and dignity.

Bear with me for those of you that feel the gag reflex coming. These words are based on science, not political correctness. Here's what 30 years of research has proven. The simple act of listening, allowing a person in conflict to tell their side of the story de-escalates emotions. It also conveys respect when you take the time to listen. Explaining what you're going to do and why vastly increases the chances of cooperation especially when the explanation shows that you truly listened and that your course of action isn't a result of an unfair bias.

That's the equity part of the equation. The most important part of the interaction is leaving them with their dignity, even if you're leading them away in handcuffs. I hope most of the cops in this room are saying to yourself, duh, that's what good cops have always done, because you're right. But if we want to ensure that all of our cops especially the new ones, the text messaging generation, are doing what good cops do, we need to be very clear and very specific about what we expect them to do during those interactions.

Saying don't be a jerk or treat people with respect, isn't clear enough. LEED is. The reputation of your department and the level of trust that grows from the accumulation of thousands of one-on-one contacts, there's no public relations strategy that will change that.

I promise you if every cop in your department does these four things on every street contact, it will dramatically improve the cooperation on the street and the overall level of support for police. I hope most of you are skeptical about what I'm saying and you're motivated to go to a full panel discussion about procedural justice.

I just barely scraped the surface on a whole bunch of very, very important research. For those of you that want to try this at home, let me tell you how we're unveiling this concept in my office. We're going to start with in-service training for our current  deputies delivered by a cadre of our street officers not the team in the training unit. And we're delivering the training in conjunction with defensive tactics and we're not calling it procedural justice, we're calling it tactical communications.

We'll cover all the steps of LEED and all the principles of procedural justice. We'll emphasize the officers' safety benefits of gaining voluntary compliance. Simultaneously, we'll take an even more important step. We'll begin to train our supervisors and administrators to apply the principles of procedural justice to their daily interactions with the people they supervise and manage. They'll model the behavior in the station that we want to see on the street.

Our final step will be to incorporate the principles of procedural justice in our state training academy. We hope to get assistance from the cops office that will help us create a model that's tested and evaluated and can be replicated in any police agency in the country.

Policing in the new economy requires that we find more efficient and effective ways to carry out our core mission, to protect and serve. I believe that by employing consolidation strategies that fit with communities, we can realize enough savings to reinvest in the technology that is going to be necessary to protect our officers and our citizens.

To improve the trust, support, and cooperation from the people in our neighborhoods we also have to improve the way we serve. I believe institutionalizing the principles of procedural justice is key. I hope you'll attend a workshop and learn more.

For those of you who learn best through stories, I'd like to close by sharing a little cautionary tale about a DEA agent and how he learned the hard way that it's important to listen and that a badge doesn't convey legitimacy or ensure cooperation.

If you're a DEA agent, please don't be offended. You need to understand that one of my six brothers, the one that tormented me throughout my childhood, is a retired DEA agent.

So here's what happened. A DEA agent stopped at a ranch in Texas and talked to the old rancher. The agent said I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs. The rancher said okay but don't go into that field over there.

The agent exploded saying, "Mister I have the authority of the federal government with me." Reaching into his pocket, he removed his badge and proudly displayed it to the rancher. "See this badge? This badge means I'm allowed to go anywhere I want on any land, no questions asked. Have I made myself clear? Do you understand?" The rancher nodded politely and apologized and went about his chores.

A short time later that rancher heard loud screams and saw the agent running for his life chased by an enormous bull. With every step the bull was gaining ground and seemed likely that the agent was going to be gored. The agent was clearly terrified. The rancher threw down his tools, ran to the fence and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Your badge, show him your badge!"

Thank you very much.

Research Note: Transcription by Diane Wiegand

Page Updated: 8/2/18

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