Like most Minnesotans, I would like to share my deep sympathy for the family of Justine Damond. Like many, I’m angered that her tragic death was caused by a police officer sworn by oath to serve and protect. As a former police officer, I have no patience for the rash of killings by police officers in this nation who default to shooting when there are clearly other options available.
While it is easy to blame the law enforcement community, we can’t lose sight of the fact that our elected officials, such as Mayor Betsy Hodges, share responsibility for the actions of the Minneapolis Police Department. In my view, Hodges has been a weak leader, as evidenced by her consistent failure to support Janeé Harteau in the now-former police chief’s struggle to actually change the culture of the department. Hodges exemplifies the behavior of many city leaders who lack a basic understanding and the courage to fully understand the challenges that need to occur to implement critical organizational changes.
A rudimentary grasp of organizational change reveals that it takes five to seven years to fundamentally alter the culture of an organization. Instead, government leaders consistently fire their chiefs when they are so close to success, because it’s politically expedient. This pattern ensures that police departments rarely make any significant changes.
After the Philando Castile shooting and numerous community meetings, the solution of the Falcon Heights City Council was to end its long-standing contract with the St. Anthony Police Department and contract instead with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office. Why do they think that county officers’ behavior will be different? If government leaders really wanted change, they would have the courage to work through the challenges — a process true leaders understand.
Since 1972, when Congress passed an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and law enforcement agencies were required to hire female police officers, there have been numerous studies about the effects of women in policing. Every study observing female police officers has indicated the following:
1) Female officers tend not to use excessive force. When they use force, they tend to use less-lethal force, such as chemical spray and Tasers.
2) Female officers rely on a community-oriented style of policing that is less authoritarian, more communicative and geared toward problem-solving.
3) Female officers are usually better at defusing potentially violent confrontations with citizens before they turn deadly.
4) Female officers are less likely than male officers to engage in serious improper conduct.
5) Female officers cost municipalities less than male officers. Male officers are 8½ times more likely than female officers to have allegations of excessive force result in costly legal settlements.
Does this mean that female officers are better than male officers? Of course not. It simply means that female officers, given equal training, handle cases differently and that male officers can learn from female officers’ approach to policing. Given the research, an obvious strategy is to hire more of them. Yet female police officers remain at embarrassingly low numbers — approximately 12 percent of departments in the country.
We also need to closely evaluate where our training dollars are going. It’s great that the Minnesota Legislature funded $1.5 million for police training, but who is evaluating the training? Who’s developing and conducting it? The Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board and the Department of Public Safety tend to use the same training organizations without assessing effectiveness. When looking closely, one might find the same regurgitated messages: “We’re the cops and you’re not!”
Our current government leaders are perfectly capable of solving the policing crisis that faces our nation. They think that simply changing leadership at the top is the answer without developing a comprehensive police plan that other countries and municipalities in the U.S. have successfully implemented. Police officers will always make mistakes — they are human. But we need leaders at the top with the courage to hire and support the best administrators, get buy-in from the communities served and be willing to change the culture of policing.
Laura Goodman, of St. Paul, is a retired deputy chief of police in Brooklyn Center, a former ombudsman for the Minnesota Office of Crime Victims, a former sergeant in the Minneapolis Police Department and a former deputy sheriff in the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office. She is a past president of the International Association of Women Police and continues to serve on its board of trustees. She works with the National Center for Women and Policing.