We Know How to Fix Policing in America. We Do.
There is no way to explain the solution without explaining how I know this to be true because, like the answer, I believe we are all the product of others. If there is anything that those four years in the Marine Corps, from ages 17 to 21, instilled in me, it was a drive for professionalism and the understanding that effort cannot be underestimated. Someone else can get into the psychology of attempting to rise out of poverty through war and formal education, but I became obsessive. During my enlistment, I rose to Sergeant, was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, received a USMC Certificate of Commendation, and completed over 300 undergraduate credits (in the days before accredited online school) from the Marine Corps Institute and the Army Institute of Professional Development. These courses included the following and anything that I could get my hands on:
Civil Disturbance Planning; Corrections Supervisor; Fundamentals, Procedures and Techniques of Personnel Management; Human Resources Management; Installation Physical Security; Accounting for Property; Acquisition Systems Protection Program; Action Officer Development Course; Basic Industrial Security for User Agency Personnel; Basic Information Security; Basic Statistics; Civil Disturbance Planning; Direct Laboratory Operations; Direct Operation and Maintenance of Laboratory Facilities; Direct Quality Surveillance; Industrial Security Management; Techniques of Personnel Management; Human Resources Management; Installation Physical Security; Intelligence; Public Affairs; Law Enforcement Operations; Leadership; Manager Development; Managing and Leading; Manpower Management; Safety Management for the Supervisor; Supervisor Development; Tactical Communications.
This obsessive mentality carried over to my career as a Baltimore police. With a goal to be a race-blind professional Robocop, my first experience boots on the ground with a badge and gun were on the concrete of Gilmor Homes where we would later watch Freddie Gray struggle to take his last steps. I quickly rose through patrol to major case narcotics detective, and then to commanding districts and units. That intimate work in the drug war I previously explained in more detail, but the harm to officers and the community was evident. There had to be better ways, so the obsession continued:
Top Shooter; Mothers Against Drunk Driving — Officer of the Year; Certificate of Appreciation; Distinguished Scholar BCCC; Summa Cum Laude B.S. Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement; Golden Key, Alpha Beta Kappa, and Alpha Phi Sigma Honor Society Member; UMUC Certificate in Criminal Justice Leadership; Active School Shooter Seminar; Intelligence-Led Policing for Rural LE Executives, Commanders and Managers; Sergeant’s Leadership Course; Violence Dynamics / Police Involved; Advanced Crash Reconstruction; Airport Narcotics Investigations; Analytical Investigative Tools; Drug Identification; Ethical Issues and Decisions in Law Enforcement; Conspiracy Investigations; Highway / Rural Drug Investigation; Interview and Interrogations; Patrol Drug Investigations; Surveillance Operations; Incident Response to Terrorist Bombings.
After becoming a supervisor, I felt that with great power, came great responsibility for the lives of the officers I was entrusted to manage. I wanted them to be professional and to get home safely, this is the same fuel likely to be behind the #BlueLivesMatter retort dismissing the lives we are sworn to protect. In the process of professionalization, I worked on publishing a complete guide of perfect policing for all officers to have in their hand. At the time, the goal was to create and guide law enforcement leaders that are professional, competent, ethical, compassionate, and loyal to the United States Constitution and the citizens they serve. All officers, meant all officers, and as I gained experience and access, the internal racism of policing shocked me.
In severity of discipline, selection for assignments, medical issues, and more, black officers were and are heavily oppressed within policing. The guide dramatically affected the ability for the “Good Ol’ Boys” to discriminate, and that kind of power could not go unpunished. With orders directly from the top, I was given a rotation of commanding geographically marginalized units, medical, then supply, then the courts, until being forced to retire on a line-of-duty injury because of a weird law designed to shift the financial burden to the pension fund, not the police budget.
I was able to use those times in marginalized units to continue to train officers in my free time and at no cost to them. What I slowly realized, but could not quite articulate was that something was terribly wrong, it did not matter how professional and legal we were. We were still harmful, traumatic indeed.
No one was managing the operation. There was no tracking of what worked and did not work. No alignment of incentives to goals. No creativity. No listening to the people. No science. Police departments are major corporations, usually the largest budget item, and they are led by cops. Baltimore Commissioner Fred Bealefeld possessed a GED and was the CEO of this major corporation. How can anyone see that as functional?
I figured that I needed to learn management and become a scholar and get the science into the literature and teach those I could on a small level. I began an M.S. in Management and Information Technology and began to trace the data back to its origins while the theories and science of business management started to help me put the pieces together. Inputs and outputs of the policing system are completely misaligned. Stakeholder and Corporate Social Responsibility theories show us how those paying for and receiving the product of policing should be in control of the inputs to the system. Modern policing is like having the owners of Nordstrom determine what the customers at Wendy’s will eat.
The management basic of incentives and disincentives are also completely misaligned. For example, most say they want the police to convict criminals, but cops are measured by arrests, not convictions. Imagine those Wendy’s workers being paid by the number of burgers given away instead of the number sold. Then prosecutors are paid by how well they pick up and sell the discarded burgers. This is obviously a recipe for oppression and corruption.
Every layer peeled unveiled another startling revelation. The simple truth that crime stats are a measure of police action, not citizen action, was mind-blowing, yet obvious. The standard which is generally accepted as crime commission is actually those charged with committing a crime. It is not that black men commit more crimes, it is that black men are accused more with committing crimes. For the most part, we have no idea who commits the most crimes. The number of burglaries is not the number of houses burglarized, it is the number of times that someone reported a burglary and the officer was willing to write a report for a burglary. The continued research revealed that there is a huge institutional & systematic problem. The drive for law and order has many unintended consequences, one has been a system which pits officers against the community, judging them by how many people they arrest not by how much justice was served.
We say to protect life and liberty, as if these are similar things. All of these examples of misalignment are apparent, but I certainly never really thought about it. I learned that I was objectively executing my functions with a racist outcome due to the systems in place. Just from what is shown in public records, I participated in 453 arrests, 396 of which were black males. I wasn’t racist, something was pushing me, something my race blinders had been blinding me to.
So, what then? I had to learn what to do. Enrollment in a Ph.D. program for management and education proceeded next because I needed to explore the management further, and I needed to find out how to educate adults on the subject matter. During this time, I had an image seared in my mind of a young child being murdered in a park, bleeding out as his sister watched trapped in the back of a police car, helpless. There is a wooden pole at the memorial site, it is painted blue and states, “Young Black King Tamir” and it is an image that reflects in my closed eyes like the result of staring at a light too long. After visiting the location, I could not shake the term, execution. Policing defended the action of Cleveland police killing 12-year-old Tamir Rice and I felt betrayed.
The delicate fabric that held society together felt like a lie, but it remained distant as if still the problem of others. Then when Mr. Gray was killed, that sidewalk that I knew, that hunting that I knew, that foot chase that I knew, that knee to the back of that neck that I saw a hundred times… I knew. The court case told a different narrative, but I know Baltimore, I know the Western, I know police. I watched people I knew pretend otherwise. I watched the union of which I am still a member, defend gross misconduct, sowing the conditions that endanger the lives of officers and citizens.
So, I vented on Twitter, and people paid attention. In early media, you can see me not being able to understand the complete picture of policing and what to do. A calling was felt that pulled me back to Baltimore to learn, to serve, to protect, like I promised. There I began to listen. Transformational leadership and how not to be a white knight/savior says that you humble yourself and listen to what the people need, where they need it, and on their terms. That meant going to the street, listening to activists, stepping up when needed, I ended up convinced by the power of their story. I will never be able to make a complete list, but those who educated me in ways I will never be able to repay are:
Frank MacArthur; Tawanda Jones; Duane “Shorty” Davis (credited with board selection concept); Diane Butler; Kwame Rose; Makayla Gilliam-Price; Mohamed Tall; Shannon Wallace; Devin Allen, D. Watkins; Kelly Holsey; Dr. Lawrence Brown; Fire Angelou; Tariq Toure; Kondwani Fidel; Megan Kenny; Ralikh Hayes; Roberto Alejandro
I was taught to better understand outcomes. I was allowed to see something cops do not see, the results of our actions, the ripple of harm that lasts long beyond our encounter.
Tracing the science and history back, the conclusion is that there are two primary corruptors of the institution of policing. The first is the foundation policing was built off and the second is the complete input and output misalignment.
In the United States, policing has been constructed from three pillars which poisoned and continues to poison the products of police, many of them harming us in plain sight. The “Us versus Them” aspect of policing was ingrained from the inception. The first things that society asked the police to do was to protect us from “them, ” and that persists to this day. From the beginnings of American policing to the power structures created, cultural rhetoric, and internal/external pressures, the result:
Pillar #1: The creation and maintenance of oppressed classes, from which resources are extracted to institute the oppression.
Understanding that we have categories of people in our society is something that is readily recognized by most casual of observers. Upper class, lower class, first class, priority class, blue collar, and white collar are routinely encountered distinctions, but these distinctions are the “friendly” labels. The classes are like factors of oppression which can be exponentially combined, woman, black, brown, Muslim, Jewish, convict, and more. Facing the idea that we are members of a society with classes of oppression and that we pay taxes to fund the violent enforcement of that abuse is a heavy burden to bear. The exemplification of the violence upon the classes which they, and all, taxpayers fund is:
Pillar #2: The valuing of superior class property over the lives of oppressed classes.
Surely the police are invested in and empowered with the ability to choose between life and death in split-second decisions because they protect and serve “us.” There is simply no way that American taxpayers pay the majority of their local budgets for state agents to keep citizens fighting with each other in fabricated classes of oppression and to use physical violence, up to and including homicide, upon the majority of its citizens, if they so much threaten the assets of the dominant classes. Right?
This is a terrible reality to learn about, especially when we contemplate our own complicity in the constructs which have gotten us here. There is a moral imperative to face these issues once understood, and that can make us want to close our eyes and not accept responsibility. We lie to our children and ourselves about the whitewashed roots of America. Christopher Columbus Day is celebrated while the indigenous nations of North America are presented as entertainment props and mascots, an additional insult to the firm placement into an oppressed class and centuries of colonization. The symptoms of America’s original sin are very much present:
Pillar #3: The continued genocide of the indigenous nations of North America.
Even though there is a strong argument that the indigenous nations in the United States are the most isolated oppressed class, the Standing Rock North Dakota, Dakota Access Pipeline fight provides a clear example of the implications of the continued genocide of indigenous nations and how that can significantly affect your life, no matter what class you are in. My participation with the Standing Rock Sioux was due to their fight so clearly demonstrating all three pillars on prominent display and should have served as an education to everyone.
It begins to make sense that we have crime fighting strategies which only look at symptoms and not causes with knowledge of the foundation. There is no mechanism to address the root issues, the things that cause crime and are the enemy we should be fighting because that is not the intent of the system. Can you imagine if the entire treatment program for cancer was institutionally restricted to symptom harm mitigation?
It is not about rotten apples. It is about a rotten barrel, and that barrel is constructed with planks of oppression, devaluing of human life, and genocide. The planks of the policing barrel have been seasoned throughout time with slavery, treaty violations, crime bills, mass incarceration, environmental poisoning, Jim Crow, regressive taxation, and more. This barrel cannot exist where there is a claim of serious attempts at police reform.
Input & Output Misalignment
In our best-case scenario, the theory is that politicians serve the people, but we know this to be completely false. The research argues over if the donors are successful in receiving benefits or just fund like-minded individuals, but it is clear that us non-elites do not matter.
That does not matter so much though. It is impossible for politicians to handle policing issues, four or even eight-year goals are insufficient time frames for police work. In the management science, Corporate Social Responsibility Theory and others support the need for long term goals with socially beneficial aspects. Furthermore, the strongest correlation to crime reduction has a long-term payoff. Lead poisoning reduction has a dramatic impact on crime reduction. If we protect our pregnant mothers and precious children from this environmental poisoning, the benefits to society echo throughout time.
Knowing that the link between your desired outcomes and the input to the system is so weak, the misalignment of inputs and outputs is a significant reason why police are not incentivized to serve its customers, its stakeholders, you. Interested parties and consumers must have the say; you know this as a basic common sense thing if you view yourself in any other consumer situation. We need to be using performance measurements to incentivize justice through moral and ethical police behavior. We must ensure that policing is not about the authority to take life, it is about the priority to protect it. That a hero is defined as being one who places all others above themselves.
I propose that justice must be redefined as well.
“We should be cautious how we associate with the word justice, an idea of any real thing, such as physical power, or a being that actually exists.” — Cesare Baccaria
Generally, we see justice as revenge plus equality, but justice is progress in the efforts to prevent the harm from recurring. My personal internalization of this is reflected in the thought that I cannot see how justice for Tamir can come in a way other than one which assures that trauma is never repeated. I will fight until my last breath to ensure that Tamir’s martyrdom is as meaningful as I can make it. I cannot see how to provide him justice in any other way.
These lessons of a career and educational obsession have led me to believe that scholars, public health practitioners, businessmen, and educators have had the answers to our problems all along, we just have not been applying them to the field of criminal justice. We need police sciences to fall under the humanities and social sciences, it was misguided to think that the field stood alone.
Boards, from those invested community members who receive the output of the system, are how we align inputs and outputs. This model is very similar to the business models that are often the praise of capitalists, but we use the latest in stakeholder theory and social sciences to continually refine what equitable representation is in policing.
How this board is constructed is a direct representation of the advantages of Civilian-Led Policing. Elections are popularity contests, appointments are instantly biased, random selection can draw undesirable results, and so forth. I was scrambling for answers when I casually mentioned the problem to community organizer Duane “Shorty” Davis, while he grilled in front of the infamous CVS at a year since the uprising gathering. Mr. Davis said something along the lines of, “Ah, man, that’s easy just use a jury pool style that is voluntary, and they have to pass something show they’re not a dummy.” Shorty’s Pool is still the best idea I can find. Most ideas about board eligibility are up for discussion and debate, but some are mandatory. Currently, that list stands at:
Minimum of ten-year resident;
Complete critical thinking graduate level certified course;
Pass a test demonstrating aptitude in understanding critical thinking and truth finding;
Maximum of 4-year terms, staggered; and
Jury pool style selection of equitable representation.
This board guides the agency, in that traditional business model, through a CEO-like civilian who is a trained, PH.D. level manager who facilitates the guidance and direction prescribed by the board. The CEO should come from management, education, social sciences, business fields, and such systemic and institutionally critical fields. The board will have all the resources it needs to make sound decisions in a variety of ways of which there is insufficient time to explore here.
A critical check on power and accountability is a requirement to completely separate the civilian only administration from the police operations. Human Resources and Public Policy are fields of their own, with professionals who should be hiring, reviewing reports, and handling Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints. No sound management plan involves cops, reviewing cops, reviewing cops, reviewing cops.
Police Chiefs are police professionals, and they run police operations only. Police chiefs must be invested like everyone else and shall attend the same training as recruits, have a minimum of 10 years with the agency and as a resident. Long term visions and commitment are a must for public safety improvements.
Historically, we have argued and fussed over which individuals will police us when we must be the guiding hand of how we will be policed. This is a redefinition of policing, and the science tells us that the variables and conditions change so rapidly that we must continually revisit this idea of what we want police to be. The state sanctioned power to end life is not something to be complacent about.
Currently, we use the Delphi methodology for census building, at least until a better method is developed. In this context, Delphi consensus building looks like that CEO going to the stakeholder groups round and round, continually refining until the closest semblance of consensus is reached. It is not an easy task, but it works. This is also how we implement Civilian-Led Policing but with some additional flexibility needed to get off the ground.
I am not telling you that this will be easy. I am telling you that we cannot continue to do what we know does not work. I am telling you that we must change, for we have long known that civilized society depends on it.
“Every act of authority of one man over another, for which there is no absolute necessity, is tyrannical, if men are bound to society than society is equally bound to them.” — Cesare Baccaria
I believe that the vast majority of us want the same things, no more so than whether or not the police can kill you or end your liberty. These common threads all support Civilian-Led Policing.
Conservative principles of:
Building off the best of the past;
Prudence (long term) goals as a chief virtue;
Restraints on the power of government; and
Libertarian principles of:
Reducing government interference, directly enabling the bedrock libertarian ideas that, “all Americans should be free to live their lives and pursue their interests as they see fit as long as they do no harm to another”;
Reducing the size and intrusiveness of government and to cut and eliminate taxes at every opportunity;
That peaceful, honest people should decide for themselves how to live their lives, without fear of criminal penalties; and
That government’s responsibility, if any, should be protecting people from force and fraud.
Liberal principles of:
Natural goodness of humans;
Intrinsic value of individual liberty;
Moral equality across sex, race, birth origin, religion, gender, class, wealth, et cetera; and
Non-violent modifications of institutions.
Socialist principles of:
Classless society (micro versions within the board);
Social ownership (of the largest budget item and most powerful local agency);
Driven to enhance freedom, justice, and solidarity.;
Goal of peace;
Goal of police abolishment (Which is highly unlikely to ever be a reality, but that is the only ethical goal); and
Focus on environmental concern (environmental poisoning is leading cause of crime)
For the community, we can do this, the official non-profit of Civilian-Led Policing is already organizing and advising grassroots activists who are getting the effort moving. Join them. For the police, current and former officers are already speaking out and working on the Civilian-Led Policing organization. More are realizing that Civilian-Led Policing will increase their chances of returning home to their loved ones and better serving their communities. It’s time.
Michael Wood Jr. is a police management scholar who after spending a career in the USMC and Baltimore Police Department, took to dismantling the blue wall of silence and creating the pathway to reform; a model called Civilian-Led Policing. His fight for justice has included leading the historic Veterans for Standing Rock action in December of 2016, standing on the front lines of Black Lives Matter, opposing money in politics, and weaponizing the privileges of whiteness to elevate the voices of others. You can find Michael in hundreds of media appearances, from HBO’s Fixing the System documentary with President Obama, to The Joe Rogan Experience, to published opinion pieces in The Guardian and Baltimore Sun, and everything in-between, where he furthers the discussion on criminal justice systems and institutions, and the needs of society.
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Dore, J., & Wood Jr., M. (2016, October 16). “Arresting Cops Wont Stop Cop Killings” Says Cop Spearheading Civilian-Led Policing (Police Reform). Retrieved from YouTube: https://youtu.be/JBYTAU5rILE
Dore, J., & Wood Jr., M. (2016, June 20). Police Mentality & What To Do About It | Michael A. Wood Jr. Interview. Retrieved from YouTube: https://youtu.be/BopwzJ-9G0Y
Dunbar-Ortiz, R. (2016, May 12). Yes, Native Americans Were the Victims of Genocide. Retrieved from History News Network: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/162804
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Hockenberry, J., & Wood Jr., M. (2016, December 2). Veteran: We Must Protect Standing Rock Protesters from Police Violence. Retrieved from WYNC — The Takeaway: http://www.wnyc.org/story/veterans-join-standing-rock-protesters-solidarity/
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Monsour, A., & Wood Jr., M. (2017, January 31). Johns Hopkins Ride-Along on Policing w/ Police Scientist Michael A. Wood Jr. . Retrieved from YouTube: https://youtu.be/CuL0ZSxkVes
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Now This. (2016, November 27). Now This with Michael Wood Jr. #Veteran Stand for #StandingRock. Retrieved from YouTube: https://youtu.be/pSCBaA71SaU
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Uygur, C., & Wood Jr., M. (2015, July 10). Ex-Baltimore Cop Michael Wood Exposes Police Culture Of Corruption & Abuse (Interview w/ Cenk Uygur. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5nPyf-0UMc&t=2s
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Woo, J., & Wood Jr., M. (2016, October 23). THINKING Podcast || Episode 15 (Part 1): Systematic Injustice with Michael Wood Jr. Retrieved from YouTube: https://youtu.be/Kmtu0Z_sCYQ
Wood Jr., M., & Monsour, A. (2017, January 31). Johns Hopkins Discussion on Policing w/ Police Scientist Michael A. Wood Jr. Retrieved from YouTube: https://youtu.be/RxW6OIE4CYU
Wood Jr., M., & Noor, J. (2015, September 2). Former Cop says Freddie Gray Slowdown Didn’t Prompt Crime Spike. Retrieved from The Real News via YouTube: https://youtu.be/KKlobcVzH1A
Wood Jr., M., & Woo, J. (2016, October 30). THINKING Podcast || Episode 15 (Part 2): Systematic Injustice with Michael Wood Jr. Retrieved from YouTube: https://youtu.be/EfDZd-qMlzE
Wood, M. (2016, July 18). The second amendment is a recipe for police killings. Retrieved from Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/18/second-amendment-police-killings-gun-control-baton-rouge