Police Ethics in the 21st Century

In 1998, I wrote an article for the Community Policing Consortium entitled “Police Ethics in the 21st Century.” In the article, I spoke about the need for police administrators to move beyond the traditional paradigm of ethics and move to a broader picture that included keeping the community informed and speaking out on matters of public concern.

In his book Problem-Oriented Policing, Herman Goldstein talked about the practice of taking problems not easily solved by the community and giving them to the police to solve, often without additional resources or direction. Goldstein talks about how this practice seldom solves the problem and generally causes strain on the police and community relationship.

Recently, I read a Fond du Lac, Wisconsin article that talked about problems with vandalism and alcohol-related activities in their downtown area. The police chief there was quoted as saying increased patrols had resulted in increased arrests for a number of incidents.

Although increased patrols will initially reduce activities that are the result of problems in the area, it will not address the causation factors that required the extra patrols in the first place. The reality is that increased reactive patrols in one area mean reduced patrols or services elsewhere because additional staffing or overtime is not a reality in the current economic climate. That is why it is important to take a deliberate look at what causes the problem in the first place. By hopefully eliminating the climate that results in vandalism or theft, the problem can be mitigated or at least managed prior to someone being victimized.

Our officers recently contacted a number of juveniles around the age of fourteen who were out in the downtown area at about 4 a.m. There may be some legitimate reasons for their being downtown at that time…or there may not. Currently, our county court treats curfew violations as a citable offense that can be paid by a fine. The court does not require adult or parent participation in the process. Our officers continue to try to contact parents or guardians when juveniles are found out late with no viable reason to assist them in holding their kids responsible for their activities.

We continue to work with liquor establishments to make sure they are not serving intoxicated individuals or allowing persons to carry alcoholic beverages out of the establishment. Adequate lighting and the ability to be observed aid in deterring inappropriate activities such as vandalism, theft, public urination, etc. Combined with random officer and reserve officer patrols, this will have some impact as well as detoxing individuals to have reached dangerous levels of intoxification.

We also know there is a long-standing history in Northfield of increased incidents of vandalism and theft when school is not in session. Our patrol staff has been charged the past two years to identify viable prevention strategies to manage and eliminate criminal activities. Most of these strategies involved “scanning” the area to identify the causation factors. This can include surveys and working with local neighborhoods and business groups to develop strategies to reduce or eliminate criminal activities. Currently Sergeant Mark Murphy is working with downtown businesses to work on dealing with the issues of vandalism, especially along the riverwalk.

Sergeant Bill Olsen is currently supervising the scanning of the area around Headley Court. Our reserve officers and explorers are assisting with a survey in that area to identify the causation of increased levels of vandalism and theft from that area.

Our officers and supervisors have received training in problem identification and problem solving. When coupled with enforcement strategies and intervention, our goal is to reduce and eliminate the conditions that are causing the identified problems.

We try to post a weekly e-newsletter, called “Around The Block” that is available through this weblog. This weblog is another tool. Our staff will continue to work with Neighborhood Watch Groups and Neighborhood Watch Coordinator Officer Jody Spinner to keep communication lines open.

Officer Monte Nelson works with our patrol staff to monitor graffiti activity and cross-reference it with known taggers and gang members in the area. We also have staff that will meet with individuals and groups to help identify ways you can prevent criminal activity. Officer Jody Spinner can assist you with scheduling these programs. Sergeant Roger Schroeder is the task force commander of the South central Drug Investigations Unit. He can provide training or prevention information regarding drug usage and selling.

Working together through education, prevention and enforcement to solve community problems we can successfully meet the challenges ahead.

After five years as a police chief. I still believe the concepts I outlined in my 1998 article are viable. You have my assurance that I will continue to work to provide you with an accurate, realistic view of what is happening in our community.

About Gary Smith

Chief Smith has served over 31 years in the criminal justice field. He is currently a consultant assisting public and private organizations better establish community goals and ethical conduct with the members of their organizations. Chief Smith serves as a facilitator, lecturer, professor and other capacities both inside and outside the criminal justice field.
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