In a small Vermont town there was a cop there by the name of Joe and four years ago he became chief of police. He said, “About 80% of our cops are good, it is the 20% we have problems with, but as chief I am going to see if I can do something about that.” He went through the department and put together a list of the cops that had a long history of attitude problems and those cops he put on a short leash. One cop said at a staff meeting, “Joe, we’re the cops and we run this town. You know if there is a spic or one them colored boys that come around we know what to do.”
Joe spoke up, “That attitude no longer works here. It’s a different day and I’m the chief. If you got an ax to grind, we can get you help, but only if you’re willing to change. From now one the word is – Respect; regardless, if the citizen is rich, poor, or whatever color.”
A few cops left, a few of the big mouths become quieter. Every cop knew that something different was going on. This was made really clear when be hired a Dominican Sergeant from a neighboring city and an African American Lieutenant from Hartford. But all of that good work appeared as if it was going to go out the window. One night there was a guy in a church who was going to kill himself. Three cops burst in to the room. One cop realized that it was a scared and frightened guy and returned his gun to his holster. The other two were hot headed cops who had a long history of being abusive and at a distance of about 12 feet they shot this guy dead. The guy was only threatening to kill himself and yet they shot him dead.
Joe had a couple of daughters and as a parent he imagined what it would be like if one of his girls who had been killed. Most chiefs would have dummied down, issued a statement that their men had acted correctly, and pretended that everything is fine. Joe went to that man’s funeral services. At the end of the service he stood up, “I know some of you would rather I wasn’t here, as the Chief of Police of my town I want you to know that I am sorry for this man’s death. I don’t know what had happened, but I will do everything in my power to find out the real story.” Everyone was astonished by his courage and honesty.
In the following weeks he met with all the local citizens’ groups to talk about the shooting. Instead of denying it and pretending it was that fellow’s fault, he addressed the problem head on. When the town tried to stop the grand jury investigation Joe said, “I want the grand jury. If my men did something wrong they need to be held accountable. If they were innocent, then they will be exonerated. Otherwise, they’ll walk around with the shame of having killed a man for no reason.”
The courts found the two cops guilt of involuntary manslaughter and they served time for this. Most towns would have fired the Chief of Police, but because Joe was open, honest, willing to listen to the citizens of his town, they came out and supported his continued tenure. Best of all, the town avoided a protracted and expensive lawsuit. In a neighboring town, they had a similar issue, and the Chief brazenly lied his way through the problem, and in doing so alienated everyone in town.
Joe said, “If I wasn’t honest about this and the problems we have had in the Police Department no one would trust us. We’re not perfect, but we’re learning.” Joe even championed an Independent Civilian Police Review Board despite opposition from the Selectboard, “I know most of the police don’t like the idea, but if I want my department to be transparent and open to the public, then I need to put my action where my mouth is.”
“There are a lot of things in policing I don’t know about, but there are people in the community who have terrific ideas how to improve service and policing. If I get the community to work with us on the issue of bias, drugs, good neighbor relations, and so forth it means my department doesn’t have to work so hard.”
A Chief of Police and a cop named Joe. Just, imagine.