The Need for Written Contracts Between Cops and Communities-Dallas Police Shootings


The Need for Written Contracts Between Cops and Communities-Dallas Police Shootings


Five police officers are dead, 6 hurt by a gunman in Dallas. They were shot during a protest over the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castilein in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and elsewhere.

We looked at, watched or listened to hundreds of comments regarding the state of relations between communities and law enforcement. It’s clear that the level of discourse is emotional, heated and mostly dysfunctional. Many are calling for respectful dialog but, quite frankly, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

We fully understand that there are endless racial, political or class considerations that cause many (most) of us to retreat into our corners. See new research from Pew at, but race is just one factor in an issue loaded with endless interchangeable parts.

Beyond distrust between communities and cops, we have a problem where police officers are leaving their jobs over a perceived lack of community support. If recent newspaper articles are to be believed, thousands of cops are getting out, and few seem willing to take their place. According to the head of the FBI and many additional commentators, cops feel reluctant to do their jobs.

All parties are sure of their position and see the other side as clueless, uncaring and dysfunctional.

But why is police-community cooperation the role of government? Why aren’t communities taking the lead?

We need to focus on specific, achievable actions. Calls for dialog produce little beyond more mistrust.

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Communities Control Crime-Not Cops

Every student of criminology is taught that communities control crime, not cops, not the criminal justice system.

“Think about it,” my criminology professor would say, “Can you stop someone from using drugs or beating their spouse or buying stolen goods or engaging in an act of violence. No, of course not, thus the limitations of the criminal justice system.”

It’s true. We’re not suggesting that the justice system is powerless. We can arrest. We can incarcerate. We can offer counseling to teach a man not to beat his wife. We can drug test. We can offer job training or substance abuse services. There are an endless array of strategies we can employ but in the final analysis, any community (or the larger society) decides what’s acceptable behavior, and what isn’t.

Societal pressure brought down drinking and driving, child abuse, drug use and probably crime itself. The criminal justice system played its part, but it’s peer pressure that causes you to take someone’s car keys when they had too much to drink. Friends don’t let friends beat the hell out of an adversary. We need to understand and depend on the power of peers and communities to control crime.

A Written Contract with Communities

 There need to be rules of engagements in every community in the Unites States as to what we want cops to do and how we want them to do it. It’s not time for a dialog, it’s not time for an understanding, it’s time for action.

Let every city and community spell out what it wants done on their behalf. Let it be in writing. Too many confrontations start out as police enforcing minor traffic or criminal violations. This needs to stop unless communities tell cops otherwise. Stop interacting with people regarding anything less than a felony. Let the community tell police when enforcement should change. Let the community create a list as to what it wants.

We understand that this flies in the face of proactive or broken windows policing and that many police commanders and mayors will profoundly disagree, but we are past the time where we get to say that we know better than community residents.

It may (and probably will) lead to an increase in crime, but that’s a choice for the community to make. In many cities, it couldn’t get much worse than what it is now. We’ve literally ignored the murder and injury to tens of thousands of our fellow citizens in high crime neighborhoods, and cops are quitting in large numbers. It’s time for something different.

We in the justice system make discretionary choices every day. Most minor drug or alcohol violations are ignored. Two friends who assault each other are asked if either want to press charges; an arrest is not automatic. We take most kids home rather than process them through the system. There are endless other examples.

So let communities decide their levels of enforcement. There are an endless number of online tools to gain a consensus. Let there be community meetings.

Don’t like “stop and frisk?” Wa-lah, done. Disagree with marijuana arrests? Over. The guy who gets drunk and passes out? Sent to a place where he can peacefully sleep it off. Minor DWI? Take his keys and call a cab. Minor domestic violence? Send them to counseling if both agree. Theft from stores? Let them hire people with arrest authority. Traffic violations? Short of 15 miles over the speed limit or reckless driving, ignore it.

Cops Would Love This

Cops would love this. When the complaint for noisy kids comes in, they don’t arrest, they get out of their patrol car and talk. No one runs, no one mouths off, why run the risk when the likelihood is that you’re not going to be arrested?

Police officers could spend the majority of their time (now that they have time) talking to residents and being good guys, and getting leads as to major crimes (the essence of community policing). Fewer arrests mean fewer people with criminal records, fewer people going to jail or prison, less cost for taxpayers.

And most importantly for cops, they end the majority of confrontations, and they come home safe; their psychological scars are fewer. They are happier. Maybe now they won’t quit in droves, which is what’s happening now (and no one wants to take their place). Maybe they  will go back to proactive policing now they have defined rules of engagement.

There will be detractors who will say that if you “…take care of the small stuff the big stuff will take care of itself” (broken windows). I’m not sure that business will appreciate drinking or drug use close to their buildings. Advocacy organizations will strongly disagree as to drinking and driving and domestic violence. But they are not the ones enforcing all this. Ignore them.

Not all communities will proceed down this path, and that’s fine. The overwhelming number of communities in this country will want things to stay as they are.

Why aren’t communities taking responsibility for their own safety?

But it’s cowardly to tell cops to enforce the law without acknowledging the physical and psychological dangers (on both sides) in communities that feel they are being over-policed. You are not an occupying force if your only role is to deal with the big stuff, the crimes everyone wants addressed.

Police officers need some level of support if they are to do their jobs with precision and compassion. They need encouragement if we expect them to continue to do their jobs.

But why is police-community cooperation the role of government? Why aren’t communities taking responsibility for their own safety?

Let communities police themselves. They will let us know when they want that to change.

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