Several weeks ago, police chiefs from some of the nation’s largest police departments convened in Baltimore to offer advice and counsel to the then-head of the Baltimore Police Department, Anthony Batts. At the time, Baltimore citizens were angry over the murder of Freddie Gray, which occurred while in police custody. The city’s murder rate had dramatically increased. The police union was furious with Batts over his firing of dozens of officers for misconduct. And, his police force of about 3,100 officers had basically stopped making arrests. It was a bad time for the chief.
So, he reached out to police leaders from Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Denver. Batts later said that, “There are certain things that you can talk to normal people about, and then there are certain things that you can only talk to chiefs about.”
This network of police leaders describe themselves as reformers or “change agents.” This network has certainly changed and modernized policing over the past few decades. They experiment with policing philosophies and techniques in the hopes of improving policing throughout the country - particularly in light of the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore.
In the wake of the growing concern of how police treat African Americans, the network has been working feverishly to create reforms. Their goal is to steer the profession towards a more community-friendly force rather than act as “warriors.”
The response to the plans have been mixed. Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist, notes that, “I don’t think this is necessarily a change of heart. The emphasis on de-escalation only came about because of resistance on the part of the public.”
The network tries to apply somewhat uniform police policies and strategies across the big cities. As of now, there are no uniform set of standards that apply to the country’s 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies.
The network leaders are all well-educated, media-savvy and articulate. New York Police Commissioner William Bratton states that, “The most creative minds in American policing, we all happen to be friends with each other. We’re the entity that is leading American policing in the 21st century.”
In fact, it is not unusual for a police chief who belongs to the network to have spent time at universities earning Ph.Ds or law degrees, as well as to have run three or more major police forces. Chuck Wexler, the longtime executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (“PERF”) noted that, “What keeps Chuck Ramsey up at night, or Bill Bratton up at night, is fundamentally different than what keeps a chief up at night in an agency of, let’s say, 20 officers. It’s not this little good-ole-boy network of people who are chummy. These are people who committed themselves to professional policing.”