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Ex-San Diego Cop: 'American Policing Is In A Crisis'

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper is shown in this undated photo.
Mark Bennington Photography
Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper is shown in this undated photo.

Ex-San Diego Cop: 'American Policing Is In A Crisis'
Former SDPD Official: 'American Policing Is In A Crisis' GUEST: Norm Stamper, author, "To Protect and Serve: How To Fix America's Police"

In recent months the nation has seen unarmed African Americans and other minorities being killed at the hands of police. In a series of questionable encounters, recently police officers have become targets of rage and revenge. There's no better time to raise the question, should there be a fundamental restructuring of the way policing is done in America? A new book poses that question and suggests a new approach to police work were communities are respected and involved in law enforcement. The book is called to protect and serve how to fix America's police in its written by Norm Stamper who served for 30 years on the San Diego police force before becoming Seattle's police chief in 1994. Norm Stamper, welcome to the program. It must seem like many of the issues you talk about in the book have come to a tragic had over the last couple of months. The use of deadly force in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, the shooting of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas. How have you been processing those deaths? It's almost impossible not to be taken back to earlier moments in our history, in San Diego in Seattle where police officers have fallen in the line of duty. Officers are being accused of you using excessive and deadly force unnecessarily. A key issue is the cumulative effect in both the black community and the blue community. What is that cumulative effect? In an organization, a police organization and a community where the relationship is constructive and positive and healthy, it's reinforced that that doesn't happen here. San Diego police has a wonderful reputation working towards greater levels of true community policing. Many agencies throughout the country cannot make that claim. All agencies regardless of how well they do, have room for improvement. You don't buy into the few bad apples theory, to explain these incidents of deadly force by police. What do you see as the fundamental problem with America's police departments? If we see repetitively, the same kind of behavior that results in unnecessary death, that results in a rupture in the relationship between community and police, we've got to look at each and every event, every incident that is controversial. When it happens over and over, when our communities are saying this is the way it's always been the only thing different now is that white middle-class Americans are seeing on dash cams or body cam's her cell phone coverage. If it happens over and over, we have to look at the culture that produces it. We have to look at the structure that gives rise to that work place culture. Its paramilitary, it's bureaucratic, I know I sound like a broker record. My senior thesis in the early 70s was titled, community is DMZ, breaking down the bureaucracy. That kind of structure takes good people and helps to create insulation, isolation, both healthy and unhealthy solidarity within the ranks. It distances the agency from the people that it's their protect and served. What kind of impact do you think the war on drugs had on the police and their role in the community. A huge impact. When Richard Nixon proclaimed drugs as public enemy number one and declared all-out war on drugs. He was declaring war on his own people. Young people and poor people and people of color, that was 1971. In that announcement, reinforced by every president since, we put our beliefs -- police officers on the front lines as foot soldiers in a war. You don't fight a war without enemies, you don't fight a war for that matter, without propaganda. We have been so thoroughly invested in what I consider to be a bankrupt public policy, and immoral war against our own people. Done only do the people pay a price for that, our police officers do. Norm Stamper, in many of the deadly encounters that we've seen between police and sometimes unarmed civilians, there's obviously a sense of danger that the police officer is feeling in that encounter. In your opinion, our police officers trained well enough to deal with encounters that scare them? No. Absolutely not. In part, we don't condition ourselves as individuals to understand fear and how it works in our bodies and how it affects our perception, our judgment. If we are scared we are dangerous. If were wearing a uniform and a badge and a gun, that makes us doubly dangerous. It makes it very difficult, literally to see straight. Officers involved in lethal force, and I was at one point, experience tunnel vision. Every officer involved in a shooting will tell you basically, everything but the threat disappeared and I was focused if not fixated on the threat. If your perception is off, you may not see clearly, this individual does not have a gun. I don't know how we account for, at least two of the killings, one in Chicago and one in Charleston South Carolina in which the officer in each case, did not appear to be frightened and had no reason to be frightened, get they pulled their guns and they pulled their triggers and two black men are dead as a result. When people see that, as they did over and over again, it adds additional nails to the coffin of distrust and mistrust that we have between many people in the community in our police. In your book, to protect and serve, you talk about one of the ways you seek things turning themselves around as if there were more emphasis on getting communities involved in actually policing themselves, so to speak. How would that work? You have no further to look in San Diego, for many examples. I can't speak to what's been happening over the last 15 or even 20 years. I can tell you, there was a time in their remains a time where the police invite citizen participation in a variety of ways. From my perspective, we need, as an institution to look much more deeply at what we as a Police Department stand to gain if we invite citizen participation in everything from the hiring interview to teaching in the police academy to participating in policymaking and program development to literally, sitting at the table when we are discussing priorities. The police in America belong to the people, not the other way around. Sadly, there are too many officers that don't see it that way. They believe that essentially in a superior, dominant position in the present that way. It comes across as arrogant and almost calculated to destroy trust rather than build it. I've been speaking with former speak -- Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, his book is called "To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America's Police".

The nation has been rocked in recent years as African-Americans and other minorities have been killed at the hands of police in high-profile encounters. The most recent deaths occurred this month in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. The killings have led to protests across the nation, including in San Diego.

And this month, police officers themselves have become targets. Deadly ambushes in Dallas and Baton Rouge left eight officers dead.


The Black Lives Matter movement was fueled in part by the 2014 fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by police officer Darren Wilson. Since then, many have asked whether there should be a fundamental restructuring of the way policing is done in America.

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper poses that question and suggests a new approach to police work in his new book: "To Protect and Serve: How To Fix America's Police."

Stamper, who started his law enforcement career with the San Diego Police Department in 1966, offers a new model for policing in America, one in which communities are respected and involved in law enforcement.

He discusses his book and recent police killings Wednesday on KPBS Midday Edition.

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