Police Abuse

"If we aren't viewed as legitimate…we aren't going to be effective," Says Police Chief


Mike Davis
Northeastern University

Before Ferguson erupted into violent protest against the police shooting of an unarmed man, Mike Davis (pictured), then Police Chief for Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, told a survey of law enforcement professionals:

I think that the work we've done over the past 30 years has been good, but some of the things we've done have only resulted in ephemeral changes. Many of our historically challenged neighborhoods are still structurally distressed. In our inner cities—in Camden, Philadelphia, Minneapolis—look at who is being killed. It's young black males—the same people that most often view the police as illegitimate.

Davis concluded, "If we aren't viewed as legitimate in these communities, we aren't going to be effective."

The comments by the former chief (now the director of Public Safety at Northeastern University) were published in June of this year in a roundup of professional opinion on Future Trends in Policing compiled by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

The rest of the publication is mostly devoted to gee-whiz technology, evolving approaches to management issues, and some strategic innovations including greater use of intelligence and "predictive policing" (future crime, anybody?). There's even some worry about how courts will interpret the civil liberties consequences of sticking cameras hither and yon.

But, in a short section that mostly quoted him, Chief Davis voiced concern about legitimacy within the community. The conclusion mentioned that he wasn't the only law enforcement professional to raise the issue.

In the last few years, police chiefs have been discussing the ideas of "legitimacy" and "procedural justice" in policing. These concepts have to do with the judgments that members of the public make about their local police, and whether citizens believe they are being treated fairly and respectfully by the police. Legitimacy and procedural justice sometimes are seen as a new, high-powered version of community policing.

The Justice Department's COPS has already raised concerns about militarized policing and police encounters with dogs. Specifically, an analyst for COPS fretted that garbing police in camouflage and allowing them to act as occupation troops is ruining relations between law enforcement and the people they supposedly serve. COPS also put together guidance urging police officers to find means other than bullets for dealing with family pets.

So some law enforcement professionals were aware of problems even before Ferguson. Maybe recent events will spread the wisdom—and lead to an attempt to rebuild legitimacy.


NEXT: Missouri National Guard to Discontinue Protection of Ferguson McDonald's

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  1. As long as they zealously enforce unjust laws, they will be viewed as illegitimate.

    1. This.

    2. That’s it, really. Why did Ferguson happen? It’s a logical result of the WoD and the regulatory state.

    3. This is what I find stupid about public service in general – you take the job to enforce rules without knowing what a lot of the rules are GOING to be!

      There isn’t any honor in following orders. City council raises taxes on cigarettes to a ridiculous level and now you are tasked essentially with tax collection/enforcement – you’re a fool for taking that job. You join the military thinking you are fighting for what’s right, and then a complete doofus like Obama becomes CiC – you are a fool for taking that job.

      At least in the military you are sort of stuck until your hitch is up. The police don’t have that excuse – they can quit any time they want but the vast majority continue to take the job and its benefits no matter how illegitimate/impossible the job becomes.

      Of course, at this point it’s organizations like Chicago PD that are actively campaigning in favor of gun control – they have zero interest in protecting people, property, and rights but rather only care about making their job easier with no regard for legitimacy.

      1. It’s pretty disgusting when they shamelessly admit that officer safety is not just their highest priority, it’s their only priority. Public safety? What’s that?

    4. Yeah if they want to be seen as legit, police departments need to do several things:
      1. Publicly state that they will not pursue “victimless” crimes until every other crime within the jurisdiction has been dealt with. (And then back that up internally).
      2. Put a freaking Go Pro on every officer and vehicle. And apply serious penalties to officers who don’t maintain them like any other piece of essential equipment.
      3. Drop this “thin blue line” crap and act like they are actually part of the community they are supposed to be serving.

      It’s not just the laws. It’s the culture too.

  2. Speaking of respectable cops, anyone else see the recently re-elected Milwaukee County Sheriff’s victory lap over Bloomberg in the Washington Times yesterday? It is worth a read.


    1. “Mr. Bloomberg’s plan didn’t work. People here are smarter than he thought, and they did not like this outsider rolling into town trying to oust Wisconsin’s only black sheriff.”

      It’s just like that Mel Brooks movie…The Producers!

  3. For every one chief that thinks legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder, you have 1000 Ray Kelly’s talking about the “sixth largest army in the world” he commands that murder people for selling loosies.

  4. it’s been said so often it is a cliche – you cannot fix a problem until you recognize its existence.

    1. Thanks for using its properly.

      1. It’s a good idea!

  5. The problem is that there is no incentive for legitimacy, so it’s mostly not going to happen. Legitimacy would mean that the people being policed respect what you’re doing. If you’re arresting people for smoking a joint or handing out looses cigarettes that’s not going to happen. Plus the people who are drawn to the power of being a cop don’t want legitimacy, they want power and for people to fear them.

    Basically what he’s describing would require a police force of non-power-hungry professionals who want to do their job properly combined with a repeal of a ton of victimless crime laws.

    Yeah, that’s gonna happen.

    1. Yeah, they ain’t getting even perceived legitimacy until we get a lot of laws off the books.

      1. The laws are a big part, but police attitudes are also incredibly important. How can you consider someone who perceives you as the enemy as legitimate?

        1. The two things go hand in hand. Good people do not seek to enforce unjust laws. If the unjust laws were taken off the books, then most cops would quit since they would lose the power to arbitrarily harass and intimidate the people they supposedly serve.

          1. And then you have Chicago PD actively campaigning for MORE unjust laws. (gun control)

          2. Oh, as long as they have the lack of accountability, it won’t matter how many or few laws are on the books. Bully-thugs will always get their sociopath on.

            “you can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride” – Chicago PD

    2. Legitimacy would mean that the people being policed respect what you’re doing.

      The people in Brooklyn Park don’t even respect one another. And many, not even themselves. I know of what I speak, having lived there.

  6. Is really like to,see,how,this,gets,responded,to,over,on PoliceOne. Those real,police officers would just as soon unload their gun on a guy smoking a joint as they would eat a dozen bear claws. The public’s perception is the last thing on their mind.

    1. I imagine a certain subset want to keep pushing until the public push back, so martial law is declared and they can gun the scum down in the street from their MRAPs.

  7. Specifically, an analyst for COPS fretted that garbing police in camouflage and allowing them to act as occupation troops is ruining relations between law enforcement and the people they supposedly serve.

    How will those nobly selfless men and women get home safely at night, you traitorous backstabber?

  8. What does Mike Davis believe, policing is a rap video? Is he worried that cops aren’t “Too legit to quit”?

    Legislators establish what is legitimate through law. What is legitimate is made so through law and becomes lawful.

    Being legit doesn’t arise from reputation.

    1. Like, say, the Fugitive Slave Act.

      Totally legit.

      1. No need to go that far back DWT, how about selling loose cigarettes?

        1. I guess I find that sentiment so ugly I feel the need to grab the biggest hammer in the toolbox the moment it crawls into view. You are, of course, correct. There are endless examples.

          1. Oh I sympathize but the chink in the armor is the fugitive slave act is no longer a law so they can say “See, the legislation works, so legit!”

            Same reason I quit using the 1a to defend the 2a. Progressives no longer believe in free speech.

    2. Legislators establish what is legitimate through law.

      Um, no. Society determines what is legitimate. When legislators pass unjust laws like the ones that ban smoking a joint or selling loose cigarettes, and cops kill people for breaking those unjust laws, society justly views the enforcers of those unjust laws as illegitimate.

      Legislation is not magic.

    3. Actually, the Constitution says what is legitimate, legislation (and regulation, most of which isn’t created via legislation) mostly defines what is illegitimate. Our list of illegitimate things grows by leaps and bounds every year.

  9. COPS? Citizens on patrol(s)?


    1. I used to think those movies were comedies. Turns out they were documentaries.

      1. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.

  10. I said this the other day, too; authority must be derived from respect.

    Cops are Maoist totalitarians who believe political power flows from the barrel of a gun.

    1. It does, which is why the second amendment is important.

  11. What is legitimate is made so through law and becomes lawful.

    You’ll catch that tail, one of these days. Keep chasing it.

  12. Repeal all vice laws. When you’re not harrasing people for behavior you deem immoral like some American Taliban and you Protect and Serve the people you work for instead if yourselves then we’ll talk about respect and legitamacy.

  13. Seriously if the only role of police was to protect property and stop violent crimes who wouldn’t love to have a cop neighbor? But when you can be arrested for walking in an alley you get nervous around the goons because god only knows how many laws you are breaking day to day.

  14. We no longer live under rule of law. It’s rule of man. If the cops like you, then you’re going to be OK. If they don’t like you, then they’re going to watch you until you give them an excuse. Or they’ll make something up. They rule, not the law.

    And they like it that way.

  15. “If we aren’t viewed as legitimate…we aren’t going to be effective.”

    “And when we aren’t effective, they throw more money at us.”

  16. Here’s a news flash for Chief Davis:

    There is no Right to a government job, or to be a policeman.
    If the rules are too restrictive, find other employment.
    Remember, you work for us – the taxpayers – we don’t work for you.
    As they use to tell Gandy Dancers on the railroad, if you cant sink that spike in three strokes, there’s fifty guys in line waiting for your job.

  17. The Totalitarian police are the arm of the state and operate under “qualified immunity”. They are in no way legitimate. They are not subjected to individuals in a market, to where those individuals could immediately deal with, and counter any acts of aggression, violence, or attempted seizure of property or persons immediately.

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