Paradigm shifts have come in many ways and at varying times. They can be as profound as the shift from viewing the universe as an earth-centered one to one centered on the sun, or the invention of the Internet, along with its growth and now-ubiquitous presence and use in daily life.
Particularly within the past couple of decades, whether it’s medicine, technology, science, etc., such fundamental and radical change, as represented by the term “paradigm shift,” has taken place in a variety of contexts.
Paradigm shifts can also occur on a societal, organizational or institutional level, or even on a personal level. Yet regardless of the area or field, size or scope, the one constant such changes have left in their wake is that of difference — dramatic difference.
At the FBI Special Agents in Charge Conference in Chicago last week, Mobile Police Chief James Barber, along with others, presented a new paradigm to a collective of law enforcement leaders. This paradigm is a needed challenge to the standard perceptions, ideas and orthodoxy practiced by many law enforcement institutions.
Bridge the Gap is a program developed by the Mobile Police Department in conjunction with the Mobile branch of the FBI, southern district of Alabama U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown and a team of community members. What’s the goal of the program?
According to Chief Barber, “it’s time we look beyond simply enforcing the law and focus more on establishing trust and mutual respect … Our role is to protect the community but we must use tactics that are acceptable to the community.”
The program seeks to facilitate it goal by bridging the communication gap existing between young people and law enforcement, particularly those who reside in minority communities. It aims to break through the misinformation and fog of perception creating a serious barrier to a healthy relationship between law enforcement and the community it’s sworn to serve.
It teaches young people how to interact respectfully and positively with the police. But just as important, it illuminates for law enforcement personnel the perceptions the young may have about them, and presents best practices for officers to handle and de-escalate encounters. It’s a bridge allowing information and positive actions to be communicated and instilled both ways.
To the chief and department’s credit, though, their efforts don’t just encompass the Bridge the Gap program, but also the department’s Second Chance OR Else (SCORE) program, which offers a second chance to street-level drug dealers who don’t have a history of violent criminal behavior. The program wasn’t created to serve as a way to gloss over or minimize an individual’s criminality, but as a rehabilitative tool to graft such individuals back into their communities in a positive way.
Their productive presence can begin to serve as an anchor and source of stability to communities desperately in need of such male presence. Programs like SCORE are carried out with great assistance from leaders and citizens in the targeted areas.
Chief Barber noted how the community-based tactics he and his department have implemented are part of a law enforcement philosophy that has switched from an “output-based” to an “outcome-based” model. It represents a paradigm shift.
The chief elaborated in an interview, noting, “There’s a big difference between enforcing the law and law enforcement.” Enforcing the law is aligned with the output-based model, which puts a major priority on numbers: tickets, arrests, etc.
Cops will often saturate high-crime communities and ticket and arrest for everything imaginable. It’s all about the numbers. Yet, the output strategy, according to Chief Barber, “disenfranchises the very communities that need the police the most.”
The relationship between law enforcement and the community normally becomes strained and adversarial, a powder keg waiting for the right spark.
However, the outcome-based model — law enforcement — puts a premium not on numbers but people, and their impact on a given community. Actions that contribute not only to its safety but its well-being and vitality.
“The fundamental role of law enforcement is the safety of the public,” Barber said. “It’s not how many people we can arrest, but the safety of our communities.”
Barber and Assistant Chief Lawrence Battiste both noted this paradigm shift in the department was not wholly and enthusiastically embraced by all. There has been some skepticism and reluctance.
For example, the department began awarding bonuses, not based on who has the top numbers (arrests, tickets, etc.) but upon indicators showing the safety and well-being of an officer’s beat or area has increased (outcome). Apparently, this wasn’t an easy pill for some officers to swallow.
If there has ever been a time when a paradigm shift was needed in the area of law enforcement, it’s today. There has been and is much talk about the “Ferguson effect,” but we should not forget that what happened in Ferguson had a cause. That cause was law enforcement being seen by the community it was meant to serve as an occupying power. Whether they were criminals or not, the basic humanity of the residents was not acknowledged or respected.
Chief Barber stated, “I haven’t read Ferguson’s report, but I could write it. Any time an agency is driven by output measures, you’re going to have a lot of conflict with your communities.”
Now is not the time for law enforcement departments to become defensive and recalcitrant. Leaders will have to accept the fact that we live in a new age, that a new paradigm exists. Technology has made it so that their public interactions will become just that — more public.
The solution is found in law enforcement undergoing a paradigm shift itself. Old philosophies, points of view and practices have to be replaced with those that foster partnership and relationship, particularly with the communities where their presence is acutely needed. Relationship is the most effective means to credibility. Credibility engenders trust. And trust becomes a bulwark against conflict and upheaval.