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Community policing must recognize the changing family.

I hold this truth for all police agencies in the United States: we've got to change the way we do business. We've got to change from just being a reactive, traditional model that emphasizes suppression to one that emphasizes being proactive being community-based and problem solving.

As you know, in any culture there's a mini-culture, and the police have a culture just like everybody else. There's a significant mind set that goes with that job. I see part of my role as beginning to change that mind set, beginning to change the way the police officers relate to the community. I'm a firm believer that government cannot solve all the problems in our communities. It is going to take a partnership between government and community.

Police normally deal with the issues of crime, drugs, gangs... issues like that. I view those as symptoms of other things going on in our society. Yes, the police will always be there to respond to a 911 call, but we also have to begin to put more resources toward prevention, toward looking at some of the root causes and how we can connect with other service agencies that are looking at those root cause issues. To me, it is just as important for the police to be concerned about economics, employment, racism homophobia, sexism, and all those other things that lead to a decline of the social environment.

And I think that the family is right up there at the top. I view the family as the building block of any society and yet we see it unravelling in American society with the family unit. Unfortunately, a few people in our society have chosen to define what family is to the exclusion of many people. I think in our society we have to be diverse in our thinking; we have to begin to recreate more concepts of family than the traditional "family value" that is being espoused by some.

In Portland, we are in the process of recreating our youth division into a youth and family services, because in the past the police have tended to treat the child but not the family. What we want to do is to include the family as part of the solutions, as part of the problem-solving that will go on between the public, the police and that particular family.

In Portland, like most of your cities, different people have different definitions of what family means. In the context that I used, it could mean the children on your block as part of your family. There's an African proverb which says that it takes a whole village to raise a child. I think we've given away from that - away from the concept of raising children - and have begun thinking that government's going to do it for us.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a neighborhood group in an affluent area of Portland. We were talking about community policing and what it means about police working closely with the community. I thought I did a fairly good job of explaining it until I got the very end of the questions and a woman stood up.

The woman was very angry, her voice was quivering, she was physically shaking with rage. (My police training told me something was wrong here). She said, "My daughter has gone to a couple of beer parties up near the local high school and each time the beer parties have gotten out of hand and the police were called and they did nothing about it."

The question to me was, "Why didn't the police take care of that problem?" And I looked her square in the eye and I said, "Where were the parents?" because I felt that she, as a parent, was relying on the police to raise her child.

I told her that.

It did not make her happy, but the other 200 people there applauded because there is a growing recognition that government, the police, the schools cannot do the job by themselves. You have to have the family and what we have to acknowledge that there are different kinds of families in our community.

I have a lesbian daughter who is a police officer in the Portland Police Bureau. About a year ago she made it public that she was a lesbian. It caused a lot of consternation, as you would imagine, in the police department. Not that most people didn't already know it, but that she would acknowledge it publicly and that I would support her in her lifestyle caused quite a bit of consternation.

And yet for many gays and lesbian children, brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers in this country, many of them are not recognized as part of family units. And yet they are. If you look to see what a family does for a child, for another individual families that I've seen so far have all the same things except in a different context; they give the same love, they give the same sense of self-worth, of value and all the other things that a "traditional" family would provide.

I grew up in Southeast Portland. In that neighborhood, every child including me, knew that I was responsible to every parent on that block, and every parent was responsible for me. If I acted up across the street, Mrs. Grisella came to my mother and talked to her; Mrs. Gena would come down the block and talk to my mother. At school, the teachers would call my parents and talk to my mother.

That was a family.

But more important than knowing that I had these people watching me, that they were in effect my parents, every child in that neighborhood had a responsibility in that neighborhood. For instance, mine was to mow the lawn of an elderly couple across the street who could no longer mow their own lawn. At the time it bothered me greatly that I didn't get paid for doing it.

As I grew older, I realized that the payment came in a different form; giving back to others what you maybe have an abundance of and in that case, I had an abundance of energy. But those are the kind of things that create a sense of community a sense of family.

I've been dealing with the crime, drugs, and gangs for 26 years now. I feel as if a lot of things that we're doing aren't solving the problem. We're not getting down to where the real problem is. To me, the real problem is with children, the American family system and perhaps the fact that too many of us do not include others a part of our family.

It's important as police that we provide a service to the community that meets their needs. It's important that we help the community solve their problems. I tell our community that the police aren't going to solve your problems in your neighborhood unless you're involved with them. Unless you have an active neighborhood watch, an active citizen foot patrol or other kinds of programs, the police cannot protect you.

We have about 1,100 people in the police bureau, about 850 are sworn police officers. There is no way in a city of a half million people that 850 sworn officers are going to protect that community unless the community is involved. And there's no way that the community is going to get involved unless they feel they have a stake in the outcome, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of ownership.

More importantly, they also have to feel that they're part of the community. I think the family is the basis of the sense of the feeling of community. I think that we've got to create family units in neighborhood creates a sense of community in neighborhoods, and make people feel responsible for their families, their neighborhoods and communities. I think that if we do that, you're going to need fewer police officers in the United States and you're not going to see the police arresting the numbers that we arrest today.

So in a nutshell, things are changing for the police. We're beginning to realize that just merely arresting people isn't going to fix these problems in our society. We realize that the problems we've been working on were really the symptoms of its underlying causes.

The Futures


The Futures Process is a three-year cycle of activities the goal of which is to identify trends, emerging issues, and concerns that will affect cities and NLC, and develop major themes regarding the emerging concerns of cities. This process affords NLC presidents the opportunity to select and then be active around these major themes during their tenures. The Futures Process gives city officials an opportunity to share with each other their own experiences and concerns, and to improve their ability to address the theme issues. The culmination of the three-year futures process activities results in a presentation to the NLC Board of Directors at the Congress of Cities of the Advisory Council's report detailing the findings and conclusions of its work.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Futures Forum; excerpts from an address
Author:Potter, Tom
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 5, 1992
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