Having observed, with philosophical resignation amid the sadness, the almost inevitable defeat of the April 20 police tax measure, Chief Willie L. Williams says no one should lose heart. The measure, which would have added 1,000 LAPD officers, failed only because of the absurd two-thirds requirement for approval; 59% voted for it. But rather than curse the darkness, Williams would prefer to have someone make the point that in a presidential election, say, 59% is a loud landslide.
That sense of having the public majority on his side was wonderfully clear in a recent speech by the chief entitled "Partnerships for Community Policing." In it he laid out a vision that was striking in its emphasis on police service as opposed to mere police force.
It was axiomatic, he suggested, that the rebuilding of Los Angeles would fail unless the police-community relationship could also be rebuilt. Citizens need to regard their police as allies in the fight against crime, not with feelings of distrust. The police must not think of themselves as an occupying force but as a partner with the community.
Williams indicated that the Los Angeles Police Department, which he has headed now for almost a year, needs to get its own house in better order. It needs to change its organizational culture in order to help improve police-community relations.
Among other things, improving police-community relations requires the design, implementation and evaluation of new programs of community policing, including the creation of Police Community Councils in each of the department's 18 area commands. It also requires an overall change of policing philosophy that in its culmination, in effect, points to the primacy of patrol as the key policing tool.
And, further, the LAPD needs an overarching strategic plan that would marshal limited resources in the most effective way, and enable officers to communicate to the citizenry a clear sense of what is reasonable to expect of the police and what is not.
In his statement, Chief Williams openly sought a new partnership between the Police Department and the community. He is trying to reach out, to explain, to demonstrate leadership, but also to elicit informed feedback and even criticism.
Any partnership requires dialogue. In this end the new LAPD deserves respect; the new high command is serious about reform. For its part, this page will devote a series of editorials this year to the theme of police and society. With Los Angeles police officers trying to protect and serve in an environment increasingly fraught with hostility, misunderstanding, gangs and guns, they will need help and understanding--and, when it is warranted, fair criticism. It takes more than one partner to make a partnership work.