Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Police Corps futures - a chance missed

A quiet Italian dinner at Thats-a-some Italian ristorante
Aged wine barrels for decor and fresh linguini smells embrace patrons in an ambience that anticipates a great meal in a quaint Italian restaurant, this one nestled beside a bay in Puget Sound.

What I didn't expect was the polished glass plaque about John Kennedy Jr. mounted innocuously beside the table and buffed for clarity both optical and sentimental. He and his wife Caroline, apparently, sat at this very table long ago no doubt enjoying the same ambience.

For me it was an irony. Over a decade ago I arrived in the United States, drawn by an idea hatched in the heady days of Kennedy’s Camelot, maybe even while toddler John Jr. hid under his father's desk in the Oval Office.

Memories from another time
I heard of the National Police Corps program for the first time in 1997. They needed an associate director for their program at Florida State University. It was a chance to modernize the stale world of academy training. It was a chance to educate cops in more advanced, community-based methods (like POP and CPTED) and fund their university education at the same time. It was a dream come true! I moved to Florida.


Instigator of the Police Corps program was Adam Walinsky, former aid to Robert F. Kennedy. The goal: Create an intense liberal arts degree hinging on civil rights, critical thinking, and social justice. A year after we started, our Florida team designed just that. Then we added rigorous, hands-on academy curricula with an advanced educational method called problem-based learning. It was a leading-edge and integrated curricula unmatched in academies even today!

Unfortunately the program was later starved to death by underfunding. Two steps forward, three steps back. An opinion piece in Time Magazine recently said something similar.

Fortunately lessons did survive. The seed for problem-based learning in American law enforcement grew out of that era. The Police Society for Problem Based Learning proves the persistence of a good idea.

As I read of the latest federal task force to tackle police shootings I wonder; What if there had been some way to overcome the implementation obstacles and funding hurdles of the early Police Corps? What would policing look like today?

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