The Rev. David Couper, served as chief of the Madison, Wisconsin, Police Department from 1972 to 1993. He worked to transform local police techniques, develop community policing and instituted reforms that spread nationally.
He talks about the “… tremendous moral laxity” of “our nation’s police [who have] not continued to move forward.”
Why have they not continued to move forward?
The problem with policing is, stuff doesn’t catch on. They’re not really interested in the research; they’re not really interested in the problem-solving method. We’ve got this problem where excessive force continues to be brought to, for example, the Occupy movement. We still have problems with endemic corruption. There’s just a tremendous moral laxity.
Is some of this due to 9/11?
I think 9/11 has had a major effect. I’ve started to see some articles finally pop up on the militarization of our nation’s police, with Homeland Security. That’s where a lot of this — the body armor, the tear gas — all comes from. When “things” are more important than people — when we think we just need the right kind of weapons or right kind of instrumentality — then we don’t concentrate on the quality of the officer.
You write that you’re afraid it will be difficult for police to give up their post-9/11 powers.
I think it’s going to be really hard. I mean, it’s too sexy. My gosh! You get this really nice equipment and you get these machines. It can co-opt the best officers. It’s a very clear-cut role. By contrast, community policing is messy. First of all, it works best if you’re an officer within a community. The support you develop is based in the community….
…You’re now an Episcopal priest. Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan has written that the early church’s priority was what he defines as “distributive justice.” Has that been a theme in both of your careers?
Very much so. It’s really not much different. If you’re a person interested in justice, it’s just another way of working for it.