TRITON Magazine Fall 2020 | Page 57

system that upholds the rule of law in any democracy . The sociologist Max Weber famously defined the state as that which possesses a monopoly on legitimate coercive force . While police officers should not be the “ catch-all ” solution to all the complex problems we find in our communities , they definitely play a critical role in responding to emergencies and violent crimes . In Simi Valley , the Police Department was first established in 1971 as a “ Community Safety Agency .” This was in direct response to the civil unrest of the late 1960s and calls at that time to demilitarize and reform the police . The local press called these officers the “ Nice Centurions ,” while the public referred to the green blazerwearing men as “ realtors with a gun .” The first Chief , or “ Administrator ,” of the agency secured thousands of dollars in federal grants to fund youth programs and sent counselors to domestic violence calls . Unfortunately , the model ultimately failed , because neither the community nor those who were committing the crimes respected this approach . I believe the plan was well-intentioned , but there was still a demand from victims for justice beyond what counselors and social workers alone could provide .
As I write this , I know there are no simple solutions . I know this as both a police chief and as a trained historian who wrote a Ph . D . thesis on the democratization of the West German border police . In my research , I have found that the behavior of a nation ’ s police forces often reflects the norms and values of the societies they serve . It should come as no surprise then that systemic racism and negative stereotyping still persist in many American police departments , because it is still part of the fabric of our country . The bitter debates over symbols commemorating an insurgent state that advocated the violent overthrow of the United States to preserve the institution of slavery show that we have still not come to terms with or adequately dealt with racism and its legacies . In addition , the call to demilitarize our police should also apply to the citizens in the communities they are responsible for protecting . The divisive debates and weak regulation of guns in America have allowed many citizens to acquire enough firepower to rival that of some smaller police departments . Let ’ s not forget that before the global pandemic , Americans were more concerned with mass shootings and demanded that police officers in Parkland and Las Vegas be fired and even prosecuted for cowardice and / or hesitating to use deadly force . We cannot expect police officers to respond to these violent incidents without the proper tools they need to defend themselves and others .
History shows us that institutions can change . In postwar Germany , atoning for the country ' s Nazi past — although a complicated and imperfect process — was critical in taming the systemic militarism of the former Nazi police officers who returned to their law enforcement careers after the war . If we are committed to reforming America ’ s police institutions , then like Germany , we also must deal with the painful legacies of our own troubled past . Historian John Barry concluded his epic study of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic by pointing out that “ Those in authority must retain the public ’ s trust . The way to do that is to distort nothing , to put the best face on nothing , to try and manipulate no one .” We deserve and should demand more than just words from our national leaders and police chiefs . I believe that now more than ever , we must make substantive changes and promote a culture of transparency and accountability , or the cycle will only repeat itself .
David Livingstone , PhD ’ 18 , is the Chief of Police for Simi Valley , Calif ., and has served in the police department for 32 years . He earned his PhD in history from UC San Diego while serving as an officer .