At the Compliance Week 2016 conference earlier this year, I learned of an NGO that credited its compliance program with saving lives during a bombing incident in the Middle East. Because the group’s compliance team enforced its premise’s security protocols to the letter, when a bomb went off near the office, all employees were protected from an event that otherwise would have produced casualties.
This was just one of many presentations and conversations that showed me how compliance, as a discipline and as a profession, is no longer just something that prevents trouble for large, public companies in highly regulated industries. It has become something with a much broader application, with much broader implications.
Which brings me to the violence we’re seeing in the United States involving police departments and black civilians. As I write this, three Baton Rouge police officers lie dead after a gunman ambushed them in retaliation for an incident earlier in the month in which Baton Rouge police shot a black suspect while he was pinned to the ground. This, of course, is amid a much larger context of police violence and racial tension across the country that cries out for some kind of solution, but so far seems to have generated an intense shouting match.
Police brutality is a bit like medical malpractice; in many cases, most of the incidents are the work of a small number of bad actors. And yet, I am reminded of my father, an attorney, who sued my hometown’s police department for brutality more than once. The department was widely known to be thoroughly compromised and incompetent (to such a degree that the state eventually disbanded the city’s SWAT team), and I once asked him if the department didn’t have rules against, say, bashing suspects on the head with a flashlight during questioning. Sure, he told me. They just don’t follow them.
Police work is incredibly difficult and dangerous. A former officer friend of mine—who was himself involved in more than one justified shooting incident—said that one of the toughest things about the job is that it trains you to distrust people, since you get lied to every single day. Add to that the need to make life-and-death decisions in a single adrenalized moment, and one can see how things can go badly, even if an officer is not racially biased.
What often makes the difference between good and bad police work is training. And that includes knowing the use-of-force protocols so intrinsically that even in a moment of crisis, an officer does not have to think; he or she can simply act, and act in the right way while still protecting lives. It is incredibly difficult, but not impossible. Many fine police departments all over are already doing it.
Perhaps what might help is a comprehensive effort among police compliance teams to share their use-of-force protocols and how they are integrated into training. And, afterwards, as a part of daily operations, share examples of incidents where the strict adherence of those protocols delivered an outcome that was the right course of action. One imagines such an effort is already extant to some form between police departments, but it’s not particularly visible to the general public. If we could shine some light on this, it might not just help police departments with limited resources do better at preparing for the hardest parts of the job, but it might also help spread understanding among the public as to what police departments are faced with when simply trying to protect and serve.
This is a sensitive topic and, frankly, the space of this one column is in no way large enough to address everything in this that demands addressing. But I hope that in the weeks and months ahead, we can revisit this and share some best practices from compliance that can help in some small way to delivering a solution we can all live with. Because what’s happening right now? This is not the way forward.