Dr. Ronal Serpas (r) was the inaugural speakers in a series named in honor of Dr. Larry Hoover (l).
The Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT) launched a new Distinguished Lecture Series in honor of longtime supporter Dr. Larry T. Hoover, which will present innovative and practical ideas to law enforcement agencies on policing in the 21st Century.
The series kicked off in April with Dr. Ronal Serpas, a Criminal Justice Professor at Loyola University and former Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, Chief of Police in Nashville and Chief of the Washington State Patrol, who discussed “Procedural Justice and Police Legitimacy.” With nightly news focusing on reports of police shooting suspects, Dr. Serpas, said it is critical for law enforcement agencies to restore the public trust with citizens using new technology and everyday interactions that establish confidence, competence and respect for authority.
“People have to believe in you,” Dr. Serpas told 68 law enforcement leaders from across Texas. “If people believe in you, you are legitimate. They are more willing to obey the law, they are more willing to work with you, and they are more likely to defer to police discretion.”
To celebrate the 25th Anniversary, the Larry T. Hoover Distinguished Speaker Series at LEMIT was launched in honor of Dr. Hoover, a professor of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University who assisted with the development of LEMIT and its programs.
“Larry T. Hoover, Ph.D., has been an instrumental influence for over 25 years in executive development,” Dr. Watkins said. “In particular, Dr. Hoover’ work with the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas has established an expectation of delivery of timely and relevant topics to Texas law enforcement. Agency administrators and decision makers often reached out to Dr. Hoover for his advice and knowledge of police practices. He has assisted, both directly and indirectly, numerous police agency decision makers with his understanding, research and experience.”
The new biannual series will feature innovative leaders from the field who will discuss new practices that can be implemented in local law enforcement agencies.
“One of the hallmarks of LEMIT throughout its history has been innovation,” said Dr. Hoover. “This program involves innovation and resources to put it into practice. It’s my privilege to have this series carry my name.” Dr. Serpas, the inaugural speaker of the series, has led police departments in New Orleans, Nashville and the Washington State Patrol. He was the founding co-chair of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Research Advisory Committee, served as Second Vice President of the organization before his retirement and is the current Chair of the Community Policing Committee of the IACP.
Serpas said there are many ways to advance procedural justice and police legitimacy in local law enforcement agencies. One of the ways is through community policing, where police work within neighborhoods to get to know the community and assist with issues identified by citizens in an effort to prevent crime. This method should include “walking the beat” at least 20 minutes during the daily shift. In those departments that use a broken windows theory of policing, officers help to solve the little problems in the neighborhood before they escalate into crime. Police leaders must be especially aware of building strong community confidence and collaboration in delivering this style of policing so as to ensure that the community accepts the legitimacy of the police action.
Another method to establish legitimacy is by “selling the stop,” Dr. Serpas said. A popular moniker used by the Washington State Trooper for traffic stops, the idea is to politely and succinctly begin each traffic stop with an explanation of why the driver was pulled over and the evidence that was observed to make the stop. It helps to difuse problems and establishes procedural justice from the very outset.
For example, in a study of a DWI checkpoint, researchers found that the public was more likely to support the police action and legitimacy and to take more personal responsibility for their own driving behavior when given an explanation of why they were being stopped, including information about the overall toll that drunken driving is taking on the community, with 13,000 killed annually in DWI accidents, Dr. Serpas said.
Technology, at one time feared as a hindrance in policing, actually provides tools to help establish legitimacy. In-car cameras help exonerate many officers from citizen complaints because tehy provides evidence that police are performing their jobs correctly. Tasers are helping to reduce officer and suspect injuries, especially with newer models that include cameras that can document the process. On-body cameras will be a “critical game changer” in showing police performing their duties and serving as leaders in the community, Serpas said.
“Technology helps advance the likelihood that public safety will be delivered free of prejudice and bias,” Dr. Serpas concluded.
Other technology has helped advance the effectiveness of law enforcement officers, including DNA testing, which can identify suspects in felony crimes through random samplings from property crimes; the National Integrated Ballistics Network, which is leading criminals to keep, rather than toss was guns and casing because they can be tied to crimes through distinct marks on bullets; computer forensics, which can track child predators using cell phones; crime analysis which can pinpoint hotspots for crime; GPS, which can track suspects’ movements in person or in their cars; and red light and speed cameras, which catch violators and reduce injuries.
These many new technologies have led to different methods of policing, including CompStat, community policing, neighborhood policing, broken window policing, intelligence-led policing, and data-driven policing, to name a few.
These new methods help to build trust, confidence and safety for police and their communities. Studies show that patrol officers support these new methods.
In a recent June 2014 Gallup Poll, police ranked third among U.S. residents in public confidence, behind only the military and small business. That was higher than many other professions, including ministers, doctors and media. While Dr. Serpas said those number may have changed because of high profile police shootings in Ferguson and New York, and that the confidence in police does not apply equally among difference ethnicities, he believes the public still has confidence in police. It is up to individual police departments to find ways to improve and enhance those relationships.
“Overall and over time, the public is still on our side,” said Serpas.