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Police Leadership and the Reconciliation of Police-Minority Relations

NCJ Number
American Journal of Police Volume: 9 Issue: 2 Dated: (1990) Pages: 63-77
Date Published
15 pages
The problem of police-minority relations is rooted in the tension between the minority (black and Hispanic) concern with equal protection of the law and the police concern with crime control and the maintenance of order. This article describes how San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara focused on the role of police leadership in reconciling the conflicting interests that lead to strained police-minority relations.
Prior to Chief McNamara's arrival in San Jose in 1976, police-minority relations were characterized by a pattern of civilian fatalities by police and daily confrontations between minorities and police officers. In recent years, however, police-minority relations seem to have improved; this improvement can be measured in terms of police responsiveness to minority community concerns, the opinions of minority community leaders and other observers, and editorial and media coverage. Central to this positive change was a widely perceived transformation in the police ethic from an emphasis on crime control to a more crime-prevention, community-oriented approach. Chief McNamara affected these changes primarily through his leadership style and policing philosophy which is based on several principles. McNamara had a clearly articulated policing philosophy which saw police officers as legal and moral actors as well as law enforcers. He believed that officers needed to understand the sometimes tragic aspects of the lives they encountered. He advocated an "open door" policy and went into the minority communities to talk to leaders and organizations about his policing philosophy. Another principle to which he adhered was that good police-minority relations are built through the manner in which the police choose to define their central tasks. He urged officers to become better acquainted with the people on their patrols. Finally, he argued that good relations rest on the ability of police leadership to be credible both in the community and in the department. 2 notes and 41 references

Date Published: January 1, 1990