Most of the nation's approximately 18,000 police departments receive scathing criticism from one of their own: an author who began as a San Diego beat cop in 1966 and rose to become a police chief in Seattle.
Stamper follows up his first book (Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing, 2005) with a more contemporary—and more critical—account. He concludes that police departments as currently structured—akin to military units with force as a dominant characteristic—must be rebuilt. The author recognizes that almost every police agency includes a majority of uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives who place polite, effective service above brute force. However, he maintains, the rogue cops, although a minority, too often exercise undue influence, infecting everybody with their negative attitudes toward minority and mentally ill citizens, who deserve respect rather than stigmatizing. Stamper offers evidence that the problems transcend a small number of bad apples; he says the barrel is rotten and must be replaced. One solution must come from outside the police agencies: an end to the so-called war on drugs, which has spawned so much violence, both directed at and initiated by the police. Stamper would like to see legislatures and courts treat narcotics such as crack cocaine and heroin the same way alcohol is treated currently, as a public health matter leading to criminal charges only when drinkers harm other people. The remainder of Stamper's suggested solutions involve reconstituting agencies to replace the military command structure and mentality with a social services structure emphasizing nonviolent problem-solving over force. Ideally, Stamper would increase the number of female police street officers and commanders, believing they make more empathetic, less violent cops. The author does not shy away from specific incidents of unarmed citizens killed by police; he explains, for example, why Michael Brown should never have died in Ferguson, Missouri.
A vivid, well-written, vitally important book.