The Force We Need

I have been — for sound, inescapable reasons — a critic of the state in which Jim Coan has left our lovely, but troubled, city. He, and those who have supported him, have made life worse for others. I have watched, day after day, as he has taken this city and its police force down the wrong path.

My family have a great familiarity with police work, one having committed himself to a lifetime of intelligent, dedicated leadership in that field. We well-understand this vocation, and it is the gap in leadership between what should be, and what is, that both astonishes and infuriates. Only someone confused, or ignorant could have confidence in the leadership that burdens and embarrasses our current force, and the city it is sworn to serve.

There are many in Whitewater who would like the force to be more than it is, and I know how disappointed they are that it lacks the leadership it needs.

A few remarks —

Firearms. I have been around firearms my entire life. A sound familiarity with them assures that they will be used properly and efficiently in those rare occasions when necessary. A man should be so comfortable with a gun that he can use it dispassionately under deadly circumstances, and never so excited by it that he might consider it a toy or plaything.

Sometimes — in places without good leadership — a young or foolish officer will make the mistake of showing off with a gun, or pointing it inappropriately. No serious man can respect a person like this; it betrays an immaturity that is the subject of scorn from serious men. Any case like this, whenever it happens, should be subject to (1) real and effective coaching, (2) emotional evaluation, and (3) progressive discipline.

Warriors. Like all libertarians, I advocate “free markets, individual liberty, and peace.” Americans have always preferred peace, so that we might trade and travel freely with friendly nations around the globe.

Nonetheless, there are times when our country has faced foreign enemies, and for our own protection, we have exercised a legal and moral right to defend ourselves. Countless Americans — in your family and mine — have justly and courageously defended our country against Nazi, Imperial Japanese, and Soviet-sponsored tyranny, as we now face the Taliban and Al Qaeda. These enemies were, and are, reprehensible, and we have always had a legitimate right to wage war until their surrender or destruction.

We cannot be at war with our fellow citizens and residents. The war power is reserved for our reprehensible enemies abroad, not those who live among us. There is a powerful distinction even between suspected criminals and foreign enemies. Warriors include — for example — those who must, by sad necessity, travel abroad to defend a new, better Afghanistan against those who killed our fellow citizens, and who would do so again if given the chance. They, in combat in faraway Afghanistan, away from their families, facing a detestable enemy, are real warriors.

When Jim Coan tells us he sees the Whitewater Police Force as warriors, and goes on about it as he once did in his newsletter, he’s telling us nonsense, leading officers away from true community policing, and using a false metaphor to puff himself up. When one starts to think that way, one begins to see one’s fellow residents as an enemy. The authority of warriors is not conferred on anyone who protects the streets of Whitewater. General Bradley was a warrior, defending civilization against the Nazis; Chief Coan is not a warrior when he sits alone at Randy’s eating lunch, or any other time of the day, evening, etc. Coan might imagine himself a warrior, but it doesn’t matter — at all — what he thinks about over his plate.

Speaking to Others. Sometimes, a young or poor officer will approach someone at a traffic stop, or elsewhere, and think that he’ll make himself look more powerful if he begins with a leading or hostile question. It doesn’t work: timid people resent the encounter afterwards, and confident and clever people just think the officer’s not strong or confident enough to speak normally. Don’t allow others to drag down one’s reputation through hackneyed, third-rate phrases. People have described to me all the most transparent, foolish phrases that mediocre officers have used in conversations. Don’t let people carry on like this, and don’t think that a leader’s empty insistence that it never happens convinces anyone. It doesn’t.

Wade Into Our Community. This can be a beautiful and well-run place once again. Officers should embrace the community that they serve and be a part of it; community policing is the very opposite of a puffed-up idea of officers as warriors. Here is our invitation: Live here with us, worship here with us, send your children to our schools, and shop in our markets. We will be your neighbors and friends. Policing will be better, officers will feel better about their jobs, and our community will be safer.

If you live elsewhere, think about living with us here in Whitewater.

A serious man or woman doesn’t need a lot of confidence-building talk to feel good. He doesn’t rely on silly commendations in a newsletter to be proud of himself or his department. He commits himself to self-improvement, not happy talk. When the day ends, he feels proud for his efforts, needing no sugary acknowledgment.

That’s not how weak leaders behave: they fill men up with empty praise, thinking it will make them more popular than through real coaching and accountability. One should not let a leader treat subordinates as through they are overgrown boys. It’s embarrassing, and corrosive of true excellence.

A Good Police Commission. A strong and capable force welcomes good and open oversight. That’s how you can be proud of your work: through legitimate, dedicated, believable oversight. Our Police Commission is so far removed from a good, solid body that it falls near the bottom of any commission or board in the city. People spend far more time working to make other boards and committees genuine than on the PFC. I ran a series on our PFC recently, and to say that it operates as a ‘big nothing’ would be too generous. It’s run by volunteers, and if a person volunteers, he or she should work to deliver something respectable.

Officers and citizens could ask for a real, hard-working PFC to provide true oversight of which all can be proud. There should be a real citizen complaints process, not the empty one we have, that falls far short of reasonable suggestions from the U.S. Department of Justice. I invite anyone who is a member of the PFC to write to me, and defend his or her work. I can be reached at (They know very well what I have written on this matter of public policy. I have posts entitled Introduction, Importance and Authority, Reasonable Standards, Minutes, Performance Generally, Citizen Complaints, and Hirings without Oversight?) A weak PFC and a weak complaints process erodes community confidence.

Residents and Citizens. Finally, I heard once how Coan said something to the effect that those who were upset about the Star Packaging raid were likely outsiders, were just agitating people within the Hispanic community in Whitewater, or were perhaps from the ACLU, etc. (He forgot to mention that criticism of his leadership might be inspired by Martians, gremlins, or talking squirrels. Give him long enough, though…)

Nothing is funnier. It must be clear that I am neither an outsider, nor Spanish-speaking, nor a member of the ACLU, etc. (I regret, if anything, that I understand so little Spanish.)

Coan is one of the last people on earth who should ever talk about loyalty and commitment to our community. If he expects people to believe what he says about community concerns, it must only be because he considers others ignorant, gullible, or stupid.

If we have good leadership, we can have a more effective force, and one that will offer better experiences for the community and its sworn officers.

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