COMMUNITY OWNERSHIP OF POLICE

Luis C Castillo

“In a civilized and rule-by-law society, law and order starts with those charged with maintaining law and order to conduct themselves in an unequivocal lawful and orderly manner. When they don’t the system breaks down.”


Across the United States there’s been numerous ongoing protests and demonstrations prompted by recent national images and videos of ethnic minorities killed in the custody of police which once again have awakened our social consciousness. People from all social and economic backgrounds are demanding police reform and, in some instances, people are calling to defund the police.

Regardless on which side of the spectrum you’re in police reform one thing is certain – police reform is absolutely necessary. The only question remaining unanswered is how and to what extent?

Closer to home, among Fort Worth and Arlington there’s been numerous questionable police shootings of ethnic minorities in recent years which may make Tarrant County the deadliest county in the country for ethnic minorities killed by police. Before I state my case for police reform it is necessary to fully disclose my background in police work and advocacy activities so I may be somewhat qualified to speak to this subject matter.


I worked as a “street cop” police officer for nine years some years ago in a rough border town in Texas. I emphasize “street cop” because “street cops” see it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly of society. During my tenure I came across unimaginable gruesome crime scenes; a “partner” of mine was killed in the line of duty and two others committed suicide. During part of my police tenure, I also served as the local police association president. In this capacity, I assisted with the representation of police officers charged with misconduct. This role was an eye opener to me in because I became tragically aware of the other “human side” of the police profession. In addition, I was actively involved with a police advocacy group who pushed for “meet and confer” and “civil service” legislation at the state capitol. These past police experiences, coupled with my life-long community advocacy work including as current President of the Arlington’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), afforded me a “dual real-life perspective” into police culture, police policy agenda, and their strategic political activities. For this reason, I see the police deficiencies have persisted for far too long but don’t hold your breath if you think the Mayor and City Council form of government will fix it anytime soon. Therefore, my contention towards measurable and meaningful police reform is for the community to take ownership of the police.

Even though this editorial is primarily aimed at the City of Arlington; the political conditions and recommendation herein described may easily be applied to other city police departments. Hopefully this narrative is informative enough it adds to the discussion, debate, and decisions might support a better police department not only in Arlington but elsewhere too.

Let’s start the brief examination with a “What If Scenario”. What if you have 640 police officers and 630  

are “good cops” and 10 are “bad cops”, and the 630 “good cops” don’t turn in the 10 “bad cops”? What you have now are 640 “bad cops “. This “what if” sheds light to a long suspected “police code” – cops don’t tell-tale on cops. Given my experience I am inclined to say this may be true in some cases but to what extent is the million-dollar question.

Why Police Reform? – Because diverse communities across the state and nation feel the current system in place has, for many years, undoubtedly been broken. These communities feel that the Mayor-City Council form of government which ultimately oversees police officer’s conduct has proven to be ineffective, unaccountable, non-transparent, detrimental to community interests, and socially unacceptable. While communities demand and expect police accountability and transparency, competing interests from police employees’ organizations effectively counter the communities’ interests. Police employees’ organizations are organized into police employees ‘associations and some establish political action committees (PACs) within governing statutes which allows them to engage in political activities, render political endorsements, and make political contributions (monetary and/or in-kind) to political candidates or measures, if they wish. To capture the essence of police associations here in Texas it’s worth reading a popular state-wide police association’s mission statement which I was associated with years ago:

“Our Mission: To ensure that our members’ rights and interests are protected by providing exceptional legal representation, legislative and political power, assistance in labor negotiations, and leadership for association development.”

It’s clear “political power” is part of police associations’ mission. So, does this very same system of police oversight – the Mayor and City Council – allow police employee associations to engage in political activities which may include funneling various types of contributions into the Mayor’s and Council member’s election coffers? The answer is a resounding yes. However, the type of political contribution or activity may vary for each individual police association. It is worth noting what the late Jesse M. Unruh said about money and politics: “money is the mother’s milk of politics.” On this note, the current police oversight systems are is politicized.

Police Associations are special interest groups like the thousands of other interest groups that have consumed our pluralistic system of government. Police Associations are comprised of members of the police department employed as police officers. As an organizational collective unit of “special interests”, they exist to defend, promote, or protect their members’ employment conditions with the city. A key interest for police associations is the city’s disciplinary policy and procedure for police misconduct. Another key interest for some police associations across the state is “meet and confer” agreements which are basically negotiated agreements between the city and the police association (or firefighters) regarding terms of employment, including concerns to wages, benefits, and discipline. For further enlightened on the subject matter please read the Texas Local Government Code section on “Meet and Confer”.

Be mindful some the Mayor and City Council governing bodies provide or may provide two significant concessions to police associations: “meet and confer” agreements and “arbitration hearings” for disciplinary actions against police officers. For example, Arlington has both. If you are familiar with arbitration you would know arbitrators statistically side with fired police officers and reinstates them the majority of the time or lessens the disciplinary action taken. Both of these measures have proven to be restraints against police accountability and transparency; two of the most important community concerns driving police reform.

So how can this broken system of police oversight be fix? One sure way is to remove police oversight away from the Mayor-City Council and render it to the community. The most reasonable recommendation for police reform would be the following:

Establish and fund a Community Police Oversight Board charged with the oversight of police operations inclusive of the policies and procedures for the recruitment, selection, placement, promotion, recognition, discipline, and termination of police officers.

The police oversight systems across the state and country are obviously broken. Here locally. Arlington’s and Fort Worth’s community activists are pushing for police reform to provide for a better police department that which “serves and protects” the community and is “accountable” to the community. After all, the community pays for the police officers’ salaries and benefits. The drum beat for police reform proponents should be unmistakably loud and clear – community ownership of police.

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