Policing the Left

Elements for working in liberal communities


Policing is about keeping the peace, controlling crime and exerting authority for the common good. So, what happens when a traditionally conservative occupation resides in a place where a majority of the population leans far to the left? Eugene (Ore.), Berkeley (Calif.) and Madison (Wis.) all sit in counties ranked high in a liberal population. Each city's police department developed ways to not only work within its unique community, but work with the people they serve.

Eugene, OR

With a population of just over 150,000, Eugene is home to the University of Oregon, a thriving countercultural Saturday Market, and was the stomping ground for 1960s icon Ken Kesey. Remember the phrase, "Are you on the bus or off the bus?" Kesey's bus, "Further" made famous in The Electric Acid Kool-aid Test, still makes appearances here. Eugene is the largest city in Lane County, which landed as number 78 on the Daily Callers "America's most liberal-friendly towns" Top 100 list of 2010.

Eugene Police Department (EPD) has 183 officers and often faces showdowns in the media (particularly alternative papers) over a myriad of issues, including the use of electric control devices, a new headquarters being built outside downtown and dealing with disenfranchised populations like homeless youth. Through these media, it would seem EPD has a strained relationship with the community it serves. A deeper look into the department shows this is not the case at all.

"We have a chief that believes in community relations and meets on a regular basis with people from all walks of life in the community," explains Melinda McLaughlin, EPD's public information director. She agrees the liberal air of Eugene requires a different way of policing. "There's a higher level of scrutiny." McLaughlin states. "When you have a community with diverse political and social views, especially if they are polar opposites, there's going to be controversy."

Berkeley, CA

The oldest of the University of California campuses, UC-Berkeley, resides in this city of around 101,000. Once described as "in the running for the most left-wing place in America," Berkeley is a magnet for liberal-minded students and professors. Berkeley is located in Alameda County, which placed 25th on the Daily Callers list. During the 1960s, Berkeley earned a reputation, along with its neighbor San Francisco, as a place for social revolutionists to gather.

Berkeley Police Department with 181 officers embraces its history and retains policies and procedures reflecting the nuances of the era that defined it in the minds of many Americans. "Policing should be a reflection of what the community desires their police officers to be like and behave like, and be part of the community," Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, Berkeley PD's public information officer explains. "We have a counsel resolution against helicopters and dogs being used in policing, and those resolutions came from the era of when helicopters and dogs were used for crowd control purposes and not in ways we'd use them now."

Madison, WI

Another college town, Madison boasts a population of just over 231,000 and is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Madison is located in Dane County, which placed an impressive number 8 on the Daily Callers list. Madison claims the title of being the "birthplace of the Progressive Movement." Often dubbed informally, The People's Republic of Madison, this town's political and social views fall well outside an expected conservative mid-Western ideology.

Madison Police Department prides itself in being on the forefront of community relationships. In this department of 438, from the time they step foot into the academy on day one, to the time they retire, officers are immersed in community-based, also known as "trust-based" policing as a philosophy, and not just a program. "We have a long standing tradition of four decades of being on the cutting edge of being able to look at what policing means to a community," explains Michael Koval, Madison PD's sergeant of personnel and training. "Community-oriented policing is not something we do to a community; it's something we do with a community." Like Eugene and Berkeley, Madison embraces three elements in maintaining good community relations: teamwork, transparency and trust.

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