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Challenge of Policing in a Democratic Society: A Personal Journey Toward Understanding

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2014
16 pages

This paper, authored by the Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, presents some of the lessons he learned about the responsibilities of policing in a democracy from his visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.


The lessons he learned focused on one of the phrases in the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics: "to protect the Constitutional rights of all people to liberty, equality, and justice." His reflections feature three photographs he viewed in the Holocaust Memorial Museum. One photo shows a police officer and a Nazi militia soldier walking together with one holding the leash of a muzzled dog. This stirred the realization that the police in Nazi Germany were not just passively permitting atrocities by agents of the Third Reich. Jews and other minorities were terrorized by Nazi supporters without police interference and often with police support. A second photo that made a deep impression on the author was of a lone prisoner who has just been liberated from Buchenwald. He is sitting, eating rice from a bowl, looking up at the photographer with eyes that tell a story, not of liberation, but perhaps the remnants of emotional pain, anguish and resignation. The police come in contact with many people whose lives have been shaped by abuse, poverty, and various victimizations, even in America. Although police cannot prevent nor resolve all of these adverse circumstances they can counter certain threats to public welfare, such as crime, disorder, and unlawful discrimination. The third photograph shows a group of Nazi soldiers standing around a man who is on his knees as one of the soldiers points a pistol at the back of his head. In every phase of their work, police officers are called to protect the rights of all people against from abuse and victimization, even by other police officers.

Date Published: June 1, 2014