“If you see a machine that looks like a tank rolling down your street, people are going to wonder whether they’re safe in their own neighborhood.”

Retired Chicago police officer Dave Franco and Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) speaker is an Investigator to the City of Chicago’s Corporation Counsel. He conducts investigations for approximately 30 attorneys and works in their labor division, which holds municipal employees accountable if they’ve violated city rules and regulations. Unfortunately, sometimes that includes police officers — they have to hold those accountable who have not complied with what the police department and the people they serve are looking for in a police officer.

Mikayla Hellwich: Why did you want to become a police officer?

Officer Dave Franco: Actually, a friend of mine cajoled me into it. He said, ‘Hey, we can go and work together and kick down doors and chase down bad guys.’ And we thought it was like TV. It’s not like that at all; it’s much more complicated. And as it turned out, my original vision of being a police officer changed through the roles that I’ve had for the last 29 years. I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in some more innovative strategies that the Chicago Police Department has adopted as regular operating procedure.

You said your vision of being a police officer changed over the last 29 years. How did it change?

I saw early on that [our existing policing model] was kind of a… I don’t want to say, ‘a hamster wheel,’ but it was a cycle of arresting people and then not really seeing an effect outside of just generating and regenerating numbers. In the early ’90s, I was also finishing up my bachelor’s degree. The overall policing strategy during that time was community policing. And that’s what changed for me. I was a little bit more tuned into it because I was still going to school. I saw [community policing] as an opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive.

We were in a prototype district in Chicago and there was a huge, organized community component. The collaborative problem-solving was very successful. The input that we got from the community was that locking somebody up and taking them off the street corner is not a real comprehensive way to approach a problem, especially when the problem is decided by me, not by the community. We sat down together and found a lot of these problems were, in most cases, quality of life issues versus hard crime issues. And that still holds true 29 years later. So that’s what really changed — the ability to sit down with the community and solve problems together.

Why did you join LEAP?

I was in narcotics for five years and we applied civil prosecution, the drug and gang house ordinance, to street level drug crime. I saw all these kids, especially young ones, were involved in these operations, and I just couldn’t understand it. They hadn’t done anything in terms of violent crime, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around locking a kid up for a bag of weed. I know that it’s illegal, but I also understand that the original scheduling of that drug was not one based on any kind of science. One of the things that really got me is that we arrest so many people who are addicted and need help. So, I was hoping to find like-minded individuals, and it didn’t take me very long to find them — I found them in the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

One of the issues you focus on is accountability in law enforcement. What does that word mean to you?

Integrity. An oath is a sacred vow, and I don’t want to sound silly, but when I took that oath, I took it very seriously. The oath is to protect and serve. I think that anytime you don’t honor that oath, you need to be accountable — not only to yourself, but also to everybody that you promised you would serve. Our interactions with the community are so important. Especially with programs where we’re going to give someone assistance versus locking them up, I think that will start a healing process I don’t think we’ve even started here in Chicago. So, accountability to me is everything you do or say being true to that oath and the people that you were sworn to protect.

I love that definition. What do you think American policing has gotten right about accountability and what do you think we’ve gotten wrong?

I think that the departments that are going back — truly going back to community policing strategies — I think they’re the ones that will be successful. You’ve got to either build the bridges or keep those bridges built and open within a community.

The ones that are wrong, I think, are departments where we see militarization of the police and asset forfeiture — I think those are so harsh. They do just the opposite of community policing. If you see a machine that looks like a tank rolling down your street, people are going to wonder whether they’re safe in their own neighborhood.

Do you see accountability as a contentious issue within the law enforcement community, and if so why do you think that is?

It’s generational. I think that change within Chicago is going to happen over a period of time. The buy-in has to be on the entry level. That’s where it has to occur. And there are some police officers that you’re never going to win over. In Chicago, we’ve got a federal consent decree that went into effect in January 2019 that includes a lot of crisis intervention training and more accountability in terms of things like foot pursuits and gun procedure. I think those are going to be new to a lot of police officers who have been around for a while. But to the younger officers coming up, it’s just going to be a matter of routine.

A long time ago, there were no hockey players that wore helmets or mouthpieces. But then the youth leagues mandated they all wear mouthpieces and helmets. Now, if you saw a hockey player with no helmet you’d wonder what was going on. Maybe it’s kind of a silly analogy, but what I’m saying is that it’s got to be part of the culture. So, when you do the right thing, it’s from the beginning, and there’s no other way of looking at it.

Officer Dave Franco (Ret.) has been with the Chicago Police Department for over 28 years. He’s an expert in pre-arrest diversion programs, police training, accountability and transparency in law enforcement, and community policing programs. He’s now a speaker with the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP).

Mikayla Hellwich is the speakers bureau & media relations director for LEAP.

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