Stop allowing police departments to pass their liability on to the public.


Firing non-compliant supervisors will change the culture. Change for me means getting the police “to protect [non-White America] just like they protect everybody else.”

Think about it: when was the last time you heard of a sergeant fired for failing to supervise bad police? In the last ten years? Twenty? Ever? Is it not astounding that the very farmer that grows bad police has never been held accountable for his or her harvest?

What do you think the American police culture would look like if the culture-makers — the first-line supervisors — were themselves policed? Is it not counter-intuitive to change the culture product rather than the culture maker as the best method to clean or improve the culture?

Your supervisors set the culture. They are the greatest influencers of culture in any department. Addressing their compliance is the most influential and expedient way to change your department’s culture. They also have the greatest influence on minimizing a department’s risk overhead.

Supervisors are not stupid. They understand department risk, and they understand personal risk. Like everyone, supervisors at personal risk of losing their jobs will do their jobs. Instead of re-culturing one cop at a time, routinely conducting a simple performance review on your supervisors to confirm they are constantly reviewing, documenting, and reteaching their subordinates is a faster, easier, safer and more effective avenue of change.

It is, in fact, so simple, that it begs the question: why has this escaped your attention for so long?


To change the police culture, you must change the culture makers. CULTURE=CULTURE MAKERS.

Fire those who fail to supervise to the public’s detriment.

He who suffers the consequences is motivated to drive the change. CONSEQUENCES=CHANGE.

It is no more, and no less, complicated than that.


Good or bad, your supervisors set the culture. They are not a firewall; they are the firewall. They are designed to work as a horizontal and vertical system of checks and balances. That system is intentionally built to miss little, given the risk of unrecoverable loss of life and egregious loss of liberty.

· Supervisors CREATE a department’s performance culture. A supervisor’s most pressing directive is to maximize effectiveness and minimize risk. Supervision failure can “create an atmosphere where aggressive tactics” are not just tolerated, but expected.

· Supervisors CURATE a department’s performance culture. Supervisors are “the primary line of sight into officer conduct.” That requires a total commitment to performance management, and continuous attention, analysis and feedback.

· Supervisors CHAMPION a department’s performance culture. They translate the agency mission into steps to keep officers on course with community trust. They reinforce core values, both within the department and directly with its community. They develop officers as faithful guardians of community trust.

More aptly, supervisors set your culture. Curating your culture by legal, procedural, and performance oversight is — quite literally — their one and only job. They are not decorative. Their beat, and their entire beat, is perfecting the application of law per your understanding and expectation; perfecting the culture per your understanding and expectation; perfecting the process per your understanding and expectation; and perfecting your community footprint per your understanding and expectation.

That axiom applies to good and bad supervisors alike. A department is only as strong as its weakest supervisor. Officers do what their sergeants make room for. Their conduct may have had an uncontemplated outcome, but Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tuo Thao were doing what their leadership allowed when they collaborated to kill George Floyd. You left that leadership intact. That means, if the police culture is a bad one, it is because — through act or omission — you choose for it to be. This is the job you hired your supervisors for, and this is the job that they performed.

That axiom is so pivotal, that when a police department is accused of misconduct, vetting supervision is a Justice Department staple.

As just one example, in 2009, the Justice Department opened a pattern or practice of misconduct investigation against the East Haven Connecticut Police Department (“EHPD”). The East Haven community complained that EHPD officers engaged “in biased policing, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and the use of excessive force.” Justice did a preliminary vetting and found sufficient cause for an on-sight investigation.

I worked for Justice’s Special Litigation Section (“SPL”) back then and was a part of this and many institutional investigations. Justice investigated aggressively, interviewing police, meeting with the leadership, meeting with the community, and reviewing binders-full of EHPD material on its policies, procedures, training, accountability, use of force and other reports, investigations protocols, investigation data, and employee data.

As is almost always the case, SPL found that a majority of EHPD’s problems came from supervisory issues, specifically that it “intentionally and woefully” failed to manage misconduct. That finding led to EHPD contracting with the Justice Department to ensure EHPD’s “supervisors provide the close and effective supervision necessary for officers to improve and grow as police officers; to police actively and effectively, and to identify, correct, and prevent misconduct.”

Again, on close Justice inspection, it was terrifyingly common to find leadership-driven, systemic defects in police departments. Consider its findings following investigations of the Springfield Police Department, Chicago Police Department, Baltimore Police Department, Ville Platte Police Department, Albuquerque Police Department, Newark Police Department, New Orleans Police Department, Oregon Police Bureau, and Cleveland Division of Police, for example, to name just a few.

A supervisor’s oversight and discipline have a deterrent effect on a force. When you hold supervisors accountable, supervisors hold officers accountable and that changes what happens on the streets. Any assertion otherwise is simply not credible.


Every single police department in the whole of the United States trains its officers, without exception. City police were behind the greatest period of sustained and destructive public unrest in modern history.

The most destructive period is not yet a year old. When Derick Chauvin killed George Floyd, between 15 and 26 million people protested in more than 2000 American cities and towns and 60 other countries, causing an estimated $1–2 billion in damages. If training was dispositive, “policing” and “utter destruction” would not be chronic bedfellows. We must disabuse ourselves of the belief that training is anything more than a very detailed “how to.” “Did you” never once enters the equation.

In the simplest terms, suppose you have a new student who spends just the summer with a school’s math tutor, preparing for the 9th grade. Six months into freshman year, the student still fails math. The school periodically returns the student to the tutor for refreshers, but the student fails. This cycle repeats — alarmingly — with multiple students every year. Worse, the phenomenon is gaining traction.

Now let me add to that an introduction to Guy Bussey.

Guy Bussey is my uncle, and the Flint police shot him in 1929. That athlete of activism is Jackie Robinson holding court in 1972. And we have been obdurately ignoring a corps of very bad teachers for far, far too long.

In four decades, I have not once heard of any police department’s teacher — let alone its first-line instructor, sergeant — ever so much as considered for review, discipline, or termination for student after student failure. Any school still “curing” by retutoring and failing is a school that never intended to teach. Let’s lay the training fallacy to rest for good, now, please.

Supervisors are the single most influential factor in how police learn to apply their training. Chief, consider what you said of your time as a first-line supervisor:

Sergeants have “the most influential role in the police department . . . . It’s most influential because you have the most proximity to the men and women who are out there serving in the community. You’re there for them at the roll calls. You are a mentor. You give them guidance. They are going to see you far often (sic) than they would ever see the Chief of police, for example. And, you set the tone, and the attitude and so, that’s really a very significant role.”

Again: responding to random scenes discretely and unannounced, just to observe; randomly reviewing force episodes and body-camera video; documenting and counseling officers for gross and minor deviations alike; pulse-checking communities 24 hours after police response; comparing reports to community recitations; documenting disparities and resulting course correction — that is supervision, that is what is missing, and that is why policing Black communities in America is a centuries-long chronicle of failure.

Supervision is re-teaching that translates training into performance and culture. That does not happen through educational units. That does not happen through report writing refreshers. That happens through assessing what officers do — in real time — with their training. That happens through close and effective supervision, when leadership teaches a force, with intent, how to be decent and effective police.


EFFICIENCY. You can get results faster because doing your job is faster than identifying and implementing creative avenues of change.

Active supervision makes it is easier to get rid of bad cops. We all believe getting rid of bad cops is difficult. It is, but ONLY when a supervisor does not appropriately discipline officers and document that discipline. If they did, firing bad cops would be easy.

Consider the Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”) : there were at least eight detectives involved in the March 13, 2020 Taylor raid: Brett Hankison (fired weapon), Jonathan Mattingly (fired weapon), Myles Cosgrove (fired weapon), Joshua Jaynes, Mike Nobles, Tony James, Michael Campbell, and Kelly Hanna. All but Hanna and Jaynes were on the raid team. None of the raid team wore body cameras.

The biggest take away of this series is that we are LOOKING THE WRONG WAY. It is time to start making supervisors discipline officers and document that discipline, or fire the supervisors. And, notably, firing the supervisors for this non-performance is an infinitely less complicated process, as I describe below.

Active supervision also results in converting teachable cops. That is innate in the overview process itself.

The net effect is a simple way to create a just and effective culture of policing. Forcing your department, up and down the chain, to clean house and change the tone of policing is something you can do now, this second, today. There is no defunding, which fewer than one in five support; no restructuring for the mere 16% of municipalities willing to consider it; no refunding, no budgeting, no reallocation or innovations, ramp ups, buy-in. Everything necessary to police those who police the police is already in place. The systems exist. The documents exist. The records exist. Walk down the hall, open a cabinet, or boot up a computer.

Be proactive — do not wait for a catastrophic event. Pull the paper, see if your first-line and higher supervisors are supervising, and rid yourself of those who are not. After a catastrophic event, do the same, paying close attention for footprints of supervision around the catastrophic facts. Whether supervisors are performing close and effective supervision is easy to see, and it is dispositive.


Wrong. Performance standards controlled by the presence or absence of malfeasance creates monsters and it shows. They do not decide the issue of the presence of good policing but the absence of potentially culpable conduct. The lasting lesson: officers believe they are entitled to be police unless they have caused culpable harm. That is unambiguously and unquestionably wrong. And, that is precisely how the men and women in American policing carry themselves and perform their duties.

Right. A performance discipline approach is clear: you will do the job you were hired for, or make room for someone who will. That applies to officers, following a first-line review. That applies to management, following a superior’s review. And that is precisely as it should be.

You made those monsters, Chief; now you must put them down.


Why supervisors are not your first avenue of focus is a mystery. Why get on the beltway at Exit 30, go all the way around to the right, and get off on Exit 31B when you can get on from Exit 30 and go one to the left to 31B? There are so many wrong turns and bad exits that end with encouraging a sense of entitlement into the stratosphere. It is time to anchor your force back to earth.

Police and supervisors are not entitled to keep their badges, their guns, and their authority. There is nothing about them that makes their standard of retention different than the balance of the working universe. Just like me, they must earn their jobs. Just like you, they must maintain expected performance standards to keep them. And just like everyone, they must be good, not not bad — there are 100s who want to be good waiting in a line at the door.


Pushing back on supervisors grows protections.

Supervision has a cause-and-effect relationship with department liability. Consequence-free misconduct creates a culture of misconduct. Misconduct increases liability. When a supervisor enforces standards designed to circumvent this, supervisors decrease misconduct and, thus, increase protections against department liability.

Supervision has a cause-and-effect relationship with department litigation. Consequence-free evidentiary misconduct means runaway litigation. Think about it. Officers face termination and criminal charges for misconduct. Those same officers are the source of almost all of the evidence against themselves. Officers can eliminate liability by self-exoneration, regardless of what took place.

But doing so guarantees that a department will have a tainted record. That department now has no ability to limit risk. It cannot, for example, verify legal and ethical conduct, refute misconduct or cap liability from damage or harm.

Pushing back on supervisors shrinks risk. You needn’t have a catastrophic event to learn how to avoid a catastrophic event.

Supervision has a cause-and-effect relationship with community safety. Good policing is less physically and mentally traumatizing. It is less likely to cause resentment, which has lasting and toxic effects for the bearer. It reduces terror levels, which also reduces non-compliance from fear — a rapidly increasing and justified response. Good policing grows the younger community into a generation that feels connected rather than criminalized.

Supervision has a cause-and-effect relationship with officer safety. Good policing is less combative, thus less likely to provoke acrimony, community defensiveness, and the drawing of “us versus them” lines. Fewer angry crowds and angry citizens reduce an officer’s personal risk. Good policing communicates “help is here” not “pile on has arrived.” Those in crisis rarely present as their best selves. When in crisis, help is welcomed and officers stay safe.

Again, why do you not begin every inquiry with leadership? Hyper-management of supervisors requires no catastrophic event. It also requires no disgruntled citizen or formal complaint. This can be a completely proactive program that only costs the city the salary it pays to those collecting the funds, but without the performance.


If chiefs and mayors did their jobs, if chiefs and mayors held their firewalls accountable, their police would treat race with equal legitimacy. You do not, so your firewalls do not, so your police officers do not, so we die. See how that works?

Supervisors, and especially first-line supervisors, are the driving force behind every department’s culture. They must be held scrupulously “accountable for reinforcing the core values of the department in the discharge of their daily responsibilities.” Fire non-compliant staff when an event merits termination. Supervisors will fall in line or make way for someone who will. The solution to effecting real and durable change is no more, and no less, complicated than that.

Do not let leadership continue running with a false bad apple / lone wolf narrative. Officers are not innocents, but the apples riding desks are holding the reins. Demand that Mayors and Chiefs supervise their supervisors until we get the culture to which the nation is entitled.



EMAIL: FACEBOOK: TWITTER: @EsqPugh. View a Race and Profiling Lecture Series appearance here.
Roman chariot in a race for justice in policing because race is a contact sport

Before you engage me or others, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Ten things to watch out for during racism discussions.

Catherine Pugh is an Attorney at Law and former Adjunct Professor at the Temple University, Japan. She developed and taught Race and the Law for its undergraduate program, and Evidence, Criminal Law, and Criminal and Civil Procedure for its law program. She has worked for the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, and was a Public Defender for the State of Maryland. View her Race and Profiling Lecture Series appearance here. The view expressed here are personal. Nothing in this or any Medium writing is a legal recommendation, legal advice, or a legal opinion.

To my sweetest of loves: I am the wall for them; you are the wall for me. And nothing — nothing — has ever gotten past you. You are my everything. #CubanKitchen.

“It takes the wisdom of the elders . . .” Thank you for teaching us, loving us, leading us all: Mary Stovall Davis Budd, Andrea Tucker, Lorenzo Pugh, Dorris Pugh, Jacqueline Wallace, Roger Wallace, Kenneth Davis, Sandra Davis, and Karen Davis.

Underground Railroad Quilt used as footer in a race / racism / justice discussion.
Quilts and the Underground Railroad

Keywords: racism, police misconduct, police accountability, police reform, society, culture, leadership.




Private Counsel. Former DOJ-CRT, Special Litigation Section, Public Defender; Adjunct Professor (law & undergrad). Developed Race & Law course.

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Catherine Pugh, Esq.

Private Counsel. Former DOJ-CRT, Special Litigation Section, Public Defender; Adjunct Professor (law & undergrad). Developed Race & Law course.