AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the west side of Manhattan. It's part of the City University of New York.
Think about the past several months. Since the events in Ferguson, Mo., and then the death of Eric Garner, the man selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island, and then the events in Baltimore, think of how often we've been hearing about police interacting with suspects, the use of force, what's right, what's wrong, how should the police deal better with the community. Well, imagine that you're a student at John Jay studying criminal justice, looking forward to becoming a law enforcement officer, as many here - not all, but many - still do. For them, it has been an exceptionally interesting year for the students and also for members of the faculty.
JOHN DECARLO: I'm Professor John DeCarlo. I coordinate the police studies program here, and I teach a variety of subjects, actually, from research methods and statistics to police management.
SIEGEL: John DeCarlo spent 34 years as a police officer and later a police chief in Connecticut. Then he got his PhD and made the switch to teaching at John Jay. In light of this year's stories about policing, I asked him if he talks with his students about how they as future law enforcement officers should manage their encounters with civilians, including the fear that they might feel at such moments.
DECARLO: We have not only talked about the fear that one feels at that point and the reaction that an officer might have, but we also talked about how certain people will be predisposed to different reactions, and it is incumbent upon police leaders to really increase the efficacy of police selection processes so that we do not put people on the job who would be bullies.
SIEGEL: And do you feel those people can be identified before they become police officers or early on in their police careers? How do you do that?
DECARLO: I do. You know, right now, when police officers come on, you know, we send them to an academy that is very militaristic. We are looking, very often, for big people. Women are underrepresented wildly, and we know that women are much better at talking their way out of bad situations than big guys. Right now we give cops a test called the MMPI-2, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. So we pretty much determine that they're not psychopaths. I think that's a low bar.
SIEGEL: In his senior seminar, DeCarlo comes off as a born teacher.
DECARLO: Good morning. We are going to talk a little bit about - Tyric (ph), how are you? - where police have gone and where we want them to go.
SIEGEL: He is dynamic, commanding attention, knowing his students, working the seminar room rather than standing at the front. The seminar draws on ideas from, among other sources, Plato's "Republic," in which the police are the guardians and the principles of Sir Robert Peel, the founder of London's police and namesake of London's of bobbies, and President Obama's 21st-Century Task Force on Policing. John DeCarlo is a strong supporter of community policing. He leads his students through a Socratic dialogue inspired by an article about the shift in our view of police from guardians to warriors.
DECARLO: Did it really start, Leo (ph), on September 11?
SIEGEL: Here he is questioning students Leo Kisnerman (ph) and Carol Chow (ph).
DECARLO: Did it really start there, or did that kind of add fire to it?
LEO KISNERMAN: Kind of added fire to it because if you ask people what they want their police officers to be, they always want them to be, you know, scary, take care of crime. But that's, in reality, what we don't need. We need police officers to be friendly, get with the community, do their job. So be guardians, not warriors.
DECARLO: So, Carol, what is a Guardian? I mean when we think of an officer as a Guardian
CAROL CHOW: Pretty much like what Leo said. You know, police officers are there to protect us from danger. I mean, the first thing we do when a crime happens is we call 9-1-1, right? That's the immediate response from everybody - call 9-1-1. And why do we do that? It's because we expect police officers to be there to protect us from the danger, and that's pretty much what everybody's image of guardians are supposed to be. You know, they're tough. They're strong. They're supposed to protect others from danger. You know, they're like angels pretty much - just without the whole wings part.
SIEGEL: Among the principles John DeCarlo wants his students to honor is one attributed to Sir Robert Peel in Victorian England. The police are the public, and the public are the police.
DECARLO: Why should the public police themselves?
SIEGEL: Belen Gomez (ph), who's already an auxiliary police officer, answers.
BELEN GOMEZ: I don't think that the public should police themselves, but they should be aware of the situations that are going around them. And also they could take care of, like, smaller things like maybe if they see kids that are not heading to school, instead of something that being the police should do, they should be like, hey, you know, why don't you head to school or, you know, let me walk you to school or, like, hey, what's going on? And try to maintain a relationship not only within the community but also with the police officers that are around them, and tell them, like, hey, I've seen this kid. He hasn't been going to school for a while. You know, can you talk to him - etc.
SIEGEL: Did the tumultuous events involving police throughout their senior year make the students rethink their career choice? I asked some of them. Here's Leo Kisnerman, whose ambition is to be an NYPD detective.
KISNERMAN: At some point, I did have a doubt about how dangerous the job would be if everyone hated the police, but then also it made me want to be a police officer even more to help the community, to help relations with the police - also because being a police officer you get to interact with people at their worst, and then you get to help them.
SIEGEL: Helping people is how several of these students described why they want to be cops. A cynical observer might say, as one faculty member said to me, go back after a year on the job, and you'll hear about disillusion and the desire to get out of policing. Well, John DeCarlo doesn't say that. At the end of this senior seminar, the last of the academic year at John Jay College, Professor John DeCarlo did what many teachers do at moments like these. He took a couple of minutes to talk with his students about their future. A teacher's valedictory.
DECARLO: Make change. Don't ever accept the status quo. Be an anarchist, and you will change a system that is in need of change. You will bring it to new levels of legitimacy. You will bring it to new levels of caring. Stay in touch with me. Hit me up on Facebook. If you don't, I'm going to haunt you. Get out there, finish up, graduate, and above all, be safe.
SIEGEL: Professor John DeCarlo at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
DECARLO: Now let's have that class picture. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.