President Trump, we need 21st-century law and order

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Story highlights

  • Cedric L. Alexander: Trump should not be like Nixon when it comes to law and order
  • He should take his cues from how far we have come as a nation in the 21st century, he writes

Cedric L. Alexander is a CNN law enforcement analyst and director of public safety at the DeKalb County Police Department in Georgia. He is a former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)When candidate Donald Trump called himself the "law and order candidate," the pundits scoffed. He sounded just like Richard Nixon, they said.

But Nixon, the 37th president, was not the first to associate himself with law and order. George Washington, the first president, called himself the nation's "Chief Magistrate," a steward of law and order. Presidents and police officers take similar oaths, to protect and defend the Constitution. Having taken it, every president must be a law and order president.
    Now that he has been elevated from candidate to chief executive, Donald Trump is no exception. I appeal to him, however, to become the law and order president not for Nixon's 20th century, but for our 21st.
    Cedric L. Alexander
    Law is legislation as enacted by the people's representatives in government. We are all obliged to obey the law. Order, as we understand the concept in the 21st century, is created by the people, the police, the legislature, and the courts as they work together to administer the law. Order is not simply forced on people by the police or handed down to them by Congress or the courts. Order is a collaboration among all, the product of the American community.
    Our 21st century order is shaped by our Constitution, which demands that the laws be applied equally, justly, and humanely. In an earlier time in America, the law made some people the property of other people, the law discriminated against some, the law divided race from race. Even today, elsewhere in the world, evil things are done in the name of law. But thanks to our collaborative, Constitutional concept of order, we 21st century Americans do not use the law in these ways.
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    The new president-elect has never held public office, and he has never served in law enforcement. He will have his hands full. Fortunately, there is a blueprint. It is called The Final Report of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Based on detailed interviews with hundreds of Americans from the realms of law enforcement, education, government, business, the police unions, faith and community groups, the many minorities in our diverse nation, it is the people's blueprint for modern policing. I was proud to have been appointed by President Obama to serve on the Task Force that compiled and wrote it.
    I call it a blueprint because it is a plan for building law and order in what is still a new century. Instead of chapters, it consists of "pillars." For me, the two most important of these are "Building Trust and Legitimacy" and "Community Policing and Crime Reduction." They are closely related.
    We are a nation of laws, and the authority of all our public officials, from presidents to police officers, comes from our laws. But authority derived from statutes is not sufficient to make an effective police officer. As we note in the report we compiled, "People are more likely to obey the law when they believe that those who are enforcing it have authority that is perceived as legitimate by those subject to the authority. The public confers legitimacy only on those whom they believe are acting in procedurally just ways." Procedural justice is fairness and transparency in the way the police do their job in the community, in the processes they use to resolve disputes, and in the empathy and respect they show everyone they serve and protect.
    Legitimacy derived from procedural justice is the aim of community policing, which must be the foundation of policing today. The community policing concept was created in the last quarter of the last century, a period during which it competed with policing policies based on military models.
    In the worst cases, these models cast police and community in the role of belligerents fighting an outright and never-ending war. In our new century, the time has come to replace the war scenario with community policing as a law-enforcement approach that supports police-community partnerships and pragmatic problem-solving in which police and citizens work together to address public safety challenges ranging from social disorder, to street crime, to fear of crime.
    When it was conceived in the 20th century, community policing was focused narrowly on the neighborhood and even the beat. Years ago, when I was an officer with the Miami-Dade Police Department, we even focused community policing efforts on one single housing project, which was notorious for a level of violence that intimidated and endangered residents of the project.
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    The scope of 21st-century community policing expands from the intensely local to the broadly global. In our digitally interconnected world, global terrorist organizations, prominent among them ISIL (ISIS), relentlessly reach out to marginalized youth in our most challenged communities, recruiting their allegiance to the cause of terror. Today, community policing is, in part, a homeland security mission.
    Candidate Trump repeatedly appealed for support from African-American and Latino communities by asking them, "What have you got to lose?" He is now President-elect Trump, so I can understand if some think I am presumptuous in telling him that he had been asking the wrong question. But he was asking the wrong question, and, as president, he needs to start asking a different question, the right question: "What have we got to gain?"
    What indeed?
    For the vast majority of Americans, the most visible, frequent, and important contact they have with the laws and the government of the United States are their interactions with police officers. For most Americans most of the time, police officers are the government of the United States.
    The law enforcement community now includes the nation's newest Chief Magistrate, Donald Trump. Like any police officer, President Trump must earn the legitimacy of his authority to administer law and order. It is a legitimacy that can be conferred only by the people of the communities we serve and protect. Earning it is another pillar of 21st century policing. It is a pillar built on partnership, not enmity, with the community. It is built on mutual respect, empathy, and tolerance. It is built on the celebration of diversity. And it rises to support a roof that shelters all of us, leaving no one unprotected outside.