Philadelphia police recruits went to Washington D.C. for training on Aug. 5, 2014. While they were there, the recruits took a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to study ethics in policing.
Through the images and history displayed at the museum, the training course aims to leave law enforcement officers with a lasting sense of the importance of the values that drove many of them into policing in the first place.
“They have to understand the very special role that police in a democracy play,” said David Friedman, who helps lead the training, “It’s about preserving and protecting our values, and it all focuses on their relationship to the people they serve. That’s what gives their job meaning, but it’s the essence of what differentiates policing in a constitutional democracy from other countries. . . . Respect of rights for the people.”
To be clear, this is not to suggest that the shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, and the heavily armed police response to protests equate to systematic, state-sponsored genocide.
The point was to demonstrate how quickly values can be lost, and that when they are, police can turn from the protectors they are supposed to be into something else.
“The Holocaust is probably the most extreme example of just how horrific and far-reaching the consequences can be when police officers violate their oaths of office and fail to protect the basic right and liberties of citizens,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey wrote in a June essay describing the training. “But even small ethical violations on the part of police officers can result in people’s rights being denied, their confidence in the police being eroded and their communities becoming less safe.”
Ramsey first came up with the idea of the Holocaust-related educational program years ago, after visiting the museum when he led the Washington police force. Developed by the museum and the Anti-Defamation League, the training has spread to the FBI, Secret Service, and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
“Our power and authority come from the people,” Ramsey wrote in the essay for Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the National Institute of Justice.