Protests in Ferguson and New York City this summer rekindled an old debate about how police use force, NPR reports. The perception that cops are too aggressive has been fed not just by the high-profile deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but also by a stream of unflattering camera phone videos, such as the recent scene of New York cops aggressively clearing a street of vendors or the clip of three officers in a Houston school wrestling with a teenage girl who didn’t want to give up her cellphone. David Couper, former Madison, Wi., police chief, has long urged changing police culture. “The philosophy was domination and control,” he says. “[But] there was a softer way to approach this — through negotiation, through kind of scaling things down without heightening the anxiety of the situation.”
Couper’s “Madison Method” was a model for other reform-minded departments in the 1980s and ’90s. “Sept. 11, 2001, it all changed for police,” he says. With the advent of homeland security, Couper’s methods strike today’s police as naive. “My guys can wear tie-dyed T-shirts and hemp bracelets to work, and there will still be violence and crime in the community,” says Missouri state Rep. Jeff Roorda, a retired police officer who works for the St. Louis Police Officers Association. “I think that having a swift and sure response is the quickest way to bring a situation under control.” The “swift and sure” philosophy is under attack by the Justice Department, where Attorney General Eric Holder ramped up scrutiny of police for using excessive force.