Former Seattle chief: Policing needs a license, just like doctors

SEATTLE — Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper knows he’s established a reputation as a rabble-rouser, as a burr in law enforcement’s saddle. He was pro-drug legalization before it was fashionable. And he feels police should step away from their existing “paramilitary” nature.

But perhaps the most provocative idea in his new book, “To Protect and Serve,” is the assertion that all police in the country should be licensed, in the same way a doctor or attorney is.

“Everything that goes into being a professional police officer, you satisfy the requirements in those areas, you get your license in effect,” he said. “But you can get your license revoked, your authority to practice law anywhere in the United States.”

Stamper said that the capacity to revoke a police officer’s license — in the same way a bar association can pull an attorney’s right to practice law — provides a red flag for other departments when they are hiring. Specifically, he cited up the 2014 fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, who previously had been fired from another department, was the shooter.

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“That officer had been fired, a couple of years previous, by the Independence Ohio Police Department,” Stamper said. “Cleveland hired a man who had fallen apart on the police pistol range, who was an emotional wreck, who by his mother’s own story had fallen asleep each night weeping crocodile tears into his academy manual.”

If the officer has lost his license before Cleveland and as a result didn’t get hired, Tamir Rice might be alive today, Stamper said. “We need to do that because too many agencies are hiring other agencies rejects.”

In North Carolina, for example, a licensed barber needs 1528 hours before legally practicing his trade. A police officer needs less than half that, 620 hours. In California, a licensed cosmetologist must have 1600 training hours. A cop in the state needs 664 hours.

“We need a national standard,” Stamper said. “Who would require it for so many things and not being a police officer?”