CLAREMONT — A former Claremont police officer is using both the written and spoken word in hopes of spurring better policing practices and healthier relationships between departments and the communities served.
In his 2019 book, “A Cop in a Small City: Examining Mission and Integrity,” Claremont resident Michael Sanborn shares his experiences in the Claremont Police Department — where he served from 1982 to 1988 — to reflect upon long-standing systemic problems in America’s police departments and ways that departments must evolve, both structurally and philosophically.
“I didn’t want to just write a collection of police stories,” Sanborn told the Eagle Times on Friday. “I wanted to get into the ethics, [including] lots of the rotten stuff I saw in Claremont. Now that it’s coming out nationally, I’m seeing all these commonalities that I wrote about.”
Sanborn, now retired, joined the Claremont Police Department following a career in the U.S. Army, where he served in the artillery division. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Saint Michael’s College and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Pepperdine University in California when he joined the Claremont Police Department and later acquired a second master’s degree from Antioch University of New England in Keene.
Education and religious upbringing were both influential in how Sanborn views the role of a police officer and the overall department.
In a pair of online presentations based on his book, Sanborn says that an officer’s “integrity” — meaning one’s adherence to key moral and ethical principles, such as honesty — greatly defines both the officer and the officer’s department.
“If your personal integrity crumbles, so does your character, your testimony and your credibility,” Sanborn said in his presentation titled “Mission and Integrity for Law Enforcement Agencies.”
Importantly, a department’s failure to resolve the integrity of its officers usually suffer integrity damage as organizations, which factors greatly into the negative public perceptions of how police departments operate, Sanborn said.
During his six years in the Claremont Police Department, Sanborn said he saw numerous unethical behaviors by other officers that were either ignored by superiors or resulted in retaliatory actions by colleagues for raising them. These incidents included: an officer issuing a false vehicle infraction against a man who had dated the officer’s sister; officers falsifying their time cards; excessive uses of force; and breaking the same speeding laws that they enforce on citizens.
Sanborn said he once notified his supervisor, former Claremont Police Chief Adam Bauer, that the Claremont dispatcher was involved in an “inappropriate” sexual relationship outside of work. Bauer allegedly told Sanborn that “what he does outside of work is not our problem.”
“Later on [that dispatcher] was arrested for sexual assault in another town,” Sanborn said. “Why didn’t we act on that?”
Officers who reported the misconduct of another officer were regarded as “rats,” Sanborn said.
“When I finally got nailed to tell the truth about something, I started getting harassment like pieces of cheese in my mailbox or pictures of rats,” Sanborn said. “The irony of how criminals don’t rat on each other is that neither do the police.”
Sanborn said that traditional police practices to address internal conduct issues are “reactive” rather than proactive, in that the system responds to the events after they transpire, rather than trying to create an environment that reduces the number of issues.
Internal investigations, even those conducted by independent law enforcement agencies, often lack transparency, which results in increased public distrust. Departments will also respond with memorandums or directives that usually have no legal hold or policy changes that are equally ineffective.
For department supervisors, the proactive approach should aim to diagnose the department’s morale and identify symptomatic warnings like poor work ethic or attitudes, Sanborn said.
Supervisors should monitor the physical and emotional health of their officers, as well as their own; weigh the benefit and effectiveness of department policies against their negative impacts, such as an excess number of policies to follow or policies that no one follows.
Supervisors should also physically check in with their officers rather than wait for the officers to come to them, Sanborn said.
“Open door policies do not work,” Sanborn said. “You’ve got to get out of your office and your comfort zone and go into your supervisee’s comfort zone.”
Similarly, police officers need to increase their direct involvement in their communities, Sanborn said. This involvement should include volunteering in the community, doing social service and finding a mentor outside one’s chain of command. While Sanborn encourages having an internal department mentor, he said officers should also have a mentor in the outside community who has a familiarity with police work, such as a retired officer or former police commissioner. An outside mentor could help officers maintain a bridge between the community and police department and provide a comfortable environment for officers to process and decompress.
Sanborn also stresses the need for “police education” as opposed to “police training.” Education would include a broader spectrum of learning than police-specific practices: understanding subjects such as mental health, treatment and addiction; discussing the principles and values behind police practices; and broadening one’s perspective and understanding of diversity.
“Police officers should be talking positively about people and understand where they are coming from,” Sanborn.
Sanborn’s book is available online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Two of his online lectures, “Mission and Integrity” and “Proactive Police Practices,” are also viewable on YouTube.