As I sit here with three pending reviews for Spotter Up, I can’t help but kick back the thoughts of recent events around the country, and the pain in my heart for brothers and sisters in Baton Rouge, Dallas, Milwaukee, Cleveland and the rest of our beautiful country. Instead of fighting my own anguish, I thought it might be worthwhile to put something on paper. As we celebrate the bravery of our fallen, we often reflect on many things surrounding their sacrifice and our pain. To many, going out with a fight and doing what you love is the ultimate victory in life. To some, your day is your day. Whatever it brings. And to those of us who have been selling the cool aid for a long time, the fact that we have been at war for years is not a new reality. It’s something we have been teaching, preaching and practicing.
But to be at war in modern law enforcement by no means requires the polarization of all forces which still define police work. It doesn’t mean giving up humanity, humility, friendliness, community policing or the nostalgic Norman Rockwell imagery of a neighborhood officer at a soda counter, sharing a moment with a young boy. On the contrary, it means appropriate application of all of these principles, in conjunction with realization that that different and dynamic forces of evil require the good guys to respond in kind. That training, aggression, violence of action and application of new strategies must reflect those threats and challenges, and it must do so proactively whenever possible. The sad new reality is that it must be done despite self-serving politicians, poor leadership, biased media, uninformed and deliberately ignorant public, and the social media machine by which it chooses to operate. It must be done despite the fact that American law enforcement has long been the patsy and scapegoat of politicians and large business financiers.
Despite the fact that as cops drove the change to adopt to societal changes, the society itself in large part refused to change. There has been an inverse correlation between individual responsibilities of citizenry and the thin blue line protecting it, between what the majority of population can say and do, and how the cops can express themselves. The realization of being held to a higher standard has never been lost on anyone in police work who has worked a street for longer than a few days. But over time it has become almost an opposite standard. All of this aside, those who embrace public service for the right reasons continue and will always do their work without question, without much gripe, and without hesitation to race, color, religion, or socioeconomic standing of those they protect, or those who claim that this protection is not necessary.
With this said, let’s for a moment put aside the discussion of who and what the modern threats are, and whether their arguments hold any water. I would be preaching to the choir for most of our audience, if I question the motives and arguments of Black Lives Matter, the rationalization of jihadist extremists, or the drives of politicians and media who claim any of it is legitimate, or somehow worth tolerance. Yesterday Marcus Luttrell speaking at the Republic National Convention said choking back the heartbreaking emotion: “Your war is here!” He directed this statement at the new generation of warriors, crime fighters and politicians. To those who have any doubt of what the norm is, or what proper actions should be. So as the mainstream media moves the camera angle from burning squad cars to praying groups of police and honest goodhearted citizens, those of us vested in the law enforcement profession ask how can we be better.
If there is one aspect unique and gifted to law enforcement, it is the need and ability to change and be better. Both personally and professionally. Like myself, many are drawn to this career because it offers an opportunity to constantly challenge and improve yourself. From call to call, from day to day, throughout your entire career. I strongly feel that the moment you stop doing this or decide that you don’t need to do it, you should consider a career change. I was instilled this mentality through many channels, but specifically by some great men in my law enforcement and military careers. People who motivated me to move forward in the right direction, taught me empathy and respect for others, and made police work a truly noble career. Within those teachings, I believed that you should always look to yourself first. Regardless of mistakes or claims by anyone, attempts to discipline you on the job, or label you outside of it. There are things to be learned by doing this. I couldn’t possibly mention everyone who I would thank if I retired today, but for names big and small, and the benefit of some younger readers, I will note Coach Bob Lindsey, Harvey Hedden, Greg Friberg, Ed Nowicky, Jim McDermott, Jamie Green, John Czerwinski, Dave Smith, Kurt Delia, Brian Reynolds, Joe Volz, Mike Williams, Brian Willis, Gary Klugiewics, Phil Messina, Matthew Graham. It would take a lifetime for anyone to describe the contribution of these men to law enforcement, so I will leave it to the vast internet search engines for our readers to do the research.
So what can be done better? How do we look at flag-draped caskets and still make a conscious choice to continue? For one, we have no other choice. In memory of our fallen we must do so, and we must do so better today than the day before. I mean better, not necessarily perfect. There will be mistakes, slip ups and challenges. But insofar as the enemy may dictate some of our actions and violence, we do control the rest. I have always said that law enforcement is stagnated and progressed by two main things of our own doing: tradition and culture. Tradition is the history, good and bad, which drives us. It’s a way of doing something based on past practice, ritual, or esprit-de-corps. It’s an outdated policy in place because no one wanted to touch it, and because it may have served a unilateral and singular mean. Culture is the current state of what is done and how it is done. It may or may not be reflective of crime trends, department needs, threats or tactics. In order to positively progress, we must honestly embrace the good and bad of both culture and tradition. That which serves no purpose, does not benefit the team or the mission, has to be eliminated or modified. Everything else should be practiced to perfection.
Training is a proven and obvious way to be better at something, particularly continuous professional training. Law enforcement is certainly not the only career field which requires it. Those whose heart and mind are in the game go beyond what is required, and do so despite the limitations. A few months in the academy and a few days per year to maintain your certification are a minimum. If somehow you get far in your career just by doing those things, or an occasional department-sponsored course allowable by budgets, chances are you’re on someone’s nice list. “I have no time”, “my agency has limited budget”, “my requests are never approved”, “they don’t like me…” Who cares? You go out on the street for a reason, you come home for your reasons, why would you let someone dictate how good you can be at your job? Find time, put some money aside for a class you want or need, find free training – there is a lot of it. We must rise above the minimums. Chances are you didn’t hired in the first place by meeting a basic minimum standard. Someone thought you might be better than another candidate, or decided to give you a chance to be better. Even if none of it applies, you owe it to your colleagues who sacrificed all – to wear a badge knowing that you are better today because you took the time to make yourself so! At some point after social media comments have scrolled through your screen, you might see an after action report of the mentioned incidents. There might be a debrief, people involved might want to come to your area and share their experience and how they could have done better.
Please take advantage of every piece and every bit of information you can. In the same context, the sooner we as a culture admit that we all need better approach to tactical training, the better we will be to address the threats. Even if all you do is pull traffic all day every day, somewhere in the back of your mind has to be the realization that “this shit can happen here.” Act on your instinct. It took years to change the active shooter tactics. We have learned that it took too long. Yet often times it remains to be proven that despite daily threat indicators, every officer needs basic specialized and tactical skills. The same realization needs to roll through the minds of your agency administrators. If you are one, and you’re worried about liability while prioritizing radar units and office furniture instead of better equipment and training, the liability you should be concerned with is from your cops. Your deliberate indifference will only go unnoticed for so long.
Administration and management is acutely different than leadership, and form another key cultural change. No one can force it other than current leaders and cops who work the street day to day. Cops have been done a disservice over the last generation or two. They have been denied the benefit of true leadership. There is no argument that this trend is consistent throughout the chain of command. From a local police chief to the President of the United States. Something that most of us in the military have enjoyed to a higher degree, law enforcement leadership has evolved into self-serving, litigation-fearing, public and mediaappeasing management. This was not intended to be a consequence of police transparency or community policing. To let your people hang out there and be torn in the court of misinformed public opinion, or biased media looking for a sensational story or their own angle.
To judge your cops in-house as guilty, and give crooks more credibility than the people who work with you daily, or to take the word of the later and presume your internal investigation effectively concluded to justify your own safe office space. The good leaders in law enforcement are fewer than necessary, and they are needed more than ever. Even if management style is preferred, a leadership trait is a must. One or two fitting examples in a large agency are not enough to carry morale or motivation, especially in light of all of the other challenges faced by the rank and file. Rather than focusing administrative tasks on how to discipline front line officers or deputies, or how to manage a grievance, drastically more time should be spent on how to avoid that grievance in the first place. Years of misplaced focus have resulted in lack of emphasis on leadership. As much in management and command training, as in selection of those who hold those positions. The two go hand in hand. Methods of promotion often stress the type of focus of management or administration style. The perceived lack of need of hand-on leadership and removal of a potential command candidate from the street, have backfired on those who must hold the line.
People are leaving this career in record numbers, and the recruiting levels have drastically dropped. This is no doubt due in large part to the operation of a given agency. While those who face the threats and challenges on a daily basis expect it from the job itself, they should not grow comfortable because support is lacking from their should-be leaders. My friends and I always said that we will write a book, because of some of the ridiculous things which occur inside a department. And some day it’s going to happen. But what would help our profession faster and to a higher extent, is if this information was available to the general public. The response there might be the caveat of support our cops need. The few examples who often stand out as unique leaders are often brushed aside by their peers as saying too much, or being too loud. Captain Clay Higgins, my hat is off to you, Sir.
Years ago while attending a Fire/EMS training conference, I heard a phrase which stuck with me. It was “pride in ownership.” It was, and remains a guiding philosophy and culture in fire service. It may speak for itself, but it does describe the change in mentality law enforcement should embrace. It means our career, our agency, our house. We will do whatever is needed in our professional abilities to make it better. For us and for those we serve. It takes on a meaning of its own from one call to the next. From a clean truck or squad car, to policies which support those who work the front lines, to debriefs, to team work, to command staff who come to scenes and roll hose, or vent a roof.
Yes, many things are different from police to fire service. I firmly believe that one reason that our compadres have more job satisfaction is not just because they’re usually the good guys and can have a sit down dinner most days. It is also because they approach the job culture as their own, direct investment. It is reflected even in training, where rapid intervention team and rescue drills are named after fallen firefighters. How many times do we have to fight to carry more ammunition, or implement a patrol rifle program, because its needed? What is needed to change an established but outdated training course, or to argue the necessity for training in the aftermath of police-involved shooting or an incident which should have dictated clear preparation instead of a knee jerk reaction? We call each other brother, hug, pat on the back and say we’re family. But behind closed doors our brothers suffer in silence, leave the profession and take their lives.
We forget too often what camaraderie is until a black band has to be placed over our badges. We refuse to admit the simplest things which will make us be proud of who we are, instead of looking for the way out. It should be unacceptable for our officers to sit in roll call depressed, or wandering about their back up or effectiveness of equipment once they hit the streets. To walk the hallways of their agency during internal investigation feeling complete isolation, and for their team mates to wander who’s next. To work the streets questioning their response, and the support of their agency, if they are forced to respond. This not only diminishes the ranks of qualified individuals. It costs lives. It reduces standards, and it does a tremendous disservice to our communities.
The law enforcement profession requires a cultural change to address the threats and challenges of today’s world. There are no other options. Our hands-on tactics should change at least as fast as those of our enemies, however the later need to be defined day to day. The community policing concept embraced in the 1970’s out of scandals and needs is still as sound approach. But it should stress involvement of the community in problem-solving approach of a police agency, not subservient mitigation of problems by the already thinned thin blue line.