Symbols of Hate

Everyday when I drove to and from work I cringed when I reached the apex of interstates 4 and 75 on the outskirts of Tampa. The reason for my reaction? A Confederate flag the size of a football field flying at that location. As cops, we understand what symbols mean. Gang signs, signature clothing, and tattoos have always been warning signs that we need to treat a situation or individual with more caution. I submit to you that we should add the Confederate battle flag to the list of red flags when assessing individuals for violence. In today’s hyper-charged climate, safety dictates that cops understand that many home-grown hate groups view you as totalitarian enforcers of a government they hate. As a country I believe there is a broader reason to shun this symbol.

I’ve heard all the rationale and excuses surrounding the continued use of the rebel flag. Heritage, Southern Pride, and whatever else people choose to explain the use of that flag, but for me it doesn’t fly. The flag has historically been used as a symbol of hate, no less than the swastika used by the Nazis. It’s no accident that the neo-Nazi’s continue to use that as their preferred symbol. Germany, unlike us, understands the power of such hateful symbols and long ago banned the use of the swastika. When symbols are so closely aligned with hate and massacre, they should be banned. The removal of such vile imagery should not cause any uproar.

So, why, after more than 150 years, do parts of our country continue to cling to the Confederate battle flag? It’s not a question I have an answer to because I really don’t get it. If somebody has a plausible explanation—no, not the BS “heritage” claim—I’d really like to hear it. What if it was a Taliban flag? An Isis flag? Would we be so accepting? We are so quick to judge the symbols of hate, genocide, and tyranny in other cultures—rightly so. But what about us? Are we saying that our home-grown symbols of hate are less offensive? Really? All of these symbols give inspiration and cover to those on the fringes who act out violently, because they are messages of legitimacy. We are all to blame for allowing it.

The fact that the United States Flag is flying at half staff over the South Carolina state house as a sign of grieving, while the Confederate battle flag arrogantly flaps at the top of its pole is a slap in our collective faces as citizens of this country. Have the common decency to take the offensive symbol down while your community grieves. Then commit to a real conversation and reckoning about what it really represents.

No. It is not heritage it is the symbol of hate. It represents taking up arms against our country to preserve some perceived “right” to hate. It represents the enslaving of Black people, and people willing to go to war to defend the institution of slavery. Read your history. Mississippi’s declaration of secession spelled it out in the second sentence: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.” The flag is a symbol of this belief. It is not some benign “aw, shucks” symbol of harmless country folk. The Klan and other hate groups have always used that flag as a symbol of intolerance and violence. No amount of revisionist history to absolve the Confederacy can change any of this. It is a battle flag and the fight was rooted in oppression. Its continued presence in communities and even government buildings, sends a dark message that we have not overcome. The solution is simple. Remove the Confederate flag from all government buildings. Now.

Let Them Never Be Forgotten

It’s Law Week. May 15 is officially recognized as Law Enforcement Memorial Day. A day set aside to honor the service and ultimate sacrifice made by Peace Officers dating back to the beginning of our country. Each year, the names of more heroes are added to the stone facades, a permanent testament and promise to never forget.

Police officers in our country are serving in a climate of excessive criticism, in levels not seen in a generation. The cop on the beat is scrutinized and blamed for factors often beyond his/her control, more than ever before. Every day, another article appears to blame police for some other purported transgression. Sometimes the complaint has merit, but most of the time it does not. The noise is loud all around, but what is lost in the shouting and blame is what police officers still do on every street in this country, every day. They confront criminals and do their best to maintain safety and order in their communities. They defend the thin blue line between criminals and citizens. Far too often, the officer pays the price with their very life, like NYPD Officer Brian Moore did last week.

On average, every 54 hours a police officer is killed somewhere in this country. Last year, 127 officers died in the line of duty. Their names will be carved into the memorial and read at the candlelight vigil in D.C. The police nation will pause to remember those lost and renew their commitment to the brotherhood of law enforcement, the honor of the Thin Blue Line.

In spite of the dangers and criticisms, cops continue to serve and protect. As NYPD Commissioner Bratton said yesterday, “We cannot be defined by that criticism. Because what is lost in the shouting and the rhetoric, is the context of what we do.” There will be plenty of time for debate as our country moves forward. Policing will adapt and adjust, the way it has always done. But what will not change is what is inherent in the job: crime is messy. Still, the vast majority of cops who walk the beat every day for our safety do so with honor and integrity. A small number of incidents, compared to the millions of encounters, cannot and will not undermine the bravery and dedication of the thousands of police officers who serve us with distinction. The raging debate has no place at this memorial.

Law Week is to honor service, sacrifice and bravery. Those officers who laid down their lives in your service represent the best in our nation. Let them never be forgotten.

National, military-like standards would help policing

We see the videos popping up more and more, capturing the worst of the police profession. It makes good cops angry and more disturbingly, casts a shadow over the profession, making even the average person wonder about all cops. It’s frustrating, I know. But, instead of getting angry at the person who posted the video, we should be angry at the individual tarnishing our badge, and the system that allows those unworthy personnel to stay too long, by resigning and moving to another jurisdiction. They should not keep their certification. We need higher standards and a commitment to uphold those standards nationwide.

I’m going to say something completely challenging the popular narrative in our culture today. We don’t need less militarization of policing, we need more. Yes, I said more.

Dear, citizen, I hear you yelling, “WTH?” But, before you fly off the handle and your head explodes, please listen. Not bigger, badder guns or armored vehicles. We need more military-like training and streamlined standards. I’ll explain. When you join the Marines, you go to basic training at Parris Island, SC or San Diego, CA. Everybody goes there for training. The same training. There is a standard curriculum and standard requirements in order for you to EARN the right to call yourself a marine. That’s right. EARN the title. In the process you learn what character it takes to be a marine. What’s best about this is that once a marine is forged into the proper mold, now any duty assignment he goes to, his superiors know that he has at least met the minimum criteria for becoming a marine. More importantly, his fellow marines can rest assured of his training in the event they have to cover each others asses in a firefight.

That’s what we need in law enforcement. Standards and continuity. We say we have them, and their are various criminal justice standards organizations, but the truth is they are a patchwork of differing requirements state to state. Training for law enforcement should be standardized nationally. A cop in a small town in Iowa should get the same training as a cop in LA, and held to the same standard of achievement. That way, a cop in a small town in Virginia, who moves to Tampa is truly making a lateral move and can be readily assimilated. As a nation and profession, we have to come to the realization that too often we have been derelict in our duty to ensure only the best wear a badge. An officer’s standing and responsibility in the society requires a higher level of character and physical fitness. Once selected, it is then our duty to ensure rigorous, continued, training, even though that costs money. It’s imperative that we make this change.

Police recruits should EARN the right to hold the title of Police Officer. Exhibit the character required to wear a badge. Too often, we have relinquished law enforcement training to our community colleges and accepted less stringent standards on a daily basis. I’ve heard way too many stories from new officers that half the time instructors didn’t show up or their FTO didn’t do anything but dog a certain intersection for traffic tickets, and consequently they are on the street and don’t know how to handle some basic call. More disturbing is the tendency today in law enforcement to hire experienced officers, without really vetting them. We need look no further than a few current cases in the news. The Tamir Rice shooting and the Floyd Dent excessive force case both feature examples of officers who left their agencies under questionable circumstances and are now in the news again. Raising the standards of law enforcement and making a commitment to one another that those standards will be universal could prevent these and many more cases like them. I mean, how is it that the Tulsa Sheriff can openly say that he has the power to “waive criteria”? And in the past month, NYPD and Philadelphia have openly acknowledged they haven’t been requiring their officers to undergo continuing training in critical areas like defensive tactics. If the first and fourth largest agencies in this country are neglecting training, what does logic say is happening elsewhere? That’s a big problem.

Folks, we have to take a hard look at our professional standards. Raising the bar will benefit every good cop on the streets today. This, in turn, will benefit our communities, and make our cities safer. Most importantly, national standards will begin to restore the public’s faith in law enforcement. If you’re a cop today, you don’t have to be perfect. We know you are human. But as a profession, policing must start striving for a national level of excellence. The time is now.

~Be safe.

Admitting the problem is the first step

At my retirement ceremony, given the opportunity to say a few words, I decided to end on this challenge: To my peers, I said don’t fall into the numbers trap, remember these are people you are serving, not numbers. I turned to the department staff and added: Please don’t forget the officers who work for you are people, not numbers.

A friend of mine asked recently what systemic changes could address the very contentious issues of policing and race in our country today. For me, it has to be reconnecting with people. To be sure, there are dangerous criminals and police officers must be ready to defend themselves, but most people are not. This affects even our interactions with average citizens and victims. We are taught to maintain this “safety distance”, and too often that morphs into a superiority buffer. The compassion I talked about last time dissolves in that defined space.

Early in my career, a homeless man was beaten and robbed. He was upset and desperate to have someone listen to him. In his emotional state, he grabbed my arm, begging me to hear him. My sergeant immediately shoved the man and chastised me for allowing him to touch me. I know he was thinking of safety, but I honestly, to this day, I do not think the man wanted to harm me.

As a new supervisor handling my first citizen complaint, I realized after speaking to the officer and citizen, the officer was wrong. The citizen, a calm, rational woman, wanted the officer to apologize. I asked him to do it. The woman was very satisfied and the complaint was resolved. Soon after, I was shocked when a colleague of mine told me I handled it wrong, saying flatly, “We don’t apologize.”

I’ve thought about this attitude a great deal with the recent scrutiny of law enforcement misconduct. I wonder, what are we so afraid of? Why can’t I do something as humane as giving a victim a hug if the situation warrants? Why is it wrong to simply acknowledge our shortcomings, fix the issues, and apologize, if applicable? I mean, if you and I are friends and I do something to hurt you or make you angry, the only way for us to really get past the harm is for me to acknowledge my actions and apologize. Right? Otherwise, I cannot regain my goodwill with you. It’s a very basic human dynamic. And law enforcement is all about human dynamics.

We are starting to see a change. In the video age, more officer misconduct is exposed, leading to more accountability. It’s a painful, positive step. I take no pleasure in seeing officers charged with felony crimes, but we cannot have a double standard. Most officers have integrity. Human mistakes can be fixed, but the profession loses credibility by ignoring or attempting to excuse those who do not. There are simply too many shocking videos to ignore the problem. Too many of these individuals have checkered histories or been allowed to move from agency to agency. Law enforcement has to own it and take credible steps to fix it.

Good cops should not be sorry to see the bad go. They only make your job harder and you and your peers less safe. Only when the entire police profession is willing to tackle systemic issues, be honest with the public at all times, and purge those who violate the trust of the badge will police be able to begin the process of repairing its crucial relationship with the citizens of our country. As retired NYPD Chief Phillip Banks said last week, “Cops hate two things: The way things are and change.” This change in thinking has to come, and it has to happen sooner than later. We can bridge this credibility gap. Fixing law enforcement’s house does not mean giving in to criminals. Accepting one’s flaws makes you stronger, not weaker. The first step to healing is always admitting the problem.

~Be safe.

Numbers and Compassion Don’t Mix

This week, I read two good perspectives on empathy and policing by retired Chief David Couper and current D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier. Both rightly argued that empathy is something we are often lacking in modern policing—the ability to see things from another’s point of view. Chief Lanier points directly to policies of measuring performance by numbers as the reason for the empathy gap. From a street cop’s perspective, I couldn’t agree more.

When we all started going down the Compstat road, and police administrators started openly advocating treating our profession like a business counting widgets, things slowly began to unravel. Don’t get me wrong, Compstat has its place in identifying crime locations and determining where to put cops to fight that crime, but measuring those cops’ worth based on numbers is a path that soon puts the cops at odds with the entire community. The numbers-only system removes objectivity and most discretion, the two key ingredients in policing with compassion.

A friend of mine worked in a housing project known for notoriously high crime. After a series of shootings and other crimes, he was told to step up patrols in the area. The officer, knowing his zone, took the message to mean, stop the violent crime. He identified the key players, made a few good cases and removed the perpetrators from the neighborhood. At the end of the month, there were no shootings on his watch and crime was half what it had been! He should have gotten a citation for outstanding work, right? No. He was chastised for his lack of tickets and drop in arrests. (He had focused on the main criminals, and ignored minor crime). By policing with more discretion, he garnered greater trust and was able to get valuable information about crime from citizens. But, on the books, he looked like a slacker. Crazy, huh? The truth often is.

Another friend of mine was confronted with a dilemma on a traffic stop years ago. The driver of the car had a terrible driving record and his license was suspended so many times that he was considered a Habitual Traffic Offender, a felony at the time in FL. In this instance, the easiest—and many would say right—thing to do was for her to simply arrest the man and tow his car. But. There was an older woman in the passenger seat. The man bowed his head, telling the officer that his mother’s legs hurt so bad due to a medical condition that he risked going to pick her up to spare her the pain of walking home. My friend, after confirming the man had no other criminal background or warrants beyond the traffic fines, made a decision. She asked the woman if she had a valid license. She did. The officer then looked at the man and said, “I would do anything for my mom. I’m supposed to arrest you, but I’m not. Let your mother drive from here. Take care of your license. If I see you driving in another setting, I will arrest you. Fair?” The man was so grateful, he started to cry.

So, what’s the moral of the story? Technically, should my friend have taken the guy in? Yes. Did it really hurt anything for my friend to let him go? No. Do that guy and his mom now have a different perspective on the police? I’d say yes. In contrast, the officer with no compassion, simply “cuffs and stuffs”, indifferent to a personal story. When citizens become numbers, they cease to be people. Compassion is eliminated. Then, it’s a short jump to mistreatment or worse. For me, empathy and compassion are the two greatest traits of a good cop. In policing, we are too often told that those words equal weakness. That is fundamentally wrong. In fact, police are at their very best when they temper enforcement with compassion. Police leadership has to be bold enough to value empathy in the form of unconventional problem solving that cannot normally be measured like a pile of beans. It will take a little more work, but a community that sees its police as compassionate and just will support its police in times of crisis. Officers on the street are safer when community support is high.

Be safe.

The Leadership We Need

I am continually amazed when true inspiration strikes without warning.

Yesterday a friend of mine shared a blog, Stuff that needs to be said, by the Reverend John Pavlovitz.  Once I began reading his words I found I couldn’t stop. This man is a true spiritual leader, the kind we sorely need in many areas of our country today. Real leadership means saying what needs to be said, even when it’s very hard.

On this Easter Sunday, I thought it would be great to apply some of Reverend Pavlovitz’s ideas to the broad conversation of race and policing. What we need is honest reflection and soul-searching. When I see videos of questionable police behavior, I wince. And every good cop should, too. Because every time one of your peers oversteps his/her authority, they make your job harder, they make you and your fellow cops less safe. If I’m honest with myself, I admit that I didn’t always take a firm stand with my fellow cops when I saw small signs of racism or heard racist comments in the halls of the PD. Why? I could rationalize that, as a woman and a lesbian, I was fighting my own battles for inclusion and didn’t have the clout among my peers to challenge them, but the truth is I was a coward. Most of us are when it comes to the subtle injustices day to day. We let it slide, tell ourselves it’s harmless fun. Well, it’s not.

Later in my career, when I had the confidence to address it, I did. But, not strongly enough. There’s a code we all have–not just in law enforcement–our society has it. We don’t snitch. We don’t want to get our co-workers into trouble, right? We don’t want to argue with our friends. Easter dinner will be so much easier if I don’t rock the boat. So, we feebly laugh at the joke and walk away. In law enforcement there’s a subtle worry that niggles at the back of all of our minds: If I piss off my peers, they might not back me up. That’s a very powerful controlling motivator for the group as a whole. I believe that the vast majority of cops will back each other up, regardless of personal feelings…but…what if…? It’s hard to shake that fear. If you’re honest, you know it’s there.

Even as a supervisor, when I learned officers had a racist acronym for learning the name of the streets in the housing projects, I was shocked. I spoke to the individual officer and told them it was wrong. But, I should have done more. When I met resistance above me, I should have pushed harder. We should push harder. That is what leadership requires. I realize now that this is the biggest systemic change needed in law enforcement and our community as a whole. Whatever form racism manifests itself is wrong. Police and community leaders have to do more to acknowledge the damage it does. Bias and racism lead to dehumanizing the other side and tacitly condones the escalating violence. We have to stop allowing it. We must attack it at the roots.

A couple of months ago, the new Pittsburgh Police Chief, Cameron McLay, had his picture taken by a group at a rally in downtown Pittsburgh. Chief McLay held up a sign: End White Silence. The chief took a beating for that. Immediately, the police union jumped up and down, crying that the chief was calling police officers racist. No. He. Was. Not. The chief was talking about what I described above. Our tendency to ignore what we think are minor infractions. We have to stop because it allows the behavior to go on, and those of us who tell ourselves we aren’t racist, but who do not step up, are wrong.

I promise you, it will be okay if you speak up. A couple of years ago, a family member of mine made a racist joke at my dinner table. I challenged them immediately because I didn’t want the children at the table to think I thought it was okay. I made my point and it didn’t ruin dinner. We moved on. After that, it became easier to act in those small, one on one moments, both personally and professionally, and you know what? It made me feel a lot better when it happened. So many times we tell ourselves that we cannot fix problems like racism because they are just too large. It’s really not true. One on one interactions are probably the most important of all. They grow, like the ripple in the pond. Remember, in policing, you are safer on the street when more community members see you as just. I felt better once I started to take positive actions in small ways. You will, too.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. Be safe.

A Warning to Our Nation’s Police

Retired Chief David Couper shares his thoughts on what law enforcement can do to improve community relations. It’s not about blame, it’s understanding that all sides have to have skin in the game in order to overcome our challenges. Be safe everyone.

Improving Police

Unknown-1Many of you know that I am a person who has put a number of years into the discipline of policing a free society — and I do say “discipline” because policing consists of the multiple disciplines of psychology, sociology, law, emergency medicine, rhetoric, martial arts, history, education, and philosophy (and a few other as well).

And since my retirement, I have been watching, analyzing, writing, and listening to and about police matters. I have recently come to a conclusion about what is going on and a prediction for the future — deep-down, I do hope I am wrong!

Since Ferguson, I have felt a sense of urgency in the nation — and I know that when I write and talk about that urgency has rubbed many of you the wrong way. Agitated or not, police need to look outside themselves and into the cities and communities they serve.

Here’s what…

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Lessons of Ferguson-for the good of law enforcement

I promised to examine the Department of Justice report on the Ferguson Police Department, just as I did the DOJ’s report on the Brown shooting. The report on Ferguson got the lion’s share of headlines in the past couple of weeks, with most headlines shouting that the PD was engaging in racist behavior, illegal stops, and violations of civil rights. After reading the report in its entirety, which, again, I urge everyone to do, it’s painfully clear that Ferguson has some very troubling systemic problems. I’m not going to tap dance around saying “not every officer”, because common sense tells any intelligent person that’s a given, but the pervasiveness of the policies geared toward revenue generation and statistics alone, paint a picture of a police department in need of a major overhaul. City and Department officials were found to openly request more tickets written from the Chief to increase revenue. One DOJ example:

“City and police leadership pressure officers to write citations, independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the City budget. In an email from March 2010, the Finance Director wrote to Chief Jackson that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. What are your thoughts? Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.”

Worse, officials were found to author and forward racist emails on city computers. When people are unafraid of being caught sending racist emails, I’d say the culture is evident. DOJ cites numerous examples throughout the report.

“We have found substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court staff in Ferguson. For example, we discovered emails circulated by police supervisors and court staff that stereotype racial minorities as criminals, including one email that joked about an abortion by an African-American woman being a means of crime control.”

Statistical analysis, combined with interviews of city and police personnel, examinations of public records, to include emails, provide numerous examples of improper practices of using the PD to generate revenues, and in some more damning examples, outright racist remarks in city correspondence. I’m a retired cop, so I’m concerned with the overall city leadership culture and performance standards (a sanitized way of saying quota) that make otherwise good cops do the wrong thing. It’s a slippery slope when leaders aren’t leading in a moral way. Here’s the DOJ take on it:

“The City’s emphasis on revenue generation has a profound effect on FPD’s approach to law enforcement. Patrol assignments and schedules are geared toward aggressive enforcement of Ferguson’s municipal code, with insufficient thought given to whether enforcement strategies promote public safety or unnecessarily undermine community trust and cooperation. Officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on “productivity,” meaning the number of citations issued. Partly as a consequence of City and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.”

In other words, police officers in Ferguson understand that their job security depends upon those tickets. Sadly, they didn’t have a police chief strong enough or honest enough to stand up. Unfortunately, Ferguson isn’t alone in that leadership vacuum. The problem is that when you stop looking at tickets or other enforcement as the public safety instrument, and only consider the next “stat”, the person you encounter becomes less an individual and simply a number. I get that problem. I railed against stat-driven policing for years. Here’s the thing. Stats should never be an “outcome”. The only measure of police success should be the absence of crime in a community and the ability to work with the community to achieve that goal. Period.

The problem gets worse as it progresses. The City of Ferguson, like many other communities, sets a fine for minor offenses, with usually steeper, often criminal penalties for unpaid fines or failure to appear in court. Of course, when the cop on patrol stops the person again, they have a job to do. The person has a criminal offense or warrant. What’s the cop supposed to do? They have to arrest. It’s their job. So, then the citizen is booked into jail, and the cycle grows. Again, I get it. But, what is the police officer supposed to do at that point? It’s not the cop that sets the fines or criminalizes behavior. Our representatives pass laws that cops enforce. It’s just the cops who get the brunt of the blame for enforcing society’s rules. True story.

So, otherwise decent cops, just enforce the rules of society. The bad cops use the sketchy culture of a city like Ferguson, in ways that none of us want to acknowledge. But, just like I called on the Black community to face some tough thoughts last time, I challenge law enforcement not to look away. It’s a fact. A subpar or flat out bad cop uses stats as a cover for their bad behavior, and they can get away with it without strong leadership. If all his chain of command cares about is being at the top of the arrest/ticket stats, then nobody cares how the numbers come. I’ve seen it.

That, my friends in blue, is where we have to change. Now. Because the animosity that bad policies and policing sow, by even a few, get blown exponentially out of proportion, and the result is that it makes every cop on the beat less safe. Police officers must have the willing cooperation of the citizens to be effective. Sir Robert Peal said that at the dawn of our profession. With the proliferation of guns and violence in criminals today, that idea has never been more important. Our profession must have the courage to address systemic issues that lead to undesirable behaviors in our ranks. Our badge is a symbol of public trust. We have the responsibility to adhere to the ethics it represents and stand for justice.

Where are all the witnesses now?

Where are all the witnesses now? Two police officers were standing in front of the Ferguson PD, doing their job, maintaining order during the latest community protest. Out of nowhere, shots rang out from the vicinity of the crowd, striking two officers. One was shot just below his right eye, the bullet lodging behind his right ear. The second was shot in the right shoulder, exiting his back on the right side. By sheer luck or God’s grace they were not killed. Make no mistake that murder was the shooter’s intent. Give credit to the professionalism of the remaining officers that not a shot was fired in return.

But here we are, more than twenty-four hours later and I want to know two things: Where are all the witnesses? Do not tell me nobody saw anything. I’ve heard that tired BS for twenty-five years. Every cop in this country is sick of that excuse. Cops work crime scenes 24/7 where crowds of hundreds all profess ignorance. Except, it seems, when a cop does the shooting. Then, everyone saw it. In my former department, the “community” enabled the murderer of two of our cops to hide among them for nearly a week. Someone in Ferguson–probably more than a few–know who shot those police officers. Where are they? Why aren’t you clamoring for your sixty seconds of fame from the media?

Secondly, community leaders, even you, Mr. Attorney General, where is your responsible leadership? What is necessary right now is a call to identify this shooter and show that you care about true justice. This moment and every moment of violence requires it of good people, if they truly wish to co-exist under the same rule of law. Mr. Holder is getting a lot of press for saying, “This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson. This was a damn punk, a punk who was trying to sow discord.” That’s a great speech line, but what the country needs you to say, sir, is that somebody in Ferguson better give this coward up. Right now. To the protest leaders nationwide, what is required to show your good faith is that every time a trouble maker shoots in a crowd, or hurls rocks, bottles or Molotov cocktails at police officers, then melting back into the “peaceful” crowd, you must push them back out into the open. Identify them as those who are harming your community from inside. They are just as much a part of your problem as any government or law enforcement policy. Those who commit violence in any community should be the enemy of all who want to live in peace.

The City of Ferguson and its police department have been forced to look inwardly to recognize systemic problems. Beyond Ferguson, the conversation has grown nationwide. Law enforcement is undergoing a period of soul searching and adjustment that is needed, and perhaps long overdue. Ferguson has forced out numerous leaders in the name of accountability and the beginnings of reform. For some, nothing will matter, as evidenced by two officers senselessly shot. In the wake of such a violent attack, law enforcement is closing its defensive ranks, and the baby steps of trust between cops and the community in Ferguson have vanished again. What’s been largely missing in this ongoing debate is the hard truth that both sides have to give something. Police cannot turn a blind eye to racist or unlawful behavior in their ranks, but neither can the community. Please, everyone think about this: The bad will always steal the spotlight from the many good. It’s true on both sides. Ferguson terminated its worst offending cops and city officials as a start. Now, it’s your turn, citizens of Ferguson. Turn in this punk who has destroyed the good you’ve tried to do.

When you harbor them in your midst, you lose the credibility. #alllivesmatter

YOU are the person behind the badge

In 1989, the City of Tampa, with the assistance of federal grants designed to add 100,000 cops to the streets, rolled out a hiring campaign for new police recruits. Tampa’s goal was to hire one hundred new officers to combat the crime wave brought on by the crack epidemic racing through our nation. I was one of those 100 new police officers, ready and eager to take on the challenge of community service. I entered the police academy like most of my peers: Clueless about the realities of police work, but with a strong sense of pride and a desire to do the right thing. I’m proud to say that, for the most part, when I retired after nearly twenty-five years, I still tried to maintain that as my guiding principle.006d3289cc71da0a8ea398f6b3c1b34e

The police events in Ferguson, New York, Albuquerque, and Cleveland have saddened me beyond measure. I’m frustrated that civil discourse is all but non-existent. Everyone has dug in on their own side of the divide, using worn-out clichés and useless rhetoric in order to defend what each truly believes in their hearts. Or at least what they’ve been conditioned to believe. What I don’t see nearly enough of is evidence that either side is remotely interested in actually listening to one another. Those old sayings “There’s a reason you have two ears and one mouth” or “you’ll learn far more by listening than talking” stand the test of time for a reason. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a truth. Everyone is a product of his/her environment and experiences, which color and forge their belief systems and biases. Yes, both sides have entrenched biases. We cannot even begin to listen with an open heart unless we have the courage to accept this truth.

As a police officer for a quarter of a century, I want to talk about the badge. I still love that slogan: YOU are the person behind the badge. I love it because too often we forget what that badge stands for. Integrity. Honor. Courage. Police officers chafe at the oft-repeated public rant: “I pay your salary!” Usually the statement is hurled at an officer by someone who takes exception to the way an officer is treating them—rightly or wrongly. I get that. But, the fact of the matter is, it’s true. Police officers are paid by citizens to protect and serve their community. This statement belies the complexities, dangers, and unlimited combinations of scenarios, which officers must adapt to each moment of their shifts in order to solve problems, and yes, sometimes survive. The job is hard, no doubt, but it’s what we signed on to do, for better or worse.

That’s exactly why the symbol of the badge is so very important. It requires more of an officer because no other is given so much authority and trust. What other profession has the ability to literally take away someone’s freedom? In a country built upon individual freedom, this is no small thing. “For those to whom much is given, much shall be required”—Luke 12:48. What is required for this vast public trust? The integrity and honesty of the badge. It is what those who wear a badge must continue to strive for. If someone tarnishes the badge, they must be purged. Mistakes can be corrected, but character flaws that expose true moral failure cannot be tolerated. Law enforcement is a profession that requires good character precisely because police officers are charged assessing others behavior and issuing often punitive responses, whether criminal arrest, civil citation, or some other outcome. Officers must always be aware that is what separates them from other citizens. This is the non-negotiable bargain. I get frustrated when I hear officers complain that the Walmart manager caught stealing isn’t front page news, but a cop is. The badge makes you different. Period.

In these difficult times, it’s important to remember what the integrity of the badge truly means. I have faith that law enforcement has the honor and strength to do the soul searching it takes to overcome any challenge. This means even the misguided critique and malice such as we see today. We all know nothing is black or white, or blue vs. black, but we also know we can do better challenging bad behavior. We know that most cops do not abuse the public trust. That narrative right now can only be silenced by steadfast commitment to our code of ethics. I know it seems as if it’s open season on law enforcement. Opportunistic pundits and faux-celebrities, masquerading as community leaders, throw gasoline on the fire rather than engage in thoughtful dialogue that might actually do some good. Please remember your calling. Don’t take the bait and fall into the negative tit for tat. Stay true to your principles. Your actions will speak louder than violent protestors.

The only way to overcome the current negativity is by listening to the voices in our communities, having the courage to address our shortcomings, and doing the job with integrity. Be true to your oath, be diligent crime fighters, and have the wisdom to educate your peers and citizens alike on the virtues of law enforcement. Be the example for your community and your profession. Be the person behind the badge.