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.

 

22 thoughts on “YOU are the person behind the badge

  1. One you pin that badge on and take the oath your life changes as you know it. You are expected to seve and act with the upmost integrity! Great article.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I believe our agency is successful because of a number of reasons. We didn’t come by it on accident it has taken many years to get it where it is today. It has been an investment, by both parties. Our community stands behind us, because we don’t betray them as a rule and they don’t betray us. It is very much a two way street. It wasn’t always this way. The majority of cops are not bullies and the majority of the public are not thugs. To me the solutions are simple, getting folks to come to the table and set aside their differences for the greater good is the hard part. Funny that Is …. considering we all want the same thing… That and a Ten dollar bill will buy you a fancy coffee somewhere….LOL Just one girls opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. Agencies that have a good working relationship with the community have cultivated that good will through hard work. It’s an ongoing process that can never be taken for granted. Although it seems unfair, missteps by a few can tarnish the badge. Our agency has seen it’s share of discord from minority communities, so, although the department enjoys broad support, there is evidence of work yet to do. Hopefully, if we are secure in our integrity and the good work that cops across the country do, we can engage public criticism head on and come out stronger on the other side.

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  3. Great article! I hope this generation can put their ego in check and return those values to the most honorable profession. We made great strides in my 30 yrs & it has been disgusting to see the positives all but destroyed. It has been nice to see the slight pendulum swing back toward what is right. I hope it can be fixed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steve, praise from a cops cop like you is humbling indeed. You have always set the bar high for the many cops you have trained and worked with over the years. We need more natural leaders like you to hold the line. Be safe, my friend.

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  4. Very on point, but from Lisa, I would expect nothing less. Sad thing is, many of the voices out there only represent the “few”. And those “few” are good for ratings on CNN and MSNBC, which desperately need them. There agenda’s all around. Bad cops? Sure, there are a few, just like bad teachers, bad firefighters and bad politicians. Wait, scratch the last one. Just ask em, they’re perfect.

    Thanks for doing your job. It’s appreciated by…the many.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jove, difficult subjects are the very things we need to tackle. I hope we can all engage on a variety of police/community related subjects that will help us all to see and hear one another. Thank you for being part of this budding community of voices.

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  5. Listening is the greatest gift we can give another person, and ourselves. Thanks for creating this space. I hope you’ve sown a seed where healthy dialogue will change attitudes and generate ideas that overcome negative and defensive minds, help them return to community.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is my wish, CK, to encourage folks on all sides to consider each other as human, beyond the colors black or blue. We each have a responsibility to our human community.

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  6. Nicely written and gets at the heart of the matter: people decided what happened in police incidents before the incidents actually happened. There have been some strides: the activist who changed his POV after participating in shoot-don’t shoot simulations; some police leaders going int the community and really listening instead of feeling the need to control and to speak. But sadly, there are still many who have decided on past incidents–and on incidents yet to occur–without considering alternative viewpoints. I hope that my now former colleagues have the courage to listen and to feel what the community is saying; and I hope the community which feels betrayed by the police will try to understand the frustration of those with whom they entrust so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bev, there are many who wore and still wear the badge that I cannot hold a candle to. The complexities of this conversation require that we all acknowledge the best in our respective groups as well as the worst. The fact of the matter is that the worst on both sides, sadly steal the spotlight from the good. That has to change.

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  7. Great article and excellent points…and it goes both ways…YOU are the person behind the badge and how you act/react is a reflection of how you view yourself behind the badge. By the same token, the guy on the street who verbally or physically threatens you, or a fellow officer, or at the very least shows disrespect…that action is on HIM/HER. Doesn’t mean that everyone in the area, even those with that person feel or think the same way. I do believe there are way more good officers than bad; and more good people than bad. Society as a whole needs to change the way both sides are portrayed…the visual media has glamorized both the bad officers and the thugs, and this fuels a whole new generation of perceptions. What is the answer? I don’t know…but I do believe that these dialogues are a good start. Every person has a voice, and hopefully we will all start speaking out in positive and constructive ways. One on one interaction makes a difference!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mj, I agree wholeheartedly. The point of this blog will be to take on various topics and hopefully encourage respectful and effective conversations that might inform us all and make us think. As someone who served as an officer, I am deeply concerned that the downward spiral, left unchecked, makes everyone in a uniform and community less safe.

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