What the nobility of policing requires

“We are rightly critical of journalists and members of the public who misrepresent what we do as police officers. Do we not, therefore, owe it to ourselves to be equally critical of fellow police officers, whose actions misrepresent the work we do?”

~Paul Grattan, Jr. One Police Project

This quote is very important in the context of our ongoing national struggle over police and public relationships. We do a lot of talking about how we feel under appreciated or maligned, but what are we doing about cleaning up our own house? I think we owe it to ourselves to do some serious soul-searching about this.

I realize that when we look at policing through our personal lens, we see only a few egregious cases of misconduct splashed across the headlines in any given period of time. We are right that the misconduct numbers are a small number of the thousands of calls handled each and every day. The problem comes when you look at the bigger picture.

Step back and look at the numbers nationally and the instances of misconduct start looking more widespread. They are not the norm, but trust me they are too numerous to ignore. We do so at our own peril because every instance that gives the profession a black eye affects your safety. Yet, we refuse to meet this internal challenge head on.

I know there are many checks on officer conduct and Internal investigators do a good job at identifying the worst cases. What I’m talking about is a culture of minimizing bad conduct. We cannot be okay with that.

Whether it’s a willful blind eye or an increasing tendency to conjure up some false equivalency in our collective hearts, we have created a situation where bad behavior lives within our ranks. There will always be criminals and criminals behave in deceitful, treacherous ways, but that can never be an excuse for any law enforcement professional to violate any code of ethics or standard of conduct. We are the professionals.

Let me give you a current example. The Pennsylvania State Police are currently dealing with a scandal regarding cheating at their academy. According to the final report, there was an ongoing practice of instructors giving exam answers to cadets. It had gone on for years. Dozens of cadets from the current class either resigned or were fired. The real problem is that not one instructor or full-time trooper was disciplined, let alone fired.

As a trainer and later supervisor, I personally experienced a number of cases in which I detailed misconduct of either recruits or tenured officers and those individuals were not fired. In two cases, the officers I had identified as being character-deficient, they ended up doing far worse things and embarrassing the agency. One is now in prison. So, why are we so ready to keep these folks in uniform? They are cancers in the community and cancers to internal morale. Purge them.

And before you tell me these are isolated incidents, explain why only four states in this country require decertification for misconduct. How many cases do you know where the officer was allowed to resign in lieu of firing? A little digging into a few of the high-profile cases of the past couple of years will show you that many of those officers had troubled histories prior to the one that made national headlines.

These are the dirty little secrets we don’t want to talk about in mixed company. I know. But we must find the courage to address this. I don’t say this to air dirty laundry. I say this because I care about policing. I care about the tens of thousands of you who are honest and out there doing a great job. Every single bad cop allowed to stay does damage that makes you unsafe. It’s that simple.

I’m calling on police leadership, unions, and everyday cops to insist we do better. Stop saying it’s all about the media or BLM or whoever. Those groups would have nothing to say if we eliminated those who do not embody the ethical code we swore an oath to uphold. If we stood up and publicly said we will not tolerate less than the highest standards, then we would gain so much more trust in the public eye. Some chiefs and sheriffs are exemplifying this approach and their departments enjoy above average public support.

These law enforcement leaders prove we can do this. We must. We owe it to the community we serve. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to every kid who looks at our shiny badge and dreams of being a hero one day. The nobility of policing requires it.

45 thoughts on “What the nobility of policing requires

  1. I was happy to see a post on this important topic. I, for one, have a great respect for the police, but I don’t know how I’d feel if I looked different. A little paranoid? It’s wrong when a few bad apples can do that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think we do that in a lot of ways. Society (and law enforcement) does that to all groups. Don’t know what it is about humans that makes us put people in categories. Let’s be honest, it’s only a few bad apples in minority communities, immigrant communities, police communities. What I’m passionate about is driving the message that policing is different because it represents “the state”. That is why we cannot afford to shrug off those bad apples. We must forcefully condemn and rid ourselves of their presence. It’s too important for our democracy, community and police safety.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Experiments in Writing and commented:
    I love the fact that there are people like the author of this blog. I have always known that the system is only as good as the character of the person sitting in authority and how the ethics are enforced below that person. This holds in every system, more so, in those systems that have a hierarchy. Leadership isnt an easy job. It requires a person to be very aware of at least three points of view 1. The view you present to the world at large 2. The view you present to those who will emulate you due to your position/designation/station 3. The view you have of yourself. If those three don’t match, we have a dysfunction in the system, imho.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you and please know that there are tens of thousands of good, honorable men and women doing fantastic, dangerous and sometimes thankless work. I advocate internal changes and reflections in our profession in order to make their jobs safer and to return the police profession to the pinnacle of respect. I always say that law enforcement should strive to be much like our military special forces: Few should be called, and even fewer worthy of the badge.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I believe the answer to the question and standard you pose are somewhere between ideals and reality. As much as we would like, we do not live in a zero defect society. We are flawed. We make mistakes. Learning takes time.
    The Police are a “grow your own” group. We select and train those we hope will be the best for the job. They are influenced by their peers, trainers, leaders, social interactions, personal standards and the way they are reacted to on the job. So to meet the demands or our communities, we push for diversity and demographic representation, hire the former addict who has been clean for 3 years and wants to help others. After a short training phase, turn him lose in the same streets that he escaped from. He now has to contend with the people he used to get high with, the dealers who know where his weak spots are, and conflicting social pressure.
    Next on breaking news, Police Officer accused of shaking down dealers for drugs, providing protection, running narcotics….
    We feel embattled from all sides, political pressure, criticism for doing our job as best we can, dealing with death and having to go back to work the next day. We mess up. The Union steps in to protect us. The cost of training and equipping a cop is high. We are retrained and sent back to work.
    Somewhere between the paragon of virtue and battered warrior of justice is the reality. We are still people underneath. No excuses. No slack in the system. No relief from the stress. Just the expectation of perfection and patience, no matter the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hear you loud and clear. I policed for twenty-five years. Perhaps you misunderstand my message. My point is to in no way demand perfection or dismiss the humanity in cops. I will say what I have said for most of my career: The job is serving society–it is public by nature. If someone is offended by being held to a different standard than another profession, they you are fee to join that profession. We must stop falling into the victim mindset. The job is what it is. My larger point is that systemically, if we stand up and own the mistakes or misdeed, deal with it head on, it will improve our standing. Every time something goes wrong and we refuse to release video, make excuses for shooting fleeing people in the back, we do more damage to our profession that we are caring to admit.
      I believe that tackling our problems, publicly, honestly, and humbly will make us stronger and build those bonds with the community that make cops safer. I can’t even comment on hiring and addict to be a cop. In my mind that is preposterous. If such a thing is real, it would seem that would prove my point on flaws we cannot afford as a profession. There are many ways such a person can help people, but an officer of the law is not one.
      I had a mentor early in my career who used to say, There are mistakes of the heart and mistakes of the mind. I can live with you making a mistake of the mind. If your heart is not in the right place, that’s where we have a problem. The heart of our profession must be pure. We, as people, will be flawed, but our profession must strive to attain the standards of our oath. There is no other way.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I truly enjoyed reading this, I think you are hitting a major point. Our society is increasingly allowing bad behavior be acceptable, and not holding people accountable for what they would have been even just ten years ago. It saddens me to know this is our reality, but I think we need to continue to make note of those who are ill behaved and you were in your right for getting upset that nothing serious was done to those who then later did something worse when you tried to stop them the first time around.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is an excellent article, wonderful insight to all police officers. It reinforces actions by those who try to do right, and addresses that certain actions are not okay. I am not a police officer. I am 22 year Air Force Veteran. I’ve personally had struggles where taking the right course was hard, one situation highlighted very poor decisions in leadership. But stay the course. My story is nothing comparable to the breakdown in the police structure, but the more who do right will certainly influence positive actions. That means stepping up when it’s not the popular choice.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I think this is a great post. I don’t think that todays society realizes the sacrifices that police officers make everyday. I wish our culture realized and respected the many things officers contribute instead of focusing on the negative news headlines to define these organizations.

    Like

  7. Reblogged this on What's The Word? and commented:
    Really powerful, easily one of the best articulated alternatives I’ve seen from someone associated will law enforcement yet. The best, and the most effective way to kill the noise from the media and from communities crying out against police brutality isn’t to hide behind their thin blue line, it’s the opposite; it’s transparency

    Like

  8. I really liked this. Far too often from law enforcement, I’ve seen them fall into the whole us vs. them mentality, attempting to criminalize the person who many times is actually the victim, or moving behind the thin blue line and closing ranks in a show of police solidarity.

    Your solution is infinitely more powerful, it doesn’t negate the grievances of others while still controlling the narrative, and moves towards something else I very much believe in which is transparency, and the way to get there is to hold selves up to at least the same level of scrutiny as anyone else, if not more so, because that uniform represents something, and acts as a symbol all it’s own and therefore comes with added responsibilities, at least in my opinion.

    Looking forward to peeping the rest of your site in the near future. Keep up the good work, on both fronts.

    Like

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