“Officer, is this what you really think about us?”

Chief Couper has some wisdom on the topic of cops social media posts. Thanks, Chief.

Improving Police

I have been reading through the years a number of on-line comments allegedly posted by police officers. It got me thinking then (as now) the core of police education must be education in the humanities and strong emotional intelligence. The task of policing can easily be taught to competent candidates but important core of the role and values of police a democracy cannot.

Now I know our nation has an assortment of police
officers and a great range in their preparation and supervision; at last count
about 600K police operate in our nation.

And I know about the “only a few” argument (mainly
brought up after a questionable shooting by police) as well as the “bad apples”
argument (a few can spoil the barrel).

But what puzzles me as a former chief of
police for 25 years is the silence that follows revelations of police misconduct – often only
after…

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Cops, bias, and social media

The avalanche of shame continues. More stories in my inbox about officers making racist, misogynistic, or homophobic statements on social media. Just as cell phones have documented far too many questionable behaviors and exposed some folks who might not be a good fit for policing, now social media is going to catch more bad behavior in its drag net.

Before we allow ourselves to fall into the trap of victimhood, and say these officers are being unfairly treated, I would remind us all that our badge makes us different. We are public servants, we are sworn to uphold the ethics of our profession, serve and protect equally, and enforce laws without bias. We enforce society’s laws, police are not the law. Police are rightly given a status in our community because of the risks involved in crime fighting. With that status and respect comes great responsibility.

Long before these investigative reports exposed cops expressing biased beliefs, I had seen many blogs written on various police sites (some legitimate, respectable law enforcement pages, others are ugly clickbait sowing their own anger for profit). Some of the opinions expressed were angry rants that most of us have heard around the station house for years. The disgruntled guy/gal who makes everyone miserable just being around them, and too often, makes every radio call miserable when they deliberately antagonize the complainant or start the fight. You know who I mean.

This particular brand of cop is mired in a culture of complaining and grievance. They gripe to anyone who will listen, and now they do the same on the internet. Problem is, that gets shared because we find it amusing and it goes viral. One blog I saw recently with comments like: “When you say, you only pulled me over ’cause I’m black, I want to punch you in the throat…I hate everyone these days.” (the blog that contained that sentiment was shared over 50k times) Another one mused of “carpet bombing” in a minority community. I could go on and on.

My friends, it’s difficult to defend these actions because they are clearly not mistakes, as many would claim. I mean, the individuals are intentionally logging onto whatever site and deciding to share the meme, type the offending comment, or share the ugliness they see. Here’s the problem: In the Internet age, the whole world sees it. So, although it might feel good to grouse about the job with colorful language, I submit that when the public sees it, they don’t find it funny. It doesn’t endear us to them. It doesn’t make them sympathetic to our cause. How could it?

The ripple effect of police corruption, abuse, or unethical behavior by bad actors is one of the biggest dangers cops face. Why? Because it makes citizens angry. It makes them distrustful of police. It feeds into the worst things people hear about cops, confirming their antagonism. Trust me, if they think you’re going to mistreat them before you even open your mouth, they’re ready for a fight and you’re already in danger.

I get that the job is difficult, frustrating, and dangerous. I get the need to blow off steam. I do not understand racist rants and violent insinuations. We have spent the last 30 years insisting that we are now professionals, better educated and deserving of higher pay and status. Most who do the job do so with utmost professionalism and honor. But when we continue to allow the ugly side of our profession to go unchecked, we undermine the good.

If you remain on these sites, even silently, you are complicit. If you are posting and actively participating, you cannot tell me it has no bearing on how you police. People who are not racists, misogynists, or homophobes do not post such things. It’s just not healthy for us and it’s very unhealthy for our relationship to our communities. The communities we serve are not okay with this. They see it as hypocrisy when we decry citizens’ protests and free speech, and demand consequences for athletes, then say we should have none.

Officer safety depends on community trust. We destroy that trust with every angry post we write and every racist cop we defend.

Be safe.

 

Be 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. The hiring campaign was “YOU are the person behind the badge!” 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 tragic police shootings and the erosion of trust between law enforcement and minority communities from Ferguson to Baltimore, Chicago and St. Louis, have saddened me beyond measure. I’m frustrated that civil discourse is all but non-existent in too many places. 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 profession is given so much authority and trust. A police officer is granted the power to take a citizen’s freedom or life at their own discretion. What other profession has that kind of power granted by society? That is an awesome level of power and trust.

What is required in return? The integrity and honesty of the badge. We cannot accept less. If someone tarnishes the badge, they must be purged. Mistakes can be corrected, but character flaws that expose true moral failure cannot be tolerated. Character matters above all else because we enforce society’s laws. This is what separates cops 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. Those who do make us all less safe.

Negative perceptions of law enforcement can only be silenced by steadfast commitment to our code of ethics. Opportunistic pundits, false community activists, and even some so-called pro-police sites, 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 those who want to keep dividing.

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. Ignore those in your ranks who have succumbed to an us versus them mindset. Do not let them darken the virtue of the policing. Be the example for your community and your profession. Be the person behind the badge.