What could possibly go wrong?

Last week, I wrote about the issue of law enforcement and mental health, specifically wondering why our profession isn’t the loudest voice in calling for commonsense gun safety legislation. The issue is part of a much larger mix of factors that combine to take a huge emotional toll on officers today.

From last week: “In the past few years everything has gotten worse. Everyone’s angry. Politics, social media, non-stop noise and hatred, putting us all on edge. We know as cops what that means. The cop on the street is the one on the front line of this crap when it boils over. Mental illness, domestic violence, murders, fights, opioids, homelessness, poverty, desperation. Oh, yeah, and assume everyone is armed in our gun culture existence. And our nature is to stuff it down. Unwind with a drink, close our social circles, tell ourselves it’s us versus them like never before. What could possibly go wrong?”  

And then yesterday, Police One reports yet another NYPD officer commits suicide. California cops got into a gun battle with another shooter armed with an assault rifle. One killed, two wounded. Every single day we are surrounded by carnage.

First-Responders-and-PTSD

My friends, our mental health has always been under stress. Police work is inherently dangerous, thankless, stressful stuff. In our modern world, the darker side of our profession is now on full display. The bad apples are now exposed as never before. Social media and cell phones are blaring the ugliness daily. Guns are more prevalent, and available than ever, to the point that every training you get instills the fear “everyone is armed” and “everyone hates cops”, therefore everyone wants to kill you.

Talk about stress.

On top of that, mass shootings are on the rise. The .223 or AR-15 or AK-47 type rifles are all the rage now, flying off the shelves at a record pace, thanks to slick ads that equate ownership with “manhood” and “strength.” Our gun culture has reached a fever pitch. Our anger and partisanship has reached a fever pitch. Our race wars haven’t been this heated since the height of the civil rights riots. Police are underpaid, undertrained, under equipped, and still expected to perform at unrealistic levels of superhero (or antihero) status, just like on primetime TV.

Every problem polite society won’t deal with lands at the feet of the street cop. Rarely do we solve the problems to anyone’s satisfaction. What human can live up to that kind of expectation in the face of so many threats?

Then there is the very real presence of bad actors within police ranks. Racists, sexists, homophobes, white nationalists, and just plain old incompetent and lazy. Every good cop wonders daily why these people don’t get fired, and if they do, why don’t they get de-certified? Why do they too often get to move on to another agency to fuck everything up for those of us just trying to do a good job and stay alive?

The public has no clue. We don’t want to tell them because we don’t want to make things worse. But wouldn’t publicly shaming and purging the bad apples make policing look better in the eyes of the public? Wouldn’t law enforcement regain some credibility if we policed ourselves more effectively? What if we actually dealt with the many damaging online law enforcement sites that allow and encourage angry, hate-filled language spewed under the cover of free speech? The dangers we face don’t excuse misconduct or racist rants. Good cops know these sites only feed the malignancy.

Our conduct is scrutinized because the badge and public trust make us different. The shame when bad cops are exposed only reflects upon the rest of us to the extent that we allow or have allowed those stains to remain in our ranks. Officer morale suffers in-house. Officer safety takes a hit when those bad actors shame our profession. Angry people want to hurt cops. That is the real consequence.

We need leadership to face our own shortcomings head on, not cowardly excuses or weak-sauce reasons not to take action. Leaders who demand the highest levels of professional behavior. Leaders who insist on sound policies and tactics. Leaders who stand by their officers when they do the job properly, and terminate those who stain the badge. Leaders who ensure their officers get the training, equipment, and support they need, rather than stoke the flames of division with the ‘war on cops’ rhetoric.

It’s time we take a hard look at ourselves and decide who we want to be. Professional, moral, respected public servants that most of cops are, or the immoral, dangerous, unethical, hacks the bad apples make police seem? Will we continue to enable the worst among us out of some misguided loyalty? Because if we keep telling ourselves empathy and emotion make us weak, we’re superhuman crime-fighters, we’re immune from human feeling, refusing to name problems, provide cover for misconduct, unwilling to admit fault, and unable to reconcile these conflicts, we will not survive. Personally or professionally.

And that, my friends, is what can go wrong.

Be safe.

When is Enough Enough?

Chief Couper (Ret) has similar thoughts on law enforcement and gun safety laws. It is our business. I’d say it’s a moral imperative.

Improving Police

Isn’t enough, enough? The business of deaths by firearms is the business of police leadership.

Across our nation there is increasing support for more controls on firearms possession and use.

I expect police leaders to come together and propose that their elected leaders do more to legislate reasonable controls. For example, the following:

1 Universal background checks on all sales and transfers of firearms (including so-called “gun shows.)

2. Prohibit the sale and possession of military-style assault rifles.

3. Prohibit the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines.

4. Institute a national/state buy-back program of prohibited firearms and magazines.

5. Permit police to impound firearms possessed by persons who are a danger to themselves or others.

6. Increase accessibility for all citizens to mental health services.

7. Enforce existing state and federal firearms laws and fully staff the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Taxation and Firearms.

8. Sanction hate speech whenever…

View original post 73 more words

Cops must say enough is enough

Like anyone with a soul, I have been deeply affected by the most recent avalanche of mass murders committed across our nation in the past couple of weeks. We see the stories of the carnage, videos of sobbing, stunned, bloodied survivors and wonder when this national nightmare will end. 

My friends, I have a question that has been burning in my soul for years: Why isn’t law enforcement screaming the loudest for sensible gun safety policy? 

Many of us have lost friends in the line of duty. My particular personal count is eight friends, seven of them killed by gunfire. Here’s what has angered me since: Every single one of those seven heroes were murdered by individuals who had no business having a firearm. So when I hear the tired cliche of what can’t be done, it frankly pisses me off, because I would try anything if it would save another cop’s life. What about you? What wouldn’t you do to save your friends or family? 

In one of the most personal of these cases, my friend, Mike was shot and killed by a guy discharged from the military for psychological problems. He left Ft. Bragg, NC, stopped at a nearby gun shop and purchased numerous weapons—all perfectly legal. Sometime later, after wearing out his welcome with presumably all family and friends, he ends up on the streets of our city, homeless. One fateful night, Mike stops him pushing a shopping cart in an area where we had complaints of burglaries. Just a field intel stop. The kind we’ve all done thousands of times. This one ended with my friend’s murder. Shot dead by a guy we could have prevented from getting his guns. 

This story is unfortunately not uncommon. Statistics tell us that fully 1/2 of cops killed are at the hands of individuals suffering from  mental illness. (Lack of proper mental health care and street cops forced into these situations is a topic for another day) We know that many felons also fall into this category, so the overlap is real. Also, half of those cases involve domestic violence. All three of these categories have been areas of much national debate regarding gun laws. I have to ask, if there were a possibility of preventing the shooter from obtaining a firearm in HALF of the law enforcement deaths every year, why wouldn’t we do it? 

Another horrible statistic is police suicide. Friends, we are now losing more of our brothers and sisters in blue to their own hand than on duty. Yet another of my friends included. 

This topic is much broader in scope and encompasses so many parts of our cop experience and psyche. It starts with the first lessons we learn: Toughen up. Don’t be soft. Don’t show emotion. Gallows humor. Dehumanizing victims. All are coping mechanisms to avoid dealing with the reality of the pain. The crazy shit we see and deal with every day. 

In the past few years everything has gotten worse. Everyone’s angry. Politics, social media, non-stop noise and hatred, putting us all on edge. We know as cops what that means. The cop on the street is the one on the front line of this crap when it boils over. Mental illness, domestic violence, murders, fights, opioids, homelessness, poverty, desperation. Oh, yeah, and assume everyone is armed in our gun culture existence. And our nature is to stuff it down. Unwind with a drink, close our social circles, tell ourselves it’s us versus them like never before. What could possibly go wrong? 

Why am I talking about these issues today? 

Because we all watched the news and the horror of these mass shootings cascade daily across our news feed. We all mourned the victims and cursed the insanity. I thought about the hundreds of cops in all those cities, running toward that gunfire. Running towards an angry individual armed with a weapon of war. 

I first thanked God there were no police casualties (this time), but I know there has been incomprehensible emotional trauma done to those cops. You can’t face down that kind of threat without consequence. You can’t tread through rivers of blood and corpses without being scarred for life. I pray our brothers and sisters of the badge are getting the emotional support they need, whether they realize they need it or not. 

In the roughly five years since I retired, I’ve thought about these kinds of issues more than I ever did on the job. Probably because you need the perspective of time and distance to really unpack it all. What I see from this distance is a big complicated puzzle with lots of moving parts. I’m glad we’re hearing more awareness regarding mental health in policing. I’m thankful police have more training and equipment. 

Here’s my question: Why isn’t every single law enforcement leadership organization, union, and department shouting from the rooftop that we need responsible gun safety laws? Why aren’t we demanding universal background checks? Why aren’t we demanding an end to high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and military-style rifles in civilian hands? Why aren’t we demanding red flag laws nationally? Why aren’t we demanding action?

Law enforcement could influence this issue greatly. I know many of you are uncomfortable thinking about our leaders weighing in on politics. But why do we consider saving lives a political issue? Public and officer safety is absolutely our business. Why is our leadership ignoring these threats to our safety? 

Cops are the ones running into the gunfire. Cops are being murdered. Civilians are being slaughtered. Cops are suffering PTSD effects of these rampages. Cops should be shouting the loudest: 

Enough is enough. 

“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…

View original post 437 more words

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.

Police Week 2019, Never Forget

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation designating May 15th as Police Officers Memorial Day, and the week in which it falls as Police Week. It is a time 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 serve 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. Our profession is not perfect, but this week, we celebrate honor, commitment, and valor. The best of who we are and what the badge will always stand for. This week, we focus on 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 stand as the Thin Blue Line between between criminals and citizens. Far too often, the officer pays the price with their very life, like Savannah, GA Sergeant Kelvin Ansari did just two days ago.

police-1
Photo Credit: International Union of Police Associations

On average, every 54 hours a police officer is killed somewhere in this country. Last year, 136 officers died in the line of duty, and another 27 succumbed to 911 illnesses. 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 former NYPD Commissioner Bratton once said, “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.

Be safe.