Live your oath, change the world

As professionals, law enforcement officers swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. We also have a code of conduct called the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. More and more, I find myself wondering if we even care about those anymore.

Policing is one of those professions that transcends the definition of a job. It’s who we are. There is the increasing lament that cops are held to a higher standard. Some complain if a grocery store manager got into some kind of trouble, nobody would care, but police officers are called out and shamed. That’s true. And you know what? Rightly so.

Because here’s the hard truth: Nobody made you become a cop. You took on the status and the responsibility that came along with that status, willingly. Maybe you didn’t fully grasp the awesome responsibility that goes along with the awesome power society vested in you the day you pinned on the badge, but you own it.

On good days, we all love basking in the respect and admiration given to us simply because we’re walking around in a uniform or driving around in that police car. There’s a kind of intoxicating sense of power when drivers hit their brakes at the sight of you in traffic, or everyday people go out of their way to say hello or offer you a free coffee out of respect for the profession you’ve chosen.

Notice I said because of the uniform and car, not you personally. It’s really easy to blur that line. People confer automatic respect (or disdain) for what your uniform represents. Most people have a good impression, but some have had bad prior experiences. Either way, they are basing their reaction on historical interactions with another nameless individual wearing a uniform like you. Personally, they probably don’t know you, so it’s important to remind ourselves that we’re representing an idea, the idea of public service, impartial enforcement of the law, integrity, and even bravery.

This is why you are held to a higher standard. Because the profession you signed onto is the ultimate measure of public trust. You are entrusted to uphold and enforce the laws of our democracy. You are given the authority to take someone’s liberty or life. I’d say that’s way beyond the scope of the retail manager. That is why law enforcement is a calling, not a job. The job requirements include humility (service is humility), grace (not everyone deserves jail or a ticket), compassion (seeing the humanity in others),

The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics says in part: I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or to my agency.

Are you doing that when you mock others publicly? When you post ugly, degrading, divisive, sexist or racist comments on social media? When you send racist comments or jokes over department communications? When you flash white supremacist hand signals while posing in uniform photos?

I’m not talking about civil debate. We can have honest disagreements about facts. I mean comments like the assistant police chief from Alabama who posted a suggestion of a “roadside bomb” for the Speaker of the House (and any dumbocrat). The latter wishing the same (death by a roadside bomb) to members of a rival political party.

Are you going to really tell me that is behaving in a manner that brings credit to his department? I would ask this of anyone employed by the public and wearing a badge and gun, but especially the assistant chief. No, this is not a service to his community. Yes, it brings discredit to his agency. What’s worse, it’s one more example of a fellow cop who brings discredit to the entire law enforcement profession.

The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics also says: I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, political beliefs, aspirations, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions.

Have we conveniently forgotten that part?

I wrote about this previously, but in our social media world, it keeps happening on a daily basis. Only a few months ago, our profession was rocked by media reports of hundreds of unprofessional social media posts by cops all over this country. Rather than responding with wide professional humility or distancing ourselves from these people harming our collective reputations, as a whole, we fell in line with indignant fake outrage. How dare anyone say we don’t have free speech? Stupid snowflakes. Can’t they take a joke?

I’ve heard the assertion that I’m being the thought police. You have the right to free speech. You are correct. You have the right to be as intolerant, crass, bigoted, and insensitive as you wish. You just don’t have the right to shout it from the rooftops or splash it all over social media and still enjoy holding the public trust. There’s a difference. Remember, you chose this profession freely.

We all say we understand we live in a world where the truth is under attack and civility is evaporating faster than a drop of water in a forest fire.

My point is, aren’t we the leaders? Didn’t we sign onto this job to set an example of how to live a life of integrity? Every time we bury another fallen officer we say, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another.” I believe that.

But what about how we treat others every day?

That guy you splashed intentionally by plowing through the puddle yesterday might have spoken up for the police at a neighborhood watch meeting. You just lost an ally.

That woman you said lied about the sexual assault might refuse to name a murder suspect next week.

The kid you arrested for POP because he dared to question you because he’s been stopped dozens of times this month, might decide to lash out and fight or harm the next cop.

The hundreds of people that see your social media posts calling for the death of people you don’t agree with, or that spread racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise vile comments, might conclude your opinions cannot help but affect your on the job behavior. And again, since you represent your profession, they transfer your intolerance to other cops.

My friends, we cannot expect to be held to the highest esteem and not the highest standards equally. It just doesn’t work that way. I believe that most of us took our oath in good faith. Our communities need servant leaders of integrity now more than ever. Let’s remember what the honor of our badge truly means. If you want people to see you as an example for their community, then remember that’s exactly what you are–good or bad.

So, choose to be that positive role model and servant leader. You really can make a difference in the world.

Especially now.

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.

 

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.

Respect all citizens or get out

I believe the profession of law enforcement is a truly honorable calling.

A calling. Not a job. A calling is about service. Real service puts others over self.

In these contentious times, it seems to me, part what putting others first requires is to listen. What citizens are telling us is that there are problems. It’s that simple.

Instead of getting ourselves personally offended by their protests, and dismissing people’s experiences, maybe a better way is to begin to listen. Pointing fingers and laying blame are not working for us. They make us look petty and thin-skinned, not heroic. They continue to exacerbate tensions and increase fear and anger. The volatile mix gets cops and citizens hurt and killed. That is the only thing we should be working to change.

Policing in a democracy means that we answer to the public. Right now, minorities do not feel as if policing as a whole is working for them. Maybe not you or your department individually, but as a whole, there is a confidence gap, fear, anger, and lack of trust. Lack of trust is a critical problem that jeapordizes officer safety and effectiveness. So, why do we we keep lashing out at anyone who asks us to do some self-reflection and consider that policing might improve?

More importantly, why do we keep insisting there is no problem when the evidence to the contrary hits us between the eyes nearly every day?

The other day another racially-charged incident happened in this country. This time it was at a military school affiliated with the US Air Force Academy. The commander of the academy, Lieutenant General Jay Silveria stepped up to give a speech that is a leadership example for the ages. The general’s words made me realize that is the kind of leadership law enforcement really needs right now.

A couple of racist idiots painted racial slurs on the lockers of African American cadets. The general could have made a lame statement about how there are a few bad apples everywhere. He could have insisted that most men and women at the academy are not bigots and asked us to overlook this as an isolated incident. He could have blamed the prep school and disavowed any racist or other bigoted behaviors in the Air Force Academy or Air Force as a whole. He could have referred to their anti-discrimination policy in the terms we’ve all become accustomed to hearing. Instead he did what was necessary and right.

General Silveria said what I believe every law enforcement leader needs to start saying when an incident tinged with racist overtones or indefensible behavior occurs in their agency. It’s not enough to say you have a policy and people know the rules. Leaders need to step to the microphone and state their values in no uncertain terms to every cop and in earshot of every citizen in the community.

“So, just in case you’re unclear on where I stand on this topic: If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can’t treat someone from another gender with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.” ~ General Jay Silveria

Yes. That’s right. Get out.

We’ve got to stop sugar coating. We’ve got to stop making excuses. This has nothing to do with the job being hard. Nothing to do with danger. It’s about the integrity of the badge. It’s about service and honor. We can no longer afford to have those with questionable ethics, racist views, or any moral character deficiencies that tarnish policing. There can be no room for such people in law enforcement. Period. The public and fellow cops must all know where you stand. Say it loud and often.

The one clear agreement among community members and rank and file cops is actually this: Problem cops aren’t held accountable. That is no small coincidence. We all know it, but an unwritten rule says we shouldn’t talk about it. So, publicly, we focus on “bad apples” and “mistakes” of judgement. This weak argument is transparent to the public and keeps us from truly purging those folks from police ranks.

The general spoke directly to diversity and bias by saying, “We’d be naive to say this isn’t a problem in our ranks.” Law enforcement must take this clear-eyed, direct approach. When an incident happens and one of our own is exposed for bias, character flaws or excessive force, we should speak with equal clarity. Unfortunately, law enforcement has largely been unwilling to publicly denounce such behavior and say what needs said.

So, as the general says, there’s a better idea. Real leadership. Step up and let the world know you stand firm on the values of your profession. Right now, loud and clear.

If you cannot treat all persons with respect, then you need to get out. There is no place for you in law enforcement.

The public and good cops everywhere will stand and cheer.