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.