Police integrity is the challenge of our time

I started writing this blog a few years ago out of a sense that policing—the profession I love and spent 25 years serving—was losing its way. But, then, as I gained more perspective through time and distance of retirement, I realized we were always on shaky ground.

I entered the police academy in November of 1989 and hit the street three months later as a naïve, but energetic rookie, eager to save the world. Of course, I soon realized that idealism is difficult to maintain.

My first assignment was to a midnight squad that worked the largest public housing complex in the city. The housing projects on the east side got the most media attention, but we had our share of unrest. Almost every Friday and Saturday night in those days, our squad was met with angry crowds, and we’d gather beneath overhangs to keep the rocks and bottles from hitting our heads.

I had no idea why people were so angry. Later I learned that the squad prior to us had been disbanded for misconduct. Allegations included planting narcotics, false testimony, abusive behavior toward the residents of this community—mostly African Americans. It’s clear to me now that the behavior of those cops was why we were taking rocks and bottles every weekend.

In those first years, we didn’t have take-home cars, so we checked out a vehicle at the beginning of every shift. One morning, after my midnight shift, I forgot my new rechargeable flashlight when I unloaded the car. When I woke up, I realized. I called the station to ask if anyone had checked out the car. The desk officer couldn’t find a record. That night, when I got to work, it was clear someone had driven the car because it was parked in a different spot. My flashlight was gone. At first, I clung to the belief that the officer would find me and return it, but, as the days went by the truth was clear.

The realization hit me hard. Another cop stole my flashlight.

The next lesson was even worse. When I complained to other officers about the theft of my property, most weren’t angry or even surprised.  It was normal to have items stolen if left around the police station or in a patrol car. That’s right. There was no shock, they shrugged. They told me to get over it and be more careful about my stuff.

Not one person I talked to thought it was a good idea or proper to write a theft report. I was told, you’ll never be able to prove who had the car. Even if you found out who had driven it, they’ll only deny it. It will only cause problems, and, wait for it…people will be mad at you for reporting it.

The lesson was clear: You say nothing about a cop being a thief. Put another way: We accept that there are thieves walking around with guns and badges arresting other people for theft.

I have never quite gotten over that ugly lesson.

Here’s where I’m supposed to stop and assure you that most of the cops I knew were good, honorable public servants and the issues with policing are all about a few bad apples.

And if we talk about the hard numbers of complaints vs. the total number of cops on the force, or the hundreds of thousands of (documented) police contacts vs. the number of shootings, or any other way we love to work the statistics to our advantage, you might think the bad apple argument is a good one.

But, if we look more closely at the bad apples excuse, we can understand how much it damages policing. Law enforcement is a small microcosm of our society, good and bad roam among us. That means cops who are liars, thieves, racists, wife beaters, child abusers, sex offenders, bigots, and just plain a-holes, just like the rest of society.

Yes, I know there are also kind, decent, brave, honorable, men and women who serve their communities every day. I worked with and still call many friends. Good cops should be the standard so there’s no point in continuing to say, “Yes, but there are more good cops than bad.” I should hope so. The bad apple distraction only deflects from the problem. Let’s move forward.

The lesson I learned in my rookie year about tolerating unethical cops is important. I bring up my experience because of those who point to police discipline as proof we clean our own house. While we might do a little surface cleaning, I submit that the time has come for a deep system cleanse. Not everyone meets the standard or is cut out for the job. Cops are held to a higher standard and should be. That’s the social contract. With great power comes great responsibility.  That’s the job. There is no false equivalent to what “other people” do. We are the law enforcement professionals who swore an oath to uphold the law.

If a citizen called today and reported a theft, we would write it up, attempt to determine suspects, and do our best to find the thief. Why not the cop who was a thief? When I tell this story to fellow cops, before I even get to the end, they almost always say with a note of sadness, “I know. No one ever gets their shit back.” Every single one of us can probably come up with numerous examples of personal experiences or stories from peers about misdeeds around the precinct or the community. We’ve seen our fellow cops abuse their authority, degrade citizens, manufacture evidence, and commit other behaviors that tarnish our badges.

Why is this okay? Why do they get to hang around? Why get mad at me for saying this out loud, instead of the system tolerating such individuals in your profession? Can’t we all see that if Minneapolis would have rid themselves of Derick Chauvin several misconducts ago, they wouldn’t be in the mess they’re in now?

People are in the streets because of a system that has shielded misconduct far too long. You are currently enduring weeks of consistent civil unrest designed to force change because the entire criminal justice system has refused calls for actual justice. Citizens of color have been telling us about abuses for decades. We ignored their voices and pain. We dismissed their stories. We cared more about arrests and power than justice and fairness. The bill on our arrogance is now due and change will be forced.

The truth of the matter is this: the same cop that causes so much dissension might also run into a burning house to save a kid during the same shift. This reality blurs the lines. When your call goes to shit and you’re fighting for your life, you want to hear the sound of those police package V8’s, no matter who’s behind the wheel. I get it. I’ve been there, too.

But, my friends, we simply can not afford to allow unethical cops around us. The damage they do, left unchecked, is the most destructive to the credibility of policing. We owe it to ourselves to hold them accountable from day one. It doesn’t matter if they’re fun to go have a beer with, if they do not possess the character for the profession then they must go. Saying this should not be controversial.

Disgruntled, racist, incompetent, or criminal cops are cancers to our profession. The damage they inflict ripples through our agencies and our communities, widening ever outward. Allowing even a 5% rate of cancerous behaviors in an agency of say 1000, means 50 cops walking around with everything from a shitty attitude to a racist mindset to a criminal disposition. Imagine the ripple effect of 50 cops multiplied by dozens or more citizen interactions per day, multiplied by years or decades? That’s damage done by the tens of thousands, rippling throughout communities in this country.

Police integrity is the real challenge of our time. We must change the moral culture of policing once and for all. From top to bottom of our agencies. Public servants of high moral character shouldn’t need a law to tell them they should stop misconduct. It’s time to stop using the bad apple excuse as a way to minimize police misconduct and start living up to the code of conduct we swore to uphold. Eliminate the bad apples when we first notice the bruises, not wait until they have literally spoiled the entire profession.

The code of silence ends here

As outrage burns over the murder of George Floyd, my commitment to police reforms & accountability has never been stronger. I’m outraged because the actions of those officers do not represent our honorable profession. I’m outraged by the depravity shown by Derek Chauvin under the color of authority, and we all instantly knew every cop was going to wear that crime for a long time. Rightly so. 

Not because all or even most women and men who serve as police would ever condone such despicable behavior. That’s a given. What brands us is the internal malfeasance that keeps us from removing such people long before they commit their violent act or crime that stains everyone in a uniform. 

The video of George Floyd’s murder laid bare the complicity of our entire profession. We have insisted for decades that only bad apples commit the worst abuses. Any mention of those “bad apples” is met with strong protests and denials. It’s not me, it’s not me! We cry.

The last two weeks exposed the ugly underbelly of a law enforcement culture that has been tolerated far too long. The horror of George Floyd’s death showed us all the deeper systemic cancer: One truly criminal actor and the shock of three others who either did not care or did not feel empowered to stop him. No, police misconduct isn’t increasing, it is simply being videotaped. The ongoing civil unrest is policing’s collective penance for refusing to reform on its own.  

Good cops & police leaders: Just because you think there is no problem in your community doesn’t mean people of color feel the same. Understand you have blind spots. The civil unrest in your city should tell you things aren’t quite as rosy as you think. People who have been on the receiving end of rude, dismissive, aggressive, or abusive cops are walking around with unresolved pain and anger. Please hear the pleas of marginalized communities who have been crying out over mistreatment and abuse by people you know need to be removed from the police profession. 

We all know who they are. Line officers know who they are. Police managers and staff know who they are. There’s just never enough collective will to purge them. So, they remain among us like cancer, insidiously infecting the squads around them. Supporting a subculture that in practice counters and undermines the police mottos of protect and serve and all of our lip service about community policing. We have always pretended because they haven’t done something that rises to the level of criminality, their behavior can be ignored. Like our racist uncle who rants and we shake our heads, the time has come to acknowledge that the harm they do. The daily microaggressions they inflict on people are just as damaging to our professional credibility and when their conduct rises to outright criminal behavior? God help us, we’re seeing the result. 

Police leaders have failed our communities by failing to address this systemic, pervasive issue that they absolutely know exists. Why are so many disciplined officers allowed to resign and keep their certifications? How is it possible that there are databases of cops known to have committed sexual misconduct or are flagged as criminals, and still walking around in uniforms? Why is there no leadership push for national standards to decertify bad cops? 

Why is it taking two weeks of rioting in the streets to get most of you to even acknowledge publicly that we have to make some changes? 

After Rodney King’s beating, evidence showed us LAPD officers sending racist computer messages like “gorillas in the mist.” Ten years later, I knew officers who used racist acronyms to remember the streets in the projects: AFRO SCUM. The investigations following Ferguson, Chicago, and Baltimore revealed continuing racial undertones. Minneapolis has a long, fraught history of police brutality in their city. Let’s not forget it is where Philando Castillo was murdered, even though he was a lawful gun owner and did everything the officer told him to do. 

These are truths. Police truths. It is no longer enough for any of us to say, “I’m not racist” or “I’m not that cop.” We refuse to look at our racist past in the eye and deal with it and it is long past time for our police culture to stop pretending race isn’t still a significant issue. The people of color in our communities still feel the undertow of bias in many encounters. They are frustrated by our collective failure to do anything meaningful day to day. We need to drop our defensive shields and get real with our fellow citizens.

And we have to start cleaning our own house. The cops that make every call harder because they piss the citizen off almost immediately. The cops that intentionally piss off the citizen so they can say, “Uncooperative. Back in service.” The supervisor who runs an entrapment traffic detail to stop cars in the black neighborhood. The jerk who purposely drives through puddles and splashes people just for fun. The one who “testilies” because the guy in the back seat probably got away with plenty of other stuff anyway. The non-stop microaggressions and indignities committed by these kinds of cops are festering wounds in minority communities. So, why are we surprised when the next shooting turns into a riot? 

The code of silence ends here, my friends. You may not have the power to fire a bad cop, but you must make it clear to your unprofessional peers that racism and abuse of power are not tolerated. They make your job more difficult and they endanger your safety every day. You also have the power to change the culture of your unions. If you think it’s wrong to protect bad cops, then make them stop doing it. If they are beating a drum of us vs. them, they are not truly protecting you, they are fomenting dangerous divisions that will endanger you further. 

I believe good cops want bad cops held accountable. The protests in the streets are demanding reforms and policies to help do just that. We all must be part of the solution. You must reject those among you who do not uphold the integrity of policing. You must speak. Follow your oath. Lead, though it may not be easy. Police leaders must help you by standing up and calling out the systemic failures that keep bad cops on the job. Taking these steps will earn community support. Community support and trust are what will make you safer.  

Please do not listen to those who tell you citizens hate you. Or that there is a war on cops. Policing has always been dangerous. The truly criminal will attack peace officers. They always have and always will. But the fact is policing is safer than it has been in decades. There is no war on cops. There is a war on bad cops. There is a war on abusive cops. There is a war on dirty cops. Rightly so. They are the criminal in your midst. 

To my fellow citizens, outraged over a seeming avalanche of videos showing murders and abuses of citizens at the hands of police. I hear you. Change must occur. It is unacceptable in a democratic, civil society, and should not happen. Sadly, it happens over and over. Police misconduct is a cancer and protests are the cure. As Dr. King famously said, “A riot is the cry of the unheard.” 

I believe the images of uniformed police officers callously murdering a man in their custody has finally awakened us for good. The time has come for real change at long last. Keep up the fight, but do it peacefully. We’ve had lots of examples of good cops kneeling & expressing solidarity with you. Let’s build on those connections. Hold those who do not deserve the public trust to account. Let’s demand justice and control over how we are policed. That’s how it works in a democracy. You have the entire world’s attention. Let’s finally achieve the dream of justice.

Roll Call: Officers, Can I Please Have Your Attention?

“In order to do this, you must stand up and say, “I think we should all help each other become better officers. I want you to know that if I should ever do anything in your presence that could result in my embarrassment, suspension, loss of job, or prison time, I want you to know that it is okay to intervene; to stop me. Can I have the same commitment from you?”

Improving Police

Roll Call.

I would like to talk to you today in light of all that has transpired around our country as a result of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

Most of you chose to be police officers because you actually wanted to “serve and protect.” But along the way, something happened, some of you lost your way. Maybe it was because the bad cops you had to work with. You know, the guys on your shift who told you to forget everything you learned in the police academy and if you acted like them, you will get along just fine. These rogue cops literally silenced new officers; those good hires who had a heart for others, were compassionate, controlled in their use of force, and respectful.

Let me share a part of my journey. When I was a young Minneapolis police officer, I wrote an op-ed for the Minneapolis Tribune…

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A police reckoning has arrived

Since the murder of George Floyd one week ago, I’ve been concerned about the escalation of violence and the risk to more citizens and cops. We should be thinking about the exponential risk to every good cop who now has to wear the depravity of one of our brothers in blue, callously snuffing out the life of a person in his custody. This event has ramped up violence nationwide and, as always, cops on the front line are the ones in harm’s way.

My friends, we must understand how we got here. I want to talk to you truthfully and frankly, as a fellow cop, because we have to tell each other the truth and see our faults, or we’re going to lose our legitimacy once and for all.

We have convinced ourselves for decades that there was something a suspect did to cause his death. That their actions must have caused their own death. Always. That’s the mantra, right? It’s on a mental loop in our heads, “If he had only”…surrendered…not fought…complied…pick a term. And most of white America goes along with us. If only the person had done, or not done, whatever. The person is never killed by the fault of the cop. Never official misconduct or malfeasance. Their actions dictate our response.

Qualified immunity shielded almost every bad actor that came along. Shootings of individuals lawfully carrying firearms, children playing with toy guns, people playing video games inside their home, women sleeping in their home, the list goes on. We do mental gymnastics and think up a myriad of reasons to absolve the cop of any responsibility. Regardless of training. Regardless of the circumstance. Regardless of common sense. We are tone-deaf to how this looks to the average citizen.

Then came Minneapolis. I’d like to think the image of a cold, callous cop calmly kneeling on the neck of a non-resisting man is finally, finally a bridge too far for my fellow Americans and cops to swallow. This time, it is impossible to look away.

It’s time to put up or shut up, my fellow good cops. We’ve been crying for years “bad apples” not us! Any direct question about individual responsibility is ducked and dodged. Then came Minneapolis and it was all laid bare. The depravity of the primary cop and the failure of the others on scene to stop the murder. What you need to understand is that this is what has been at the heart of the issue for decades. That complicity has tainted you as well. The disgusting behavior of police misconduct has always painted us all with an ugly brush. We were fools to tell ourselves that it could be otherwise.

That is the critical message we have failed to hear. When the criticism comes we immediately go to our defensive crouch, insist it’s only those unnamed bad apples. Trust us. Except that nonstop videos say otherwise. They keep coming daily. We must make it stop.

This is what I want to say to you today with all the love and brotherhood I can muster. It is not enough to say you are not that cop. You must stop that cop. You must reject that cop. You must purge those cops from your ranks. You must make those cops pariahs. You must rise above those cops if you are ever to release yourself from the stain of their deeds.

I realize right now it’s easy to get caught up in the anger against protestors. I’ve been there, too. Taking rocks and bottles, holding the line with a gas mask & shield. This is the part of the job nobody tells you about when you sign up thinking you’ll save the world. Please try not to buy into the negative war on cops rhetoric. There have been riots and difficult times before. Good cops are the ones who will weather the storm, like always.

What’s different now is the political climate mixed with social media and nonstop noise. Will law enforcement live up to the lofty ideals of its code of ethics or succumb to the basest depravity of the disgruntled or criminal in our midst? Resist the temptation to believe the worst and stay true to your oath. We are at a critical juncture in law enforcement, my friends. The future is up to every one of you.

I have always maintained we are better than the worst of us. Those brave enough to run into gunfire or burning buildings are brave enough to stop misconduct by our peers. I believe in the better natures of the true heroes behind the badge. Hold tight to your humanity. There is no us and them, only one human family. Let’s get through these difficult times by committing to our communities and one another to demand only the best serving beside us.

Police honor and integrity are more important now than ever before. A police reckoning has arrived. Our profession and our nation are depending on our morality and courage.

Be safe.

George Floyd was murdered under color of authority

When the fight’s over, it’s over. No amount of respect for policing should ever excuse criminal cops.

My friends, I’m struggling this morning. I’ve struggled all week since the murder of George Floyd. At first I couldn’t even process the cold insensitivity I watched on the video. A public servant, entrusted to maintain law and order, completely indifferent to human life. I’ve watched that video multiple times, trying to figure out how to understand the actions of those public servants. I cannot imagine how traumatic this is for Black Americans to witness another Black man killed right before their eyes.

Every once in a while, a video comes along that is completely indefensible. Right now I cannot excuse is the deafening silence from my policing peers. Silence is complicity. Silence is consent. If we do not condemn wrongdoing publicly and loudly, we are lost. Our silence tells the world we’re okay with one of our peers calmly kneeling on a man’s neck for seven minutes and killing him under color of authority.

When the fight or resistance ends, it’s over. Period. And, no, we’re not going to get into adrenaline and all that as an excuse. It’s real in some cases, but that’s what your partners are for. That didn’t happen here. Also, an experienced professional should be able to draw some calming breaths and get control in much less than seven minutes. Let’s leave that there.

Here’s what happens in those horrific seven minutes. Three of these cops are on the man’s back, one calmly pressing his knee into his neck. There is no resistance because only the officers knee is pressing into his neck, he doesn’t use his hands, which means there is no struggle. The man begs for air, the officer calmly remains on his neck. The man makes a feeble attempt to rise—no doubt trying to survive, not resist. The officer remains on his neck. The man goes silent. The officer remains on his neck. The man goes limp. The officer calmly remains on his neck. The paramedic comes and checks his pulse. The cop calmly, callously, remains on his neck.

Not one of the other officers appears to register alarm or tell their fellow cop to get off his neck. Not one. If they do, the cop ignores it and calmly keeps kneeling on his neck.

Most of us have been there, subduing a person for whatever crime. When you are straddling a person’s body you can feel their movement, tension, shifting, and struggle beneath you. You feel the moment when the struggle stops. The movement ceases. And when that happens, you are the professional. You are supposed to stop as well. This is the part I cannot wrap my head around. When the fight is over, it’s over. When the human tells you they are in distress, it’s your job to summon help. When they stop fighting you, it’s your job to stop all force. When they stop breathing, it is your job to start life saving efforts.

There is no gray area here. That is the job. Prisoners in our custody are our responsibility. Yet, there are far too few voices from our side of the thin blue line calling for accountability. I’m struggling with why not. I’m struggling with how the vast majority of us have gone silent. I’m appalled that a fellow cop could calmly, callously, press his knee into the neck of a non-combative human, ignore his pleas for help, ignore his pleas for air, feel the moment when he goes limp, and keep kneeling on his neck without so much as a change in expression on his face.

I’m not okay with this. Those cops do not represent me. They do not represent the profession I belonged to for twenty-five years. They do not represent the humanity and courage of those good cops I was proud to serve beside. They, and those like them must be purged from our profession with impunity. This cannot stand. These horrors cannot continue.

Right now we need to ask ourselves who we are. Are we the heroes we want everyone to see us as or are we cowards? Why do we have the courage to run toward gunfire but not to tell our fellow cops to get the hell off a guy’s neck? Are we so invested in our membership in the brotherhood of the badge that we can’t call out bad behavior in our own house? Have we so convinced ourselves of our own infallibility that we cannot tolerate any insinuation that any one of us might be wrong? Do we believe that because the job is dangerous and any one of us might fall is a reason to never speak ill of another cop, even when they are unethical or even criminal?

My brothers and sisters in blue, we must stand against this. We must own the damage done by a long line of cops who did not deserve to wear your badge. We must reclaim our honor. We must stand for the rule of law. We must call out crimes under color of authority when we see them so that the citizens of our country know we care. Only then will we begin to heal. Only then will the bloodshed cease on all sides.

A fellow cop and dear friend told me through tears yesterday: African Americans are all screaming: We can’t breathe in America!

Riots are raging and cities are burning. The howl of pain from the unheard that Dr. King told us about fifty years ago. George Floyd was murdered under color of authority. We must not look away. We must own it and work to ensure it never happens again.

Reducing Use of Force: A Success Story

We need more police leaders who understand that reducing use of force makes officers safer, despite what some may say. It reduces the instances of physical altercations, which is good for officers’ injury reduction and better mental health. Our community relations will greatly improve, and community support is critical for policing in a democratic society.

Improving Police

I recently received this correspondence from an old friend, Chuck Wexler, who serves as the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Basically, it is what I have been advocating; that is, that police leaders stand up, identify the problem (excessive uses of force), get help, propose new policies and training regimens, and then report back to the community what they have accomplished. This will go a long way to re-building trust between police and community members — particularly those who have been on the receiving end of forceful actions by police.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood

Sheriff Mike Chitwood of Volusia County, Florida, gets it!

Here’s Chuck’s report:

_________________________________________

Dear PERF members,

Chuck Wexler

I’m pleased to send you this 2nd issue of “PERF Trending: People, Ideas, and Events.” I want to thank everyone who emailed me with feedback about the first issue last Saturday.

A Florida success story:

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How many Jaylan’s are in our wake?

Today I read an article about a group of officers who are in hot water for falsely arresting a black college student. Here are the basics: The Eastern Illinois University swim team was traveling home on a team bus. They stopped at a rest area and the swimmers step off the bus to stretch their legs and use the facilities. They gathered in their team jackets to take a photo for social media. As the team began re-boarding, several police cars pulled into the lot. The only black player, Jaylan Butler, was stopped by a couple of officers, proned out on the ground, in the snow, and cuffed.

Jaylan was compliant, according to the bus driver and coaches. Nevertheless, the officers felt the need to point a gun at his head and tell him, they will “blow his f—king head off” if he moved. Again, this was corroborated by the witnesses, who reported they kept telling the officers the entire time it was a mistake and he’s a member of the team.

A few other agencies showed up. The bus driver and coach related that when they asked to speak to their supervisors, they were told various reasons why the supervisors could not be called. Jaylan was taken to a patrol car and told initially he “fit the description” of a suspect they were looking for. According to the bus driver, one officer said they thought he was taking the bus hostage. But, when it became clear the team is adamant, he is with them, they tell Butler the charge would then be resisting. In the end, they finally allowed Jaylan to retrieve his ID from the bus and decided they should release him.

Now, here’s the thing. I don’t know what offense these cops were responding to. Reports say possibly the state police BOLO’d about a B/M who shot at a vehicle in the area. Fine. Everyone free unit responds to assist, right? No problem. Then, at least one cop apparently saw the team at the rest stop and the lone B/M with them. We can argue at this point, maybe he’s worth a look. But, aren’t we supposed to look at the totality of everything?

The only description that fit was Jaylan’s race.

Don’t tell me that’s not true. Remember, the bus driver and coaches said the team was wearing their jerseys for the photo. So, here’s this black kid, wearing his team colors, nobody is acting hinky, nobody is freaked out. All accounts are that the driver and coaches immediately tried to intervene in the error. To no avail. Jaylan was still thrown down in the snow and threatened with having his head blown off.

My friends, we conduct investigative stops ten times a day. Race can be a legitimate factor, regardless of black or white. When it becomes a blinding factor, that’s when it becomes a problem. I’ve forgotten how many times I got out to stop an individual based on a very vague description. That’s perfectly good policing, but the rest of the context has to matter. Their “suspect”, supposedly running from the scene of a crime, would exhibit some outward signs of flight. Then there’s the coaches and bus driver saying the kid’s with them. He’s wearing a jersey with the same name as the team bus. Things don’t add up, here. Right?

So, almost immediately, professional law enforcement officers should have understood that their initial suspicion was dispelled. Jaylan is black, nothing else fits. End of story.

I’m troubled by the rest, though. Why are we so afraid to simply say we’re sorry? My bad. Why does it so often then shift to a resisting charge?

Try for a moment to imagine yourself being grabbed up, thrown on the ground and cuffed. You did nothing. You know you did nothing. Are you going to honestly tell me that your natural, human response would not be to squirm? Try to twist around to look at the officer and insist they are wrong? Not fight to harm, just get someone to listen because you know they have the wrong person. And then because you squirm, the cop points a gun at your forehead and says, “I’m gonna blow your head off if you move again.” Would that be okay if that was your college-age son?

In the end, the worst indignity occurs. No apology. No professional conversation to explain our actions. No name & badge number as requested by a citizen. BS reasons for not calling a supervisor. (As a former supervisor, that’s the best option to stop a complaint, trust me.) Then, reportedly, they don’t even document (until much later) the stop & detention, as required by policy when you are a professional. In 2020, I’m certain most agencies require documentation of a detention that rises to the level of threatening a suspect with a weapon.

Sadly, the failure to document the use of force will likely get these cops in more trouble than the violations they committed on this young man. It’s unconscionable. It’s unprofessional. It’s traumatizing to those who have this kind of thing happen to them. Unfortunately, it happens too often. And as a profession, we accept it as collateral damage. We leave young men like Jaylan scattered in our wake. We don’t even feel bad. We justify it by saying lame stuff like, “he could have been taking the bus hostage.” Seriously?

Our power allows us to shift to POP (for non-cops, that’s pissing off the police- yeah, that’s a thing), or resisting arrest, or some other justification for our actions. Anything not to say, I was wrong. Sorry.

We don’t talk about this much as cops, but we should. I wonder how many times a day a simple apology would be the right thing to do? Worse, I wonder how many times a day cops shift to another charge, refuse to take back a ticket, ignore a witness. All because of our ego. I wonder how much goodwill we could generate if we simply acknowledged this simple thing. We’re human. Our biases sometimes affect us. We can be wrong.

Most stories about this incident focus on racial bias, which is a subject for another blog, but I wanted to talk about more than that. I want you to think about how we treat people because public trust is what makes our job easier and safer. We can all agree that it is our job to question, to check out possible suspects, and sometimes it’s risky. It is also our job to be professionals. Listen to what people are saying. Think critically. Don’t let preconceived judgments blind us to commonsense. And for pete’s sake, if we act rashly, rush to judgment, and make a mistake…

Do not cling to your arrogance. Take a few minutes to talk to the person. Try to make it right. An explanation or apology costs you nothing. The goodwill you offer will be priceless. Do not walk away and leave another Jaylan in your wake.

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…

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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.