Angry Rants Aren’t Leadership

We are at a time of crisis in our country. Police and community relationships are strained as never before. Everyday I hold my breath when I open the morning edition of the news, bracing for a new headline of violence. Communities are mourning the loss of citizens and officers, and although we disagree on many underlying causes, one thing we can all agree on is that all responsible citizens want the violence to stop.

In the midst of all of the bloodshed and heartbreak our country has endured, especially in the past few weeks, fear has taken hold. Fear can be healthy when it pulls us together for the common good or fear can fuel divisions and morph into suspicion, blame and hate. Each new tragedy further shreds the fabric of trust and provides justification to entrench ourselves more deeply in opposing positions. Our feelings of helplessness and vulnerability lead us to search for answers in our faith and our leaders. But we must find the right leaders.

When I talk to my law enforcement friends, I hear the stress and fear because it feels as if the attacks are coming from all sides. The murder of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge was an attack on the fabric of society, and the outpouring of love and support nationwide certainly shows that average citizens are with you. Yes, even those who belong to protest organizations like black lives matter denounced violence against police officers unequivocally. In fact, those peaceful demonstrators had spent an entire afternoon amicably with the Dallas PD before a madman decided to act. Because evil will always try to divide us in the most heinous ways and our most vulnerable moments. That’s why we need leaders with a steady hand and temperament.

When we feel unappreciated and under siege, it is tempting to lash out, to give into our fears, but we must not become what we hate. Some law enforcement leaders seem to be pouring gasoline on the fire, taking every opportunity to antagonize and amp up officer’s understandable anger and frustration. Getting on the news or making national speeches filled with vitriol but no solutions only deepen the divisions and make your officers or deputies less safe. While it might be popular short term, perpetuating the Us v. Them mentality doesn’t help, because we all know that we need each other to survive.

We need leaders who call us to our highest selves, not those who feed our darkest and negative thoughts. We need leaders to unify, not further divide. We need leaders who understand that hate shuts down the heart and solutions only come when we are open to hearing another point of view. We need leaders willing to talk to activist leaders to find real solutions. 1468280264-23109-57841d6ac46188ef6d8b456a-450x250

Exceptional leaders have stepped forward in the past few weeks. Leaders of faith reached out following the Orlando massacre to acknowledge the role of religion in the demonizing of the LGBT community throughout history. They carried messages of love and non-judgment to start open dialogue about ways to bring LGBT people fully into the faith community, in order to stop the hate and violence. Dallas Police Chief David Brown, while acknowledging his anger and grief, also told us that his department will not abandon community policing or allow them to turn away from their outreach.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said this following the murder of three officers in Baton Rouge, “This is not what justice looks like…It’s not justice for anybody, and it’s certainly not constructive. It’s just pure, unadulterated evil. We’re gonna start our conversations here in Louisiana and around our communities, with community leaders, law enforcement, government officials and faith leaders, so we can find out together where we go from here. And there isn’t any one of us who can fix this, but all of us together, can and will fix this problem together. I don’t have all the answers and I know it won’t happen overnight. But I know we’re going to come out of this stronger.”

In our time of unprecedented volatility, law enforcement leaders must reaffirm the values we swore to uphold. We cannot shrink into a defensive crouch that silences all dialogue or spout dangerous rhetoric to sound as if we are at war with our communities—even our most crime-ridden communities. An eye for an eye only makes us all blind. Dangerous rhetoric will not help us to come out of this stronger.

Blood in the Streets

When are we going to have the courage to admit we may not be 100% right? That maybe, just maybe somebody else may have a legitimate point? That my point of view isn’t necessarily the correct one, while yours just might have merit?

A year after a national commission on policing, that was supposed to give us some answers, there is still ever-widening gap between police and the Black community. Some in our own groups have tried to open discussions, to suggest that listening to other perspectives might help, only to be shouted down or shunned for daring to challenge a popular narrow worldview. My friend, the civil rights leader, gets accused of being not supportive enough of Black Lives Matter because she dares to recognize that there are many good police officers and saying that society needs good policing. I have been accused of disloyalty to the Thin Blue Line for suggesting that we should call out the bad in policing and get rid of those cops rather than look the other way, because they are making all officers less safe.

Blind loyalty is destroying us. Some cops dishonor the badge, others harbor a little or a lot of latent bias that colors their perceptions. We deal with bad situations every day. High crime areas tend to be low-income neighborhoods of color. It’s nearly impossible for it not to affect you. But not every person of color wants to harm us. We have to get a handle on this. The first way is trying to see the world through their point of view. We may not understand their mistrust, fear, or anger at policing, but we must allow them their perception and work to change it.

Likewise, to my friends of color: Not all cops are bad, most are not afraid of you. Most genuinely want to do a good, impartial job, and most do an outstanding job everyday. Not everyone in a uniform wants to harm you. But you must also allow for their perception and experience that tells them that far too many bad people do want to harm them. Many others will possibly harm them in a desperate attempt to escape. Either way, cops are in a dangerous spot. You, too, must open your mind to this alternate reality.

Healing can only begin with a bit of understanding. Understanding starts with contrition. If I hurt my brother, and refuse to apologize, just expect him to get over it, will he really think I’m sincere? No. This is why a true acknowledgement of grievances and appropriate apology is needed. Historical racial grievances must be addressed. This does not mean you caused it, but as a profession and larger community, we must concede systemic issues have caused Black citizens to distrust us. There is a real gap between how the majority of White and Black Americans feel about law enforcement because there is a very real disparity that has existed since the beginning of our country. We have to acknowledge this, even though we have not personally experienced it. We cannot expect African American citizens to suddenly forget their pain and move on without our demonstrated sincerity, which means real action.

I mean, look at the messages our actions send to each other. Some Police officers get into trouble repeatedly, (I would argue they are the bad 5%) and we allow them to stay on in policing. Sometimes we make them resign, only to show up in another city, and eventually doing something so egregious that they are finally fired or worse on the evening news. More often, those who are good officers, fail to confront those who cross lines big and small. We are silent when small injustices are committed. Silence is support. People see that and remember.

Flip side, communities too often allow bad behavior to escalate to criminality in our young people, refusing to help identify them to cops, until finally something serious happens, like their death or they commit a serious crime. Community members are too often silent at injustice in their own communities when good cops are trying hard to solve crimes and improve quality of life. Being confrontational or combative with an officer because another cop was an a-hole is the same thing as the cop judging you unfairly.

So, the way I see it is we have a choice: we can either do our best to honestly try to see one another’s viewpoint and work on our empathy, or we can retreat to our defensive positions, keep being thin-skinned and self-righteous, only listening to those who see the world through our narrow lens, sharing toxic memes, telling ourselves we’re right, and all the while, our friends and families will keep dying.

The irony is then we will be forced to recognize our most important similarity: The blood that flows in the street will always be red.

Leading from the bottom

 

“The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale

The forced resignation of the police chief in San Francisco caused a bit of a stir in law enforcement circles recently. Chief Suhr follows a string of such actions, including the high-profile Superintendent in Chicago, and Chiefs in Baltimore and Ferguson. Chief Suhr and the others had long and distinguished careers by many accounts, and it is not my intention to disparage or throw stones at these men personally. However, it seems painfully obvious that doing business according to the status quo that has existed for decades is no longer working—for cops or the community.

In these contentious times, we need communication and leadership above all else. Policing in a democracy means change will always come as the public’s attitudes change over time. That’s reality. Law enforcement must always be flexible to adapt to those shifts, and leadership is supposed to drive change in a positive way. For instance, the 1966 Miranda ruling radically changed the rules for questioning suspects. No doubt, the chorus of doomsday predictors back then asserted that cops would never get another confession or make another case. Wrong. We worked smarter, adapted and got better at our jobs. We were fast and loose with stop and frisk, touting ever-increasing arrest and ticket numbers, but now we have to refocus on quality not quantity. Changes in pursuit policies and a host of other issues hasn’t ended law enforcement as we know it.

Our current reality is the proliferation of videos in our technology age that can celebrate outstanding police work, but also unfortunately exposes bad police behavior for the entire world to see. It’s not that those minorities of officers weren’t always there in our ranks, it’s just now harder to hide or ignore. That’s where we are today. So, law enforcement leaders have two choices: Rise to the occasion and drive positive change or lash out at anyone remotely questioning procedures and reinforce the status quo. Sadly, too many in leadership positions have chosen the latter.

The law enforcement leaders railing against any suggestion of change are not helping to bridge this divide with the community. I’ve seen these public servants say things like, “cops are afraid to do their jobs”, “cops are in a fetal position”, “cops are going to start sitting under trees”, or really incendiary things like “the mayor has blood on his hands”. Even the FBI Director has inferred that crime is rising because cops feel under attack. I have to shake my head. Some of these same leaders are the ones who sold the myth of statistical utopia, which pitted street officers against the communities they serve to begin with. Yes, these are difficult and stressful times, but fanning the flames and giving excuses to reactionaries who resist any change is not the answer. Lashing out against anyone who questions policing is not the answer. That’s not leadership.

Leadership requires honest self-examination and assessment for growth. Leadership requires that we reach across divides and listen to the communities we serve. Leadership urges the best officers to continue to do their best in spite of the noise around them, by reaffirming support for good work. We can’t partner with citizens if we continue to only look for blame externally rejecting any suggestion of self-critique or improvement. Criminals do kill more black citizens than police ever will. Yes. But that doesn’t excuse any cop from crossing the line. Law enforcement leaders need to re-evaluate and address our own shortcomings, not just whine about exposure of what we’d rather not have the public know. It is a shame that some in high-profile positions take such small-minded and defeatist attitudes. Their public statements pander to the worst behaviors, rather than the highest ideals of our profession. It’s lazy and wrong.

Forget leading from behind, that’s leading from the bottom.

We all want to be seen

A few days ago, I was chatting with a few law enforcement friends about the need for a positive message when debating sensitive subjects and it occurred to me that the larger debate on law enforcement and the community was certainly one of those areas fraught with emotion on both sides. I think that is important for everyone to remember this as these debates rage. Policing is under intense scrutiny and both sides have dug into deep trenches because, quite frankly, the stakes are huge—we’re literally talking about life and death issues all around. I realized that is precisely why a more positive and open-minded dialogue is so very necessary.

Since Ferguson, law enforcement has entered a defensive crouch. Videos continue to surface of alleged officer misconduct, exposing some egregious behavior that cops would rather not have displayed for the world to see. Some tapes have the opposite effect, showing the public the shocking realities of undeniably unprovoked attacks on officers just doing their jobs. What I love the most about this current climate is that increasingly, we are seeing outstanding videos of really excellent officers doing what they do every day: serve their communities with compassion and generosity.

The importance of celebrating those officers cannot be overstated. Somewhere during my career, law enforcement shifted into statistics mode. Numbers ruled and tallies of tickets and arrests became the only standard of measure for an officer’s worth. If the numbers weren’t high enough, the officer was branded a slacker and disciplined. The glaring problem with that approach is that it erodes both public confidence and the officer’s morale. Where a cop might have issued a warning on a traffic stop, he now feels the need to write numerous tickets to boost his numbers and stay on the good side of management. Good community work and problem solving doesn’t fit into that model. It takes time and results are often not quantifiable—at least on a stat sheet or pie chart. Citizens become potential statistics for the officer’s eval and officers become reduced to numbers in the statistical game of politics.

Now that we are struggling with perceptions about law enforcement, suddenly the merits of compassion in service are viewed favorably, rather than dismissed as “soft” like they were too often in days past. This is a good thing. We are human. I would argue our emotion and humanity are the traits that make the best cops. When we see the humanity in the citizens we serve and respond with compassion, we show the strength of humanity that is character. Let’s stop attacking and start seeing each other. No one person is all good or bad. Not cops, not citizens. In all of the noise and fighting, why not use this truth as a starting point for seeing one another? We might be surprised at how that one gesture opens a door for change.

Be safe.

National, military-like standards would help policing

We see the videos popping up more and more, capturing the worst of the police profession. It makes good cops angry and more disturbingly, casts a shadow over the profession, making even the average person wonder about all cops. It’s frustrating, I know. But, instead of getting angry at the person who posted the video, we should be angry at the individual tarnishing our badge, and the system that allows those unworthy personnel to stay too long, by resigning and moving to another jurisdiction. They should not keep their certification. We need higher standards and a commitment to uphold those standards nationwide.

I’m going to say something completely challenging the popular narrative in our culture today. We don’t need less militarization of policing, we need more. Yes, I said more.

Dear, citizen, I hear you yelling, “WTH?” But, before you fly off the handle and your head explodes, please listen. Not bigger, badder guns or armored vehicles. We need more military-like training and streamlined standards. I’ll explain. When you join the Marines, you go to basic training at Parris Island, SC or San Diego, CA. Everybody goes there for training. The same training. There is a standard curriculum and standard requirements in order for you to EARN the right to call yourself a marine. That’s right. EARN the title. In the process you learn what character it takes to be a marine. What’s best about this is that once a marine is forged into the proper mold, now any duty assignment he goes to, his superiors know that he has at least met the minimum criteria for becoming a marine. More importantly, his fellow marines can rest assured of his training in the event they have to cover each others asses in a firefight.

That’s what we need in law enforcement. Standards and continuity. We say we have them, and their are various criminal justice standards organizations, but the truth is they are a patchwork of differing requirements state to state. Training for law enforcement should be standardized nationally. A cop in a small town in Iowa should get the same training as a cop in LA, and held to the same standard of achievement. That way, a cop in a small town in Virginia, who moves to Tampa is truly making a lateral move and can be readily assimilated. As a nation and profession, we have to come to the realization that too often we have been derelict in our duty to ensure only the best wear a badge. An officer’s standing and responsibility in the society requires a higher level of character and physical fitness. Once selected, it is then our duty to ensure rigorous, continued, training, even though that costs money. It’s imperative that we make this change.

Police recruits should EARN the right to hold the title of Police Officer. Exhibit the character required to wear a badge. Too often, we have relinquished law enforcement training to our community colleges and accepted less stringent standards on a daily basis. I’ve heard way too many stories from new officers that half the time instructors didn’t show up or their FTO didn’t do anything but dog a certain intersection for traffic tickets, and consequently they are on the street and don’t know how to handle some basic call. More disturbing is the tendency today in law enforcement to hire experienced officers, without really vetting them. We need look no further than a few current cases in the news. The Tamir Rice shooting and the Floyd Dent excessive force case both feature examples of officers who left their agencies under questionable circumstances and are now in the news again. Raising the standards of law enforcement and making a commitment to one another that those standards will be universal could prevent these and many more cases like them. I mean, how is it that the Tulsa Sheriff can openly say that he has the power to “waive criteria”? And in the past month, NYPD and Philadelphia have openly acknowledged they haven’t been requiring their officers to undergo continuing training in critical areas like defensive tactics. If the first and fourth largest agencies in this country are neglecting training, what does logic say is happening elsewhere? That’s a big problem.

Folks, we have to take a hard look at our professional standards. Raising the bar will benefit every good cop on the streets today. This, in turn, will benefit our communities, and make our cities safer. Most importantly, national standards will begin to restore the public’s faith in law enforcement. If you’re a cop today, you don’t have to be perfect. We know you are human. But as a profession, policing must start striving for a national level of excellence. The time is now.

~Be safe.

Admitting the problem is the first step

At my retirement ceremony, given the opportunity to say a few words, I decided to end on this challenge: To my peers, I said don’t fall into the numbers trap, remember these are people you are serving, not numbers. I turned to the department staff and added: Please don’t forget the officers who work for you are people, not numbers.

A friend of mine asked recently what systemic changes could address the very contentious issues of policing and race in our country today. For me, it has to be reconnecting with people. To be sure, there are dangerous criminals and police officers must be ready to defend themselves, but most people are not. This affects even our interactions with average citizens and victims. We are taught to maintain this “safety distance”, and too often that morphs into a superiority buffer. The compassion I talked about last time dissolves in that defined space.

Early in my career, a homeless man was beaten and robbed. He was upset and desperate to have someone listen to him. In his emotional state, he grabbed my arm, begging me to hear him. My sergeant immediately shoved the man and chastised me for allowing him to touch me. I know he was thinking of safety, but I honestly, to this day, I do not think the man wanted to harm me.

As a new supervisor handling my first citizen complaint, I realized after speaking to the officer and citizen, the officer was wrong. The citizen, a calm, rational woman, wanted the officer to apologize. I asked him to do it. The woman was very satisfied and the complaint was resolved. Soon after, I was shocked when a colleague of mine told me I handled it wrong, saying flatly, “We don’t apologize.”

I’ve thought about this attitude a great deal with the recent scrutiny of law enforcement misconduct. I wonder, what are we so afraid of? Why can’t I do something as humane as giving a victim a hug if the situation warrants? Why is it wrong to simply acknowledge our shortcomings, fix the issues, and apologize, if applicable? I mean, if you and I are friends and I do something to hurt you or make you angry, the only way for us to really get past the harm is for me to acknowledge my actions and apologize. Right? Otherwise, I cannot regain my goodwill with you. It’s a very basic human dynamic. And law enforcement is all about human dynamics.

We are starting to see a change. In the video age, more officer misconduct is exposed, leading to more accountability. It’s a painful, positive step. I take no pleasure in seeing officers charged with felony crimes, but we cannot have a double standard. Most officers have integrity. Human mistakes can be fixed, but the profession loses credibility by ignoring or attempting to excuse those who do not. There are simply too many shocking videos to ignore the problem. Too many of these individuals have checkered histories or been allowed to move from agency to agency. Law enforcement has to own it and take credible steps to fix it.

Good cops should not be sorry to see the bad go. They only make your job harder and you and your peers less safe. Only when the entire police profession is willing to tackle systemic issues, be honest with the public at all times, and purge those who violate the trust of the badge will police be able to begin the process of repairing its crucial relationship with the citizens of our country. As retired NYPD Chief Phillip Banks said last week, “Cops hate two things: The way things are and change.” This change in thinking has to come, and it has to happen sooner than later. We can bridge this credibility gap. Fixing law enforcement’s house does not mean giving in to criminals. Accepting one’s flaws makes you stronger, not weaker. The first step to healing is always admitting the problem.

~Be safe.

Lessons of Ferguson-for the good of law enforcement

I promised to examine the Department of Justice report on the Ferguson Police Department, just as I did the DOJ’s report on the Brown shooting. The report on Ferguson got the lion’s share of headlines in the past couple of weeks, with most headlines shouting that the PD was engaging in racist behavior, illegal stops, and violations of civil rights. After reading the report in its entirety, which, again, I urge everyone to do, it’s painfully clear that Ferguson has some very troubling systemic problems. I’m not going to tap dance around saying “not every officer”, because common sense tells any intelligent person that’s a given, but the pervasiveness of the policies geared toward revenue generation and statistics alone, paint a picture of a police department in need of a major overhaul. City and Department officials were found to openly request more tickets written from the Chief to increase revenue. One DOJ example:

“City and police leadership pressure officers to write citations, independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the City budget. In an email from March 2010, the Finance Director wrote to Chief Jackson that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. What are your thoughts? Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.”

Worse, officials were found to author and forward racist emails on city computers. When people are unafraid of being caught sending racist emails, I’d say the culture is evident. DOJ cites numerous examples throughout the report.

“We have found substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court staff in Ferguson. For example, we discovered emails circulated by police supervisors and court staff that stereotype racial minorities as criminals, including one email that joked about an abortion by an African-American woman being a means of crime control.”

Statistical analysis, combined with interviews of city and police personnel, examinations of public records, to include emails, provide numerous examples of improper practices of using the PD to generate revenues, and in some more damning examples, outright racist remarks in city correspondence. I’m a retired cop, so I’m concerned with the overall city leadership culture and performance standards (a sanitized way of saying quota) that make otherwise good cops do the wrong thing. It’s a slippery slope when leaders aren’t leading in a moral way. Here’s the DOJ take on it:

“The City’s emphasis on revenue generation has a profound effect on FPD’s approach to law enforcement. Patrol assignments and schedules are geared toward aggressive enforcement of Ferguson’s municipal code, with insufficient thought given to whether enforcement strategies promote public safety or unnecessarily undermine community trust and cooperation. Officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on “productivity,” meaning the number of citations issued. Partly as a consequence of City and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.”

In other words, police officers in Ferguson understand that their job security depends upon those tickets. Sadly, they didn’t have a police chief strong enough or honest enough to stand up. Unfortunately, Ferguson isn’t alone in that leadership vacuum. The problem is that when you stop looking at tickets or other enforcement as the public safety instrument, and only consider the next “stat”, the person you encounter becomes less an individual and simply a number. I get that problem. I railed against stat-driven policing for years. Here’s the thing. Stats should never be an “outcome”. The only measure of police success should be the absence of crime in a community and the ability to work with the community to achieve that goal. Period.

The problem gets worse as it progresses. The City of Ferguson, like many other communities, sets a fine for minor offenses, with usually steeper, often criminal penalties for unpaid fines or failure to appear in court. Of course, when the cop on patrol stops the person again, they have a job to do. The person has a criminal offense or warrant. What’s the cop supposed to do? They have to arrest. It’s their job. So, then the citizen is booked into jail, and the cycle grows. Again, I get it. But, what is the police officer supposed to do at that point? It’s not the cop that sets the fines or criminalizes behavior. Our representatives pass laws that cops enforce. It’s just the cops who get the brunt of the blame for enforcing society’s rules. True story.

So, otherwise decent cops, just enforce the rules of society. The bad cops use the sketchy culture of a city like Ferguson, in ways that none of us want to acknowledge. But, just like I called on the Black community to face some tough thoughts last time, I challenge law enforcement not to look away. It’s a fact. A subpar or flat out bad cop uses stats as a cover for their bad behavior, and they can get away with it without strong leadership. If all his chain of command cares about is being at the top of the arrest/ticket stats, then nobody cares how the numbers come. I’ve seen it.

That, my friends in blue, is where we have to change. Now. Because the animosity that bad policies and policing sow, by even a few, get blown exponentially out of proportion, and the result is that it makes every cop on the beat less safe. Police officers must have the willing cooperation of the citizens to be effective. Sir Robert Peal said that at the dawn of our profession. With the proliferation of guns and violence in criminals today, that idea has never been more important. Our profession must have the courage to address systemic issues that lead to undesirable behaviors in our ranks. Our badge is a symbol of public trust. We have the responsibility to adhere to the ethics it represents and stand for justice.