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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Media Crosshairs and Wars of Words

I made a mistake in affixing a complaint about a journalist to a singular incident. Because of this error, the message was lost in translation and was interpreted as an attack on journalists who file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The latter is not the case, and I believe that my transparency on behalf of my police department as well as my very public views on holding police officers accountable speak to this truth.

Perhaps that mindset is the catalyst for the frustration I feel with any reporter who, rather than reporting, files FOIA requests by the dozen. Some of the requests leave me scratching my head, and I wonder what story will arise out of the seemingly innocuous information being collected. These voluminous requests have left me to deduct that it's a fishing expedition and the reporter is looking for something (anything) to discredit our agency and our officers. My department has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with our local newspaper, and I can honestly say that the reporters I've worked with are some of the most talented and competent I've had the pleasure of working with so the recent distrust is new to me.

The Freedom of Information Act is justly in place, and since its inception, my department has honored the inquiries into the actions of our officers. Both police officers and journalists subscribe to the "trust but verify" philosophy, so I've never felt opposition to the practice until we experienced a reporter who appears to spend more time filing FOIA requests than reporting.

My department lives in the light, and I have no issue facing the residents and stakeholders of my city and telling them that I made a mistake. I have terminated officers for making mistakes, and I stand firm in my decisions because those who tarnish our badge have no place among the honorable officers who get it right day after day.

Let me be succinct in stating that every officer involved shooting warrants FOIA requests. That’s why it was my mistake to assert any linkage to the obsessive FOIA requests as part of the shooting incident. I'm hanging my head.

Wesley Lowery from the Washington Post was the first to attack me on Twitter, so he's my favorite reporter right now. He was correct in placing me in his crosshairs because I know he genuinely believes that I was venting about a reporter who was verifying information from a shooting. That couldn't be further from the truth.

So my purpose of this post is to seek first to understand and then be understood. I have been a cop my entire adult life, and I don't know what it's like to walk around in a reporter's shoes. The shoes I wear are shiny and match my uniform. My point is that I don’t know what I don’t know. 

If reputable and respected journalists respond and tell me that it is perfectly normal to file FOIA requests for the sake of filing, then I will stand corrected. But if I were in the shoes of a reporter, I think I would spend time keeping my readers informed and I would be vehement in my quest for truth. But in doing so, I would not automatically assume everyone is lying or withholding unless they gave me a reason to believe that. If I were suspicious of coverup or corruption, I would be steadfast in my pursuit to uncover the truth. Again, every shooting incident should meet that level of inquiry but those serious incidents aside, is there room to build trust? Ironically, law enforcement officers and journalists overlap in the fact-finding part of the mission.

Some police actions and the organizations to which they belong have justified this level of scrutiny, so that is not lost on me. But do the transgressions of the few translate into the automatic lack of trust for all? I fear the answer to this question.

With that, I will respond to the inquiries from Mr. Lowery on Twitter (@WesleyLowery) in this venue because I simply cannot communicate meaningfully in 140 characters or less (i.e., I talk too much).

1) Given the current environment, do you think a chief's public targeting of this specific reporter could result in threats/violence for him/her?

Dear gawd, I hope not. I didn’t provide a name or a publication and the truth is, I never even considered that. I have a philosophical disagreement with the process by which the reporter reports but I would never instigate or purposefully condone violence. I respect the reporter's humanity and wish no harm.

2) While I think reporters can be strategic in what we request, shouldn't use of deadly force always prompt our scrutiny/requests for info?

Yes. I do. If the actions of a police officer result in force, I believe we should be scrutinized to determine if those actions are lawful. If we are charged with upholding the law, we should follow the law.

3)  I file many FOIAs; not all lead directly to articles. Does that mean I am no longer entitled to public information…?

Of course not. But just like you might say to a police officer, "Do you always have to go to force options?" The answer is no. But I do believe FOIA requests should be strategic and not just a fishing expedition. That is where the disconnect seems to be.

Maybe we just keep the dialogue going in an attempt to see each other up close. I'm a cop and that might make you deduct something about me before having met me. Reporters are being villainized for "fake news, " and a faction of society is adopting that narrative. I'm not one of those people. The media is a crucial component of our society and keeping those in power accountable is important and honorable work.

Let us all keep fighting the good fight even in discourse.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Lesson on Reasonable Suspicion


I penned this in response to a recent editorial that appeared in a local newspaper. I’m not naming the newspaper which was the only publication to raise questions concerning the officer’s actions after he was cleared through independent investigations by the Illinois State Police and the Kane County State’s Attorney. Doing so would somehow lend credence to their rather obscure claim that doubts the thoroughness of the investigations by both the ISP and Kane County.


Dear Newspaper Editorial Team,

You recently penned an editorial asking for more information about the 2016 traffic stop that led to an exchange of gunfire between the passenger in the vehicle and one of our Aurora police officers. Because the relationship our police department has with the residents of this community is built on trust and transparency, and we recognize that we are accountable to our citizens first and foremost, I am more than happy to oblige with the information you seek. Any opportunity to educate is an opportunity to be seized.

In your editorial, you correctly outlined the actions that Mr. Martell took against the officer. The vehicle he was riding in was pulled over. When the officer approached the vehicle, Mr. Martell fled on foot and began firing at the officer. The officer fired back. Fortunately the bullets from both weapons did not strike their intended target. I say “fortunately” because just below keeping our citizens safe from harm is ensuring that our officers charged with this great responsibility go home to their families after their shift.  After the exchange of gunfire, Mr. Martell attempted to overtake a family by committing a home invasion. I’m sure he was looking for refuge and was likely surprised when a female from inside the residence physically forced him out of the home. It was at that time that Mr. Martell made the decision to place his gun to his own head and pull the trigger. That was a terrible tragedy because I cannot begin to understand even for a moment the loss his family must still be feeling. I am also devastated for the innocent and undeserving family who still has to endure the trauma of what occurred before their eyes.

The facts of this case are agreed upon but the lingering question for your team is the reason for the traffic stop. In your editorial, you suggest that the answer to this question would “heighten our confidence in the thoroughness of the investigation.” You have requested a clearer explanation of what “reasonable suspicion” is. Allow me to restore confidence in your Aurora Police Department by edifying you on the concept of reasonable suspicion as defined by the supreme law of our land.

Reasonable suspicion is a standard established by the Supreme Court in a 1968 case in which it ruled that police officers should be allowed to stop and briefly detain a person if, based upon the officer’s training and experience, there is reason to believe that the individual is engaging in criminal activity. The officer is given the opportunity to freeze the action by stepping in to investigate. Unlike probable cause that uses a reasonable person standard, reasonable suspicion is based upon the standard of a reasonable police officer.

Mr. Martell happened to be riding in a vehicle that passed a residence that was struck by gunfire not once but several times in the recent past. The vehicle circled the location several times. In our profession, we call that a clue. Snarkyness aside, when you place the totality of these incidents together, a reasonable police officer would make a decision to stop the vehicle and check it out in an attempt to thwart criminal activity. That’s our job.

I hate to point out the obvious but I feel the need to do so: the officer was right.

Mr. Martell had a gun. We don’t have the luxury to know what Mr. Martell was going to do with that loaded weapon had the officer not pulled him over. But we do know that he was brazen enough to fire that weapon at a police officer in an attempt to kill him.

I stand with my officer and I applaud his skill and vigilance that led him to be suspicious and to take action against an individual who may have meant to cause harm. An independent police agency and the Kane County States Attorney applied the law and determined that the officer acted appropriately. Sitting behind a computer and questioning these legal entities is interesting -- but it is your right. Fortunately, we have 289 sworn police officers in the City of Aurora who, despite your criticism and skepticism, suit up every day and put themselves in harm’s way to keep you and yours safe from harm.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Create a Team of Truth Tellers

It makes me absolutely insane when people come to me for advice or my opinion and when I provide it, they spend the rest of the conversation trying to convince me I’m wrong. I often find myself uttering in frustration, “Why did you ask for my opinion if you don’t like my answer?”

Maybe they don’t realize the answer they are seeking until after they’ve asked for advice and received it. Perhaps when the answer comes and it feels wrong, you suddenly know the right answer! It’s like settling a decision with a coin toss. If it’s “heads” you do one thing — if it’s “tails” you do another. There is a brief moment when that coin is flipping in the air and you instantly know how you want it to land.

I suppose advice works in the same way. We usually seek out people who will give us the answers we want so we can find validation. It’s a terrible form of rationalization to seek out like-minded individuals to tell you precisely what you want to hear.

I’m onto this whole scheme and I am able to recognize it so I’ve formulated a nearly perfect solution. When someone comes to me for my opinion, I ask a simple question:

“Do you want me to tell you what you want to hear or do you want me to tell you the truth?”

This one sentence is so powerful that it literally causes people to pause in contemplation. They almost always shift their eyes upward into their brain as if they are engaged in a genuine conversation with themselves pondering the answer to the question.

I have had people look at me with an honest epiphany and advise that they aren’t ready to hear the truth and instead opt for what they want to hear. This is always the path of least resistance because telling people what they want to hear is easy. Just parrot what they say and they walk away feeling as though you’re the smartest person in the world. Of-course it’s a fallacy because you aren’t really smart — you’re just appealing to the ego that is fueled by someone validating our beliefs and opinions.

The ones who opt for the truth after honest contemplation are the ones ready to receive it. Those are the people who listen with an open mind and prepare themselves to be challenged. This is where it gets real. We all have the ability to see everyone else’s problems and solutions so clearly. When I worked as a domestic violence detective, it was easy for me to look at a victim of abuse and tell them the relationship was harmful. When emotion is removed from a scenario, the answer is usually pretty clear. But rarely is emotion absent in our relationships and our life decisions.

That’s why we can sit in our own mess while being simultaneously capable of pointing out everything that is wrong in someone else's life. Our own lives are blurry with emotion and we have to create and surround ourselves with a team of truth-tellers who will lovingly and gently sift through the grain and the chaff to expose the truth to us. It’s not easy but it’s necessary.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Pants on Fire

I was recently made aware of a review posted on the Paramount Arts Center website by a man who attended a show over the weekend. In his post, he gave the Paramount a 1-star review with an editorial about how the theater is in a “really bad neighborhood”. He went on to say that he was mugged walking from the parking lot to the theater. As if that weren’t traumatic enough, he reported that on the way back to his car he was approached by several “blacks” asking for money and harassing him and his companion. He then warns theater-goers to “bring your gun” and gives some sage advice to us: “Clean up your shit, AURORA.”

This gentlemen then took to his personal Facebook page and reiterated what he wrote on the Paramount website.

When I received a phone call from the Mayor’s office inquiring about the mugging that occurred downtown, I scratched my head. Robberies (aka: muggings) are serious incidents and I hadn’t been provided information about this occurrence.


I quickly did a cursory check of serious incidents that were logged and found nothing of the sort. I reached out to the Lieutenant of our Investigations Bureau and oddly enough, he found no report of a robbery that occurred in downtown Aurora. He expanded the grid search beyond the downtown boundaries and still came up empty. He then did a city-wide search and expanded the date-range and found nothing. You get the idea.

It’s been my experience that those who are victims of a robbery call 9-1-1. It is extremely rare that a person will simply shrug their shoulders and decide not to notify the police — especially given that a robbery is a very serious crime. My spidey senses started tingling but I still tried to give the victim the benefit of the doubt.


I asked the Lieutenant to assign this case to a detective. This was met with polite but quiet opposition and I could almost hear the streaming thoughts running through his head:


“You want me to assign a detective to chase down a victim of crime for a report that doesn’t exist?”

Yes. Yes I do. Pull video from cameras in the downtown area. Search for the victim in records. If there was a robbery, we need to know about it so we can formulate an operational response.

The detective went to work and determined the “victim’s” identity through his social media presence and located his residence (which happened to be in a town directly east of us). The detective made contact with a female from that residence who advised that Mr. R____ was not at home but identified herself as his wife.

The detective asked if they enjoyed a show at the Paramount over the weekend. The woman advised that she and her husband did, in fact, attend a Saturday evening show where a Queen cover band was performing (it got excellent reviews by the way!). When the detective pressed about any unusual incidents that occurred while going to and from the show, the woman seemed befuddled. The detective asked point blank if she and her husband were mugged. I’m going to let you take a guess at her answer.

That’s correct. Nope. Nada. The detective shared with her the content of her husband’s posts on social media claiming to be the victim of a robbery and she couldn’t understand why he would say such a thing. The only thing that occurred in her explanation was a car of people who drove down the street and yelled something from within the car that sounded like, “where’s my money”. The woman said the car never stopped or slowed. That does not translate into a robbery.

He made it all up. Why? What is the motivation of someone who fakes being the victim of a robbery. Was it to garner sympathy? Based on his harsh words, I would say it was more likely to bash Aurora.

We have morphed into a reality where being politically correct is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Despite this, I have difficulty straying from the manners instilled in me so I won’t say precisely what I’m thinking. However, I think it’s appropriate to say that Mr. R’s pants are on fire.

He is a fabricator, a fabulist, a fibber, a prevaricator. A spewer of alternate facts.

This incites me because we used resources and manpower to make sure there wasn’t an actual victim of a robbery.

The downtown area is one of the safest places in our city. People enjoy attending shows at RiverEdge Park and the Paramount Theater and we are pretty proud that our once “rough and tumble” reputation has polished up nicely.

We are the 2nd largest city in the State of Illinois with a booming population of over 200,000 people and yet we are still below the national average for crime. We are certainly not without crime issues but neither is any city our size.

We take crime very seriously and we prefer devoting our resources to the thugs out there committing crimes without having to waste time on storytellers who grandstand to amass attention.

Mr. Pants on Fire, I very much appreciate your suggestion that we “clean up our s&*#”. We will continue to fight against those who do harm in our city and I stand with the men and women of the Aurora Police Department who come to work every day to confront those evil-doers.

I also speak on behalf of the fine people who call Aurora home and don't take kindly to bashing our city with fabrications of grandeur.

So might I politely suggest turning your attention to your own poopie that is in need of disinfecting.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Culture of Fitting In

The culture of an organization is a living and breathing organism. You cannot see it in the tangible sense but you can feel the gravitational pull when someone acts outside of the norm.

We spend most of our time synchronizing our actions and emulating social cues so we don't draw attention to ourselves. This is especially true when we enter into a new environment like a new job or a foreign place for the first time. If you are new, the last thing you want to do is stand out or be too different so you find ways to adapt and blend inconspicuously so as not to reveal too quickly how weird you actually are.

This is a survival technique and it’s not always a bad thing because it allows time for us to transition into a new environment incrementally.  It’s very primitive because adapting is what we are instinctually hard-wired to do.  

The problem is when we focus all of our energy on adapting so much that we lose our personhood and we blend in to the extent that our individuality is unrecognizable.  The desperation to fit it often supersedes our belief-system and we do things we wouldn’t normally do out of fear of ridicule.

We have the psychological desire to fit in and if we don’t constantly fight to go against the grain, we will find ourselves ingrained in something that is unrecognizable.  Over time, we will discover that we’ve lost ourselves and we aren’t quite sure how it happened.

In her book, “Daring Greatly”, Brene Brown wrote about the difference between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in is essentially giving up your individuality and your authenticity. Belonging is being exactly who you are and feeling as though you are accepted in your environment. 

 We all want to feel safe and accepted but it’s easy to confuse that feeling of security by adapting the “group think”. Feeling truly safe in an organization means that you can be the same person you are at home as you are at work. You don’t have to try and remember who to be based on where you are.

An organization that encourages individuality by way of respectful dissent and diversity of thought as part of their culture are the organizations that flourish. Leaders should set the vision and the mission but allow their people to align to it in a way that is unique to them.

It might seem impossible to do that in a profession like policing where uniformity and para-military mindset are the norm, but it doesn’t have to be. In policing, we must be aligned to the constitution of the United States of America and bound by the laws we enforce. Nowhere does it stipulate that mirrored sunglasses and attitude have to be the method used to carry out the mission.

When police officers are given permission to use their humor, empathy, compassion and individual talents while carrying out their duties, the job still gets done. In fact, it gets done better because authenticity and trust are the foundation of legitimacy.

By allowing the people in your organization to use their unique talents and skills to fulfill the mission, you are creating an environment where everyone belongs.

When people feel as though they belong, they are happier and more productive people and they walk around transferring that good stuff to others.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Deep Thoughts about Motorcycles

I had a Honda CBR sport motorcycle back in 2003. I have a small streak of adventurism that I need to feed every once in awhile and a fast motorcycle seemed like a good way to satisfy that hunger. I sold that motorcycle two years later after responding to the scene of an fatal accident involving a "crotch rocket". I decided that my job provided me all the adrenaline I needed.

I understand the adrenaline junkies who have a need for speed and to live on the edge. What I don't understand is taking to the street of a suburban city to fulfill that need. The motorcyclists who decided to come through our city last Sunday caused a bit of a stir and we would be remiss if we didn't have a conversation about it.

I want to be crystal clear with the bikers. Don't come into our city and act like fools. When you drive down our city streets and pop wheelies and cut in and out of traffic, know you are not welcome. When you do what you did on Sunday, you give your hobby and other law-abiding bikers a bad name.

I have been on enough accident scenes where I have watched dead bodies of motorcyclists get scooped up into the coroner's van as a result of driving recklessly so I have the credibility to make such a bold statement.

The Aurora Police Department responded to several calls to 911 regarding a road rage incident on Sunday. The motorcycle group did not notify the city that they were coming through and there was no police escort. I say that to dispel a few rumors.

What happened was simple. A few of the motorcycle drivers were acting reckless. Bikers, you simply have to understand that the drivers of motor vehicles who share the road with you get really freaked out when you cut in and out of traffic, pop wheelies, and speed. I'm sure you are a bunch of nice people with good intentions who like to capture your adventures on go-pro cameras and that probably makes for really cool footage. But I need you to move outside your own reality for a moment and put yourself in the place of drivers on the road who find you erratic and unpredictable. There is a place for your adventures but it's not in the middle of a suburban roadway.

For those of you sitting behind your computer screens and attacking the police department for allowing this "act of terrorism" to take place, let's put this in proper perspective.

When the officers responded, they didn't have the luxury of watching all of the videos that have poured in after the fact. They responded to the scene where they met with hundreds of bikers who were pointing fingers at the driver of the truck and other witnesses who were pointing fingers at the bikers. The handful of officers on scene were attempting to sort out all finger-pointing and it was extremely difficult to do so without the videos we are all now enjoying.

Put yourself in the place of these officers for just a moment and I'll let you answer the questions I'm getting:

Why didn't they chase the motorcyclists and pull them over?
I find it hard to believe they couldn't identify the bikers from the videos they are posting on Facebook. Can't you find out who they are?
Why didn't you go get that big tank you drive in the parades?
What are you doing about this terrorist attack on our community?
I don't feel safe and I want to know what the police department is going to do about it?

Friends, the officers and the police department shouldn't be vilified in this scenario. They did the best they could in the moment. They responded when called and mediated the situation which resulted in no further injuries to people or property. We have to weigh the safety of the other drivers with every action and pursuing the bikers would have put others in danger. Everything is so clear to everyone after the fact but in the middle of the chaotic scene, not so much. The majority of our residents are reasonable and understand this.

I have full faith in the detectives of the Aurora Police Department investigations division who are sifting through video footage to try and determine who is culpable for the road rage incident. They will determine if any other criminal charges can be filed and attempt to identify the offender(s). The interaction between the driver of the truck and the bikers who had a physical altercation may or may not result in charges. It depends on all facts gathered and everything considered -- including the state's attorney's office.

Motorcyclists, I want you to know that you are more than welcome in our city. My understanding is that you stopped to have Mexican food on Highland Ave. Excellent choice! Come to our city and eat at our restaurants and enjoy Aurora. But follow the laws. It's that simple.

I don't see the need to have a big forum about this. We have never had an issue in the past. I would welcome a face to face with the group of motorcyclists so we can plan for your next visit should you choose to come back. Motorcyclists are awesome people and we want to help you get a better reputation.

So let's keep perspective and rationale. No one was hurt. Life is moving on and we are all okay.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Heavy Hearts in the Wake of Dallas

To the men and women of the Aurora Police Department,

Our hearts are heavy today as we face the reality of losing 5 officers from Dallas. Although we don’t know them personally, they are our family. You know them because you are them. Like them, you run towards the gunfire to protect innocent lives. You defend those who protest against us because you signed up to fight for freedom of expression even if it is dissenting. When an officer’s life is stolen, a part of us dies with him/her and yet you show up every day and continue to be guardians for the city of Aurora and the citizens we serve.

I am often asked, “What is the Aurora Police Department doing to ensure that we don’t become the next Ferguson?” Ferguson has now become synonymous with every city that has experienced civil unrest over the actions of a police-involved shooting.

I tell everyone who will listen: “We are doing the same thing post Ferguson et al as we were doing pre-Ferguson.” The men and women of the Aurora Police Department approach each incident to which they respond with professionalism and restraint. Where there is force to be applied, we do so within the confines of the United States Constitution and without excess. Our team of trainers dedicate themselves to developing scenarios where our officers learn skills to effectively handle a threat, as well as to bring the incident to a successful outcome through de-escalation techniques. Where other police departments have cut training during tough economic times, this police department and our city officials refuse to do so. We play like we practice and every training scenario in which you participate translates into appropriate action on the street.

Those outside this profession cannot know what it’s like to respond to a call where a person is reported to have a gun. No one outside of this profession knows that feeling you get when you make the walk to approach the driver on a traffic stop and how you tap the trunk to make sure it’s closed, look in the window for a clue of what you might be confronted with inside, and attempt to determine the mindset of the occupants. No one who hasn’t been in a situation where you have to predict with precision what is about to happen understands the gravity of decision-making when tensions are high and adrenaline is pumping.

Contrary, we don’t know what it’s like to be on the other end of a police encounter where a human looks at every officer as someone who may hurt or even kill them. We certainly cannot begin to comprehend the emotions of the families of the two African American men who lost their lives to the police earlier this week. We as the law enforcement community would be remiss if we didn’t dissect these tragic outcomes with a critical eye.

We must create a culture where we can learn from mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. But first we have to be able to acknowledge when mistakes are made. We stand with officers when they are right but we must part with those officers who dishonor our badge. Loyalty is honorable. Blind loyalty is irresponsible.

Today, other cities are facing unrest. Tensions are high. In Aurora, our relationships are healthy. We make mistakes but we hold each other accountable when we do. We are always working to better our skills by committing to constant self-improvement. In response to the unrest all around us, I received this text message from one of our officers and I gained permission to share it:

“Chief, my heart aches for what is happening in this world. It makes me want to put on my uniform today and be out there to help remind our community that we are good.”

I can’t say it any better than this officer. We are the Aurora Police Department and we are good. I know your hearts are heavy today as you mourn the slain officers but I need you to transform the weight you carry into something positive.

Today and every day forward, go out of your way to talk with the citizens of this fine city. Find someone who doesn’t look like you and have a meaningful conversation with them. Build bridges and knock down walls. Continue to look at people and not down on them.

I have been bombarded today with e-mails and texts from citizens sending well wishes and prayers so please know that Aurorans from all cultures and backgrounds are sending you energy. They have your back and so do I.

In short, keep policing this fine city with excellence and professionalism. I couldn’t be more proud to serve each and every one of you as your chief.

Kristen

 #TeamAPD