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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Creating People in Your Own Image

Dee Hock, the founder and former CEO of the Visa credit card association said, Never hire or promote in your own image.  It is foolish to replace your strength.  It is idiotic to replicate your weakness. 

I thought about how logical this seems and yet people continue to bring others along because they mimic their way of thinking.  Its natural for us to want to surround ourselves with people who align with our values and thought-processes because it takes less energy to stay within the comforts of our own likeness.  Not only that, but it feels good to be validated.

The problem with no one questioning our beliefs or decisions can leave us with the fallacy that our way is the right way.  We do it every day when it comes to our convictions.  We believe something so strongly and we only expose ourselves to people and ideas that support our position as though that somehow proves that we are right. 

This can be dangerous because there can be no growth or progress if we continually operate under the assumption that everyone else is wrong.  We need to surround ourselves with people who will challenge us to question our own assumptions and beliefs.  This doesnt have to be under the guise of conflict; it can be respectful dissent and spirited debate.

When I was a sergeant, I worked for a lieutenant who couldn
t have been more different than me.  His leadership style, his personality and his outlook on life were in stark contrast to mine.  I was conducting roll call with the officers at the beginning of the shift and I noted him sitting in the back of the room as he did every day.  He was a presence in the room not because of his rank, but because he was notorious for his unapproachable demeanor. 

After roll call, I found myself sitting in his office after being summoned by him.  He closed the door and proceeded to tell me that he didnt like the way I conducted roll call.  I must have had a look of confusion or disbelief because he followed up with, I dont like the lightatmosphere with the officers.

I found his vantage point interesting.  In my roll call, there was always friendly bantering and I tried to be participative instead of just talking atthem.  But like a good soldier, I nodded my head in agreement and from that point on, I vowed to be better.

For the next few weeks, I put on my game face- the face I usually reserved for the street when things were serious.  I tried to be stern and matter of factwhen delivering the information and giving out assignments so I could live up to the template he set.  I must have succeeded because many officers inquired if there was something wrong.  They said I wasnt acting like myself.

I wasnt.  I worked up the nerve and marched into my lieutenants office and asked, When I conduct roll call, am I getting the job done?  Am I sharing information, training, and bulletins?  Are my officers producing?

He paused then answered, Well, yes. 

I responded, If its not my performance but my delivery, with all due respect, you cannot create me in your own image.  I went on to share my philosophy that the more positivity and laughter I can add to our environment, the better our officers will feel.  I dont know what kind of day they had before they walked into roll call and since our moods manifest into the way we treat the citizens, Id rather they hit the street feeling happy instead of agitated. 

Its about results.  The style we use to get the results we desire might be different for each of us and we should celebrate the differences and learn from them.  Those who continue to believe different is wrong are an impediment to progress. 

And that affects results.

Friday, March 7, 2014

When the Police Need Policing

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Plato famously asked this question in The Republic and the literal translation is: Who will guard the guards themselves?
The phrase is used by modern-day authors and philosophers to describe the concern about those in power in the context of corruption, dictatorships, and tyrannical governments. 
Plato believed that in order for a society to function, there must be noble warriors who enforce the rule of law because, due to our innate human weaknesses, we are naturally inclined to give into our own self interests.
He compared the human soul to that of a chariot being pulled by two horses.  The driver is reason, one horse is soul (will) and the other horse is appetite.  Reason should control the two horses but if the driver isnt able, he will be dragged by the stronger horse.  Thus, a rule of law is present so that individuals can be guided rather than left to their own infallibilities. 

Plato felt that the guardians should be noble beings who would enforce laws and protect the republic above all else.  This far preceded what has now evolved into modern day policing so I believe that Plato was ahead of his time.  The evolution of our democratic society has taught us that without rule of law, our society would likely suffer dictatorship or mob mentality. 
But the question still lingers, Who will guard the guards?”  What happens when those we entrust to uphold and enforce the laws cannot control their horses?
When those in power abuse their power, democracy weakens.
I have been reading extensively about Sheriff Lee Baca from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and his recent resignation amidst charges of corruption that encompass allegations of inmate beatings, unjustified detentions and a conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation.
Separately, the U.S. Justice Department found that deputies repeatedly harassed, intimidated, racially profiled, and used excessive force on African-Americans and Latinos. And the Los Angeles Times reported last month that Baca's Sheriff's Department hired dozens of officers even though investigators found they had committed serious misconduct both on and off the job.
Who will guard the guardians?
Sheriff Baca was the emperor of his land as a figure head but he purportedly allowed his Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, the autonomy to run the agency of 9,700 sworn deputies.  Reports reveal that the Undersheriff was a tyrannical dictator whose motto was, Work the gray and work it hard.  This was Tanakas term for pushing the limits of legality.
Policies and procedures are a standard part of law enforcement.  In them, they outline the law with a clear line of site to the U.S. Constitution.
However, a culture of an agency may be in direct conflict with the law.  In other words, policy dictates how we should act, but culture is what we actually do.  And the culture of the LASD was arguably to surpass even thegray area” as evidenced by the indictments.
Those in the organization knew what was happening but they were all too afraid to speak up because it was career suicide.  If you didnt play the game the way the culture mandated, life was made very difficult.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
The answer is the guardians themselves.  Law enforcement agencies must police one another and continue to craft a culture where integrity is the only truth.
We just had an incident in our department where a peers officers came forward to report allegations that one of their brothers in blue was committing a theft.  No one worked the gray.  Instead, with a heavy heart, they policed their own.
The culture of corruption permeates when no one has at the courage to shine the light into the dark corners.  Im not suggesting it’s easy and that it wont put you at risk, but thats why its courageous.
When those drivers cannot control their own horses, someone has to take the reins.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Foil Hats and Voices

When I was a rookie cop, I responded to a call for a man who reported that his home had been burglarized.

My partner and I arrived on the scene and checked the exterior of the home for forced entry and found none.  Once we made contact with the homeowner, he explained that the burglars hadn’t taken anything from his home.  Instead, they moved the remote control to his television and emptied his ice-cube trays. 

I stopped taking notes for a moment and made eye contact with my partner who happened to be a veteran officer.  A look of clarity came over his face but I was still perplexed.  He engaged the man in some more discussion and we learned that he suspected his neighbors of breaking into his home and moving his belongings.  He further declared that they installed hidden cameras so they could monitor his movement.  I looked around for evidence of such but found nothing to support his claim. 

When we asked him why he suspected his neighbors, he calmly stated that the “voices” told him.  It turned out the voices were keeping him awake that night – much like they do every night.  My partner knew what we were dealing with about 12 seconds into our encounter.  It took me a bit longer given my novice status.

We went on to ask him what the voices were saying so we could determine if he was a danger to himself or someone else.  As it turned out, the voices were just implicating his neighbors. 

I recall being astounded by the way the man communicated articulately and with great clarity and detail.  I always expected the mentally ill to resemble the cast of characters with whom I’d become familiar after reading “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” in Mrs. Coleman’s 7th grade English class.  The man seemed credible and nothing like I envisioned.

My partner retrieved a ball cap that was sitting on a shelf and approached the man.  He told him that he was going to place the hat atop of his head and it was going to stop the voices.  I froze as the man acquiesced and bent down to receive the hat.  My partner placed it gently on his head and in a soothing voice said, “See?  It works!”  The man remained quiet for several seconds as though he was straining to listen for the voices and finally smiled. 

That was my first encounter with a mentally ill person on the job.  After that, I became a self-proclaimed expert in the field.  All police officers are.  Over the years, I’ve made foil helmets to block the voices, talked people into ambulances (one who ran down the street naked because he thought the devil set his clothes on fire), and I’ve watched family members beg the police “to do something”.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 6% of the population suffers from serious mental illness (1 in 17 people).  And by serious, I mean the kind where a person’s disorder drives them to hurt someone else.  Sometimes it’s apparent as in my movie reference, but many times, you would never guess someone has mental illness.

This figure did not shock me given the amount of calls of that nature to which police officers respond.  The man who heard voices was not a threat to us.  But those calls put a strain on police manpower because of the time it takes to determine that the purported crime is not real and the creative problem-solving it takes to handle the incident so it doesn’t escalate.

Mental illness poses a significant problem for first responders and for the community as a whole and we have to try and come up with solutions together that help the patient and keep the public safe.  The police can only take someone into custody for a mental health evaluation if they are danger to themselves or someone else. 

By then, it’s often too late.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

This just in: Police officers make mistakes

I inadvertently pulled in front of a car on a recent day causing the other driver to apply aggressive pressure on his brakes to avoid hitting me (aka: he slammed on his brakes).  I cannot say how it happened because I really never saw him. 

I tried to accelerate as he utilized his stopping power and by some force greater than both of us, we managed to avoid a collision (and by “we” I mean “he”).

I was driving my squad car.  It is unmarked but you’d know it was a squad if you saw it because it has “M” license plates signifying “municipality”.  If the car alone weren’t obvious enough, you’d see the Aurora Police Department patch on my shoulder if you pulled up next to me. 

After I got my bearings back, I saw him coming up on my left and I knew what was about to happen because I’ve been on the other side of that scenario many times in my personal vehicle.

I have mastered the disapproving glare and the head shake that says without words, “Get your head out of your…err…the clouds.”  Normally I find that people who know they’ve committed the driving mistake will avoid eye contact--- the universal sign for “I’m guilty”. 

When he pulled up next to me to deliver the scolding, he saw my uniform and his anger went from an average intensity to outright rage.  When I make an error driving, or do something to violate the law, my plight is magnified.  I’m a police officer. I should know better.  I’ve driven eight hour shifts over the course of 20 years (give and take the inside jobs) so I should be an expert at driving. 

Instead of avoiding eye contact, I rolled down my window and fell upon the proverbial sword and said “I’m so sorry – it was totally my fault.”  He yelled, “You almost killed us!!”  To which I replied, “I know – but thanks to your awesome thigh strength you hit that brake with vengeance!”  He laughed.  Whew.  The truth is, I knew I screwed up and I was sorry and I spent the entire length of the red light telling him so.

Sometimes mistakes are made by people wearing a uniform.  At the Aurora Police Department, I have the responsibility of recommending discipline for officers in my chain of command.  The Chief has the final determination on whether to accept my recommendations and I try really hard to be even-handed and fair in every case. 

One thing I consider is whether the mistakes are of the head or of the heart.

Mistakes of the heart are not intentional.  Mistakes of the head are calculated.

I have little tolerance for the latter because it is clear that the act was done knowingly and willfully. 

Mistakes of the heart happen to those of us with the best of intentions.  But for police officers, even mistakes of the heart can be devastating if they cause harm to someone else.  (Shooting a person who is holding a cell phone when the officer thought it was a gun is a good example.)

Police officers don’t have the luxury of forgiveness for those types of grave mistakes.  But even in the seemingly miniscule situations, we have to be impeccable.  It is a source of frustration when officers are caught talking on their cell phone or violating the same law by which we expect others to abide.

Had my traffic mishap resulted in a collision, I should have been issued a citation.  I am not above the law because I have a badge and carry a gun.  Quite the contrary. 

We are human.  We will make mistakes and some will be forgivable and some not.  But there is no place for a willful disregard of the law.  Police officers must follow the laws that we are sworn to uphold. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Asking the Right Questions Lead to Better Answers

*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News on Monday, January 27, 2014

Last week I was asked how we can stop domestic violence from occurring.

Having worked as a detective in the Aurora Police Department’s Domestic Violence Reduction Unit for five years, the question is not new to me. It’s also not new to the dedicated staff of Mutual Ground who exists solely to serve victims of domestic violence; nor is it new to the area counseling services that specialize in anger management therapy for abusers.

It’s a great question because before we can fix it, we have to understand why it occurs in the first place.  Like most perplexities in life, the questions are so important because they can lead us to the answers.

There is one thing I know for sure.  Some people have never learned to manage conflict appropriately.  The way I resolve conflict comes largely from the way I was raised.  That’s probably true for the vast majority of us. 

Perhaps you come from a family whose method of resolving conflict is to politely smile and brush things under the rug.  This avoidance technique isn’t a very effective way of handling issues that are inevitable in any family because avoidance teaches that it’s not okay to express feelings.  Even more damaging is the issues that go unresolved when we don’t confront them. 

If your family falls on the other end of the spectrum where everything is a confrontation, you likely have some pretty volatile dinner conversations.  Homes like this are filled with screaming, rage, and
perhaps violence when there is disagreement.  In these homes, it is not uncommon to see fists flying and injuries occurring when people don’t see eye-to-eye.

The right answer is precisely between the two spectrums.

Those who learn to deal with conflict by confronting it head-on in a respectful manner are those best equipped to navigate successfully through life.  That is not to say there isn’t screaming and yelling.  Spirited discussions and hearty disagreements often mean that people are emotional and animated and that’s okay.   Families of all shapes and sizes are going to have conflict.  Sharing space and navigating the stressful journey of life will bring with it both peaks and valleys and that means we aren’t always going to be at our best.

What matters to the well-being of each person in the family is how we manage those feelings while we are experiencing them.  That means being self-aware enough to know when you need to walk away and having courage enough not to let the issue go unresolved. 

It’s not uncommon for small children to throw temper tantrums.  Many experts believe it is a result of the frustration they experience when they are not able to communicate what they want.  For toddlers, it’s understandable; for adults, not so much.

What happens as we progress through life and why is it that some people learn to temper themselves while others continue to lash out in volatility?

As we get older and can express ourselves through language, we learn what achieves the best results and what doesn’t.  For those of us who were fortunate enough to have role models that handled conflict wisely, we likely emulate that temperance.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments where we lack rationale and become frustrated with others.  It simply means that healthy people learn to recognize and regulate it.  Most of us have mechanisms in place that prompt us to stand down when we feel anger festering. 

Those who have not learned to do this were likely never taught.  And that’s how domestic violence is born.  We do as we see. 

Fortunately, we can unlearn bad behaviors.  But we can only do that by first acknowledging that we need to be better.  Maybe the first question is simply, “Why am I the way I am?”  The answers might lead to more questions.  That’s never a bad thing.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What you do in the Shadows

My daughter returned from basketball practice and told me that she tries really hard to get the coach’s attention by exerting all the power and effort she can into running her sprints and being attentive during practice.  She wants her coach to notice her.  She wants to make her coach proud.
Interestingly enough, I wrote the following in my column last week:
“We want to win for the coach.  We want to win for our boss.  We want to succeed to make others proud.  When we are lucky enough to care about someone and something bigger than us, it moves us to perform at our highest level.”
And yet my advice to her was completely contradictory.  I read somewhere that it is the sign of a true intellect to be able to hold two opposing viewpoints in one’s head.  I surmise that was written by someone who couldn’t keep their thoughts in index but I’ll subscribe to the intellect theory as justification for all of my dichotomous thoughts that are at odds with one another.
I told my daughter that motivation comes from within.  Intrinsic motivation is what inspires us to perform at our highest level (aforementioned contradiction noted).  We certainly need the guidance and tutelage of others who have the skill to teach us, but they are not responsible for making us better.  We are.  
I told her that she needs to be doing her very best on the basketball court (and off) to become a better version of herself.  When we look at ourselves as our greatest competition, we continue to exceed what we believed to be our peaks.  We are always standing on the precipice of better and often times it is our own selves who keep us from achieving better.  
Perhaps this is because we are too busy making sure someone is noticing us.
It reminded me of the soccer great, Mia Hamm.  She had already received recognition for one World Cup championship, three NCAA national championships, two All-American teams, player of the year awards, etc.  As an incoming college senior and a player on the University of North Carolina’s women’s soccer team, she had already achieved so much.
Her coach, Anson Dorrance, arrived on campus one cold morning to see a person in the distance.  As he got closer, he noticed it was a woman running full speed 25 yard sprints over and over.  That woman was Mia Hamm.
He went back to his office and he wrote the following note to give to her:
“The vision of a champion is someone drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when no one is watching.”
Champions are champions because they put in the time to do the work that needs to be done -- even when no one is asking you to do it.   Hamm went on to achieve another World Cup Championship and two Olympic gold medals (among other accolades).  She worked hard in the shadows as sheer will as her motivation.
I know it feels good when people tell us that we are doing good.  We need that in our lives because it feels good to make others proud.  But praise isn’t what takes us to the next level.  If we work in order to get noticed, we aren’t going to go as far as we can.
Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.  They just are.

Friday, January 10, 2014

People are not against you -- they are for themselves

The other day, I overhead someone say, “People aren’t against you -- they are for themselves.”  My first reaction was that the statement bore some truth.  It has been my experience that people tend to look out for their own best interest.  In law enforcement, we hear both sides of the story and each person tells a version that puts them in the most favorable light.  This doesn’t make them evil; it just means that humans are biased in favor of themselves.

 There are people who will always have their own best interest in mind no matter what the scenario.  These are the people who only give attention to those who can do something for them and disregard all others.  We all know the type.  They align themselves with perceived power and shift their alignment to the person who can maximize their gain.  Their lives are analogous to a chess board comprised of strategic plays that afford them the most momentum for advancement.  These are the people that are for themselves.

I like to think that the average human debunks this hypothesis (admittedly I have a tendency to fall on the side of idealism) but the truth is, there is evidence all around us of people putting others before themselves.

Because I tend to (over)analyze, I started to really struggle with the notion that people are for themselves and thus began an internal argument and every shred of evidence I gathered seemed to prove the contrary. 

Parenting is an easy example.  When we become parents, something shifts within us and we know we would sacrifice everything for the well-being of our children.  Good parents go without to ensure their children have what they need. We don’t do this for a potential gain.  We do it because we will do whatever it takes to make them feel loved and safe.

When the phone rings and on the other end of that line is a friend in distress, you drop everything and go.  Suddenly your schedule that was so vital and inflexible ceases to matter when compared to being needed in that moment.  

The truth is, most of what motivates us intrinsically is born from connections with others.

Think of a time when you were recognized for something big.  Whether it be an award you were given or a game you helped win.  Think of how you felt in the moment of triumph and accomplishment.  As you looked out into the audience, the first thing you did was scan to find the faces of those who mean something to you. 

That’s why acceptance speeches begin with, “I want thank (insert person here)” -- because you recognize that your achievement was not possible without the love and support of the important people in your life. 

In that moment, you are not thinking, “I am so awesome!”  You are thinking how good it feels to make those people proud and you realize you do what you do because of that.  It is that feeling to which we cling.  It is that feeling that motivates us.

Kent State pitcher hugs his mom after winning championship
We want to win for the coach.  We want to win for our boss.  We want to succeed to make others proud.  When we are lucky enough to care about someone and something bigger than us, it moves us to perform at our highest level.  The times I am at my best is when I am not giving a thought to my own interest but to someone else’s.

If most people acted only in self-interest, there wouldn’t be first responders who sacrifice their own lives for strangers.  There wouldn’t be kind people who return a wallet they’ve found or help someone in distress.  There wouldn’t be charitable agencies and volunteers that exist only to serve others. 

So yes, some people are only for themselves.  They may appear successful on the surface but they walk a lonely and isolated road because true meaning comes from connections with others.