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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Hatred is the Highest Form of Contempt

Just one month after the mass shooting in our city, shots rang out again on the other side of the world and despite the distance, I could feel them here. The massacre in New Zealand was fueled by hatred, and though the circumstances were different, I can’t help but draw a parallel motive for the mass shooting at Pratt. 

Hatred. I was taught from an early age to avoid that word. I might dislike peas or a person, but to attached hatred to something is on another level. Maybe we have lost the conditioning to discern between dislike and hatred. Hatred is the highest form of contempt one can feel because it goes beyond indifference. Indifference is safe because not caring about something or someone is benign. It doesn’t evoke strong emotion or reaction because it doesn’t move someone to action or response. 

But hate motivates. Hate is fierce and consuming, and it drives human beings to do things that are unfathomable and unconscionable. When it takes over, everything goes dark, and everyone goes down with the person who possesses it.

I called the Aurora shooter an “evil soul” and was criticized for using those words. I stand vehemently by them because I looked into the eyes of every family member who lost their loved one and through sheer transference, I felt their pain. I sat at the bedside of the police officers who were struck by the bullets as they were running towards the gunfire. Interestingly enough, the officers were unphased. They would have gladly taken more shots that day if it meant saving lives, but the faces of their loved ones told another story.

I refuse to roll back or soften my words.

Anyone who can feel hatred to the point of consummation where it drives an act of violence against someone else possesses evil within them. And that is not a diagnosis used to defend violent action. You don’t get to assign mental illness as an excuse because nothing infuriates me more than creating a nexus of mental illness where there is the freedom of choice. It is insulting to those battling mental health issues to be compared with those who are fueled by hatred. These killers planned their executions. One brought a gun to work knowing he was going to use it. The other wrote a manifesto in preparation of the bloodshed. Freedom of choice is the greatest of human freedoms, and when it is driven by hatred, it is calculated and evil. Period.

I struggle to understand how someone can become so consumed with hating another person. Even more puzzling is hating a group of people because of their religion or race . Maybe that is the crack in my argument where some will affix mental illness to illustrate that the level of disdain can only be explained as being ill. I understand the need to have a diagnosis so it’s easier to grasp, but I’m not there.

Right now, I’m disgusted by these human beings who take out their anger and hatred on innocent people. Hate alone is a powerful thing and adding a firearm to that toxic formula is a force multiplier that ensures the keeper of the hate can do as much damage as possible. 

In Aurora, we have a strong and vibrant Muslim community. Our Muslim brothers and sisters from New Zealand are seemingly a world away but they are us, and we are them. In the wake of this hatred, please know that your Aurora Police Department and the citizens of this city have our hands on your back. 

Perhaps MLK’s words are befitting for Aurora – the city of lights:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Love more. Hate less. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Who Do You Want To Be?

I attended a retreat with the Mayor and the City of Aurora Executive Team yesterday. This has become an annual event under Mayor Irvin’s leadership, and the purpose is for all department heads to come together and recap our collective achievements and chronicle our challenges from the previous year. It allows us to get in sync and develop a roadmap to progress in the year ahead.

I love this event because it is a reminder to me that the police department is not the center of the solar system (a fact of which I frequently need a reminder). All city departments are aligned to the Mayor’s goals, and it’s so productive to understand how we all work in synergy to elevate our entire city.

But what really captured my attention was when facilitator Marianne Renner talked about engaged employees. It was interesting to learn the categories of employee engagement and where we all fit in. As she described the levels of engagement, I found myself assigning identities to each. Here is the breakdown:

34% of you are actively engaged. You are the people who are loyal and committed. You are always working towards goals, and you contribute to the progress of your organization. You show up to events, you come up with new and ideas and new initiatives, and you get involved.

Photo by Sgt. Ed Corral
53% of you are productive and generally satisfied. You come to work and do your job, but you’re not really invested in anything beyond that. You are the silent majority that doesn’t complain but really doesn’t care beyond your 8-hour shift.

13% of you are actively disengaged. You are the malcontents. You know who you are. Every decision is stupid, and you find something to complain about no matter what the situation. You are unhappy and let that unhappiness show in words, attitudes, and actions. You undermine the performance of others by continually voicing your displeasure.

I guess what surprised me about the study is that those in the 53% category can transition to the actively engaged group with some effort. Marianne said, “You can’t change people; you can only attempt to influence them.” I started thinking about how I could try and inspire and motivate this group in my organization to become actively engaged. The police department leadership seeks to create opportunities for career advancement and specialization. We do our best to acknowledge good work. We have strived to create an environment where communication trumps notification. So why do we have so many people in the middle category?

I thought about that hard, and I decided this might be out of my control. Maybe it's your job to motivate you -- just as it’s my job to motivate me.

Motivation is tricky. To be inspired, you have to be motivated to seek and receive inspiration. If I read a book or an article, I’m influenced by it (positively or negatively depending upon the content). But I have to seek out those sources or read them if they are provided to me. It's still my job to take the step. People inspire me. Some inspire me to be better by doing the opposite of what they do. Others inspire me through their excellent work and actions. During our retreat, our Mayor inspired me by sharing his vision for our city and how we fit into his vision. He is so passionate about progress, and his excitement renewed my energy and enthusiasm.

Passion persuades people. So maybe we surround ourselves with people who inspire us.

If you are one of the 34% who is actively engaged in the place that you are, congratulations. Your organization’s success is because of you. Your enthusiasm is the thing that sets you apart from the disengaged, and you are likely a happier person both at work and at home. You are inspired, and you inspire others. You are winning at life, and you are the people that I want to hang around because that stuff is contagious. Amy Poehler said it best:

“I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”

If you are one of the sad 13%, I would love to tell you not to come to work. I would like to say to you that all you have to do is pick up your paycheck every 2 weeks. But even then, you’d probably get mad that we aren’t mailing it to you. I wish I could find a way to inspire you to be at the very least, mediocre. But you’ll resist. And when you do leave, it will be addition by subtraction. But until then, we can’t ignore you because you whine pretty loud. But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s this:

“Don’t try and win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.”

If you are the silent majority of the 53%, you are just okay. You are going through the motions doing the minimum, and you are utterly mediocre. When you leave your organization, people will say, “that fella was ‘meh.’”

I want more for you than mediocre. I want you to wake something up within you, so you feel a spark of excitement for something. I want you to feel the pride of devising a solution to a problem or creating something out of nothing. I want to bring you over to the “engaged” group not just for our organization, but for you. Because you have no business accepting just okay. And when you get tired of being mediocre and become more than that, everyone around you gets better as a result.

Maybe this is your moment to acknowledge where you are and commit to breaking the chains of apathy.

Here is what I know. You can’t sit around waiting to be motivated or inspired by someone or something. You have to seek out inspiration. You have to move towards it.

Who do you want to be?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

This Patch is Ours

This is our patch.
There are many like it, but this one is ours.

That saying was borrowed from the Rifleman’s Creed and was spoken in jest over the years referring to our uniform patch. “There are many like it” was a poke at its generic design that was adopted by police and security agencies across the nation. It became a running joke about how many different agencies had the same design. But it was ours.

Photo by Sgt. Ed Corral
The consensus over the years was that APD needed an upgrade. In 2006, the command staff at the time started contemplating changing the patch. When I was promoted to lieutenant in 2008, a committee was formed to seek input and design a new patch. We gathered feedback from officers and quickly learned that people wanted different things in their patch. Some wanted buildings to reflect our downtown. Others wanted patriotic flags and bald eagles. Some wanted skulls and crossbones (that didn’t make the cut!). It seemed that every human had a different idea of what it should be.

So, we mocked up as many elements as we could and presented it to the 7-person command staff. I recall laying out the designs and taking a step back as they studied the patches. Their discussion turned into dissent as they voted on their favorite. That morphed into suggestions of different designs they wanted to see incorporated with no one agreeing on the same ideas. I walked out of that room thinking the chief was going to have a tough time sifting through all the opinions and settling on the winning patch.

I never heard another word about it.

That taught me a few very important lessons. First and foremost, a patch is in essence, art. The beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder and all of us are drawn to diverse interpretations of beauty. It also taught me a leadership lesson that is applicable to every decision made in an organization: someone will invariably be unhappy. That’s why so many leaders stay with the status quo. It’s easier to keep things as they are so as not to incur conflict.

Photo by Sgt. Ed Corral
But APD doesn’t do easy. It was important to our command staff that we honor our past, so we sought out to research the APD patch that was used prior to 1969 where the first pictures of our current patch surfaced. The patch from 50 years ago was a simple design with a gray background and a maroon border and a maroon 5-point star. It simply said, “Aurora Police Dept” and that patch became the inspiration for the new design. We decided to steer clear of buildings or landmarks in Aurora because once again, those are opinion-based elements. We opted instead to place the official City of Aurora seal in the center of the patch because it hasn’t changed since 1857. We wanted to honor our past but give it a modern and clean look with our values: Honor, Service, and Integrity. The result is our new patch adopted in 2019.

This is a change I do not take lightly. And as much as I wanted to upgrade the design, the first time I put on the uniform with the new patches, I was flooded with emotion. My dad wore that patch for his career, and it was part of my childhood. It was symbolic of APD. I have worn our patch since 1994 when I became a police officer. Officers who have left this earth have worn it. Our beloved retired officers have worn it. Our current officers wear it and it is a part of all of us. It will always be our patch and it will remain in our legacy. Tradition is a fragile thing in a culture built entirely on memories and there can be no creation without tradition; my hope is that the new patch is a reflection of our past.

Our police department is not the same as it was in 1969. It is exactly 50 years later, and we respect and honor our past, but we evolve and grow into our present. Our police officers and civilian staff are bold, innovative and progressive. Our new patch is symbolic of these characteristics and we wear it proudly because it is our patch. There are many like it, but this one will become ours.

Photo by Sgt. Ed Corral

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Do What You Have to Do

For the past two years, I have been pursuing a second Master’s Degree from the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS). I pursued this degree so I could be a better chief for my department and become more educated on homeland security issues in order to keep our city safer.

When I began this program, I didn’t set out to abandon my blog (and nearly everything else in my life). It just happened. I live by the mantra, “Do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do.” Following that mindset, I have tried to prioritize my police department while using energy reserves for the grueling coursework and traveling back and forth to California and Maryland for the residency portion of the program. That has left me with little time to do what I want to do. Newton's first law of motion observed that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. By that theory, I should have been in a constant state of inertia. Newton’s law didn’t account for immovable objects in the way of things in motion because I lost count of how many times I slammed into a brick wall. I should also mention that I have neglected friends and family during this time and that’s why I think it’s ironic when I’m asked how I manage work-life balance.

I remember reading Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg’s book, “Lean In” where she described reaching a point in her career where she felt comfortable leaving work at 5pm to have dinner with her family. She made it a rule not to allow anything to interrupt dinner and she hoped by practicing putting her family first, it would give other people at Facebook permission to do the same. I love that. But I don’t do that.

I am blatantly honest when answering the work-life balance question by confessing that I don’t manage it at all. I fail at it miserably. When I’m eating dinner with my family, I answer the phone when it’s someone from work – even if it’s not an emergency. I swear I have tried to ignore it but then I start speculating what needs my attention and I become preoccupied. My family just looks at me looking at the ringing phone and tells me to answer it.

The truth is, when I feel like I'm entirely focused on work, I know I'm not fully present for my family. When I am being a great mom and a great partner, I feel as though I’m falling short in my police department or my city. Throw in the pursuit of another master's degree into that mix, and it's easy to see why I repeatedly slammed into the wall. Some people say you can have it all and I absolutely believe it – just not at the same time.

I graduate in December with a Master’s Degree in Homeland Defense and Security and I loved every minute of it (except for the times I didn't love it and wondered what the hell I was thinking). I'm proud of my accomplishment, but I’m relieved that it’s coming to an end because I will be clearing the cobwebs off my blog and getting back to reading books that aren’t assigned and writing about things that aren’t required.

I did what I had to do. Now I get to do what I want to do in between the things I still have to do. And if the phone rings during dinner, I’m probably still going to answer it because getting a degree doesn’t make one smarter.

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?

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.