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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Embrace Warriorship

*A letter to the officers of the Aurora Police Department:

I attended training in Bloomington-Normal this week put on by the Illinois Law-Enforcement Training and Standards Board Executive Institute. On the 2nd day of the conference, I sat on a Chief’s panel and was asked a question about police perception and if police actually need to improve or if we simply need to work at altering the public's perception of us.

The answer is both. There is a reason we are getting slammed in the headlines and although the media is slanted in the anti-police direction (understatement), there are officers out there who are making all of us look bad. Period.

The Aurora Police Department is not in the news. Our excellent training division incorporates deescalation and restraint into mandatory training and because "you play like you practice", we don't have officers shooting people in the back as they run away.

We as a profession have to be able to police ourselves and sometimes that means looking at the actions of other police officers and acknowledging that a bad outcome was the result of poor decision-making. Policing is as much of an art as it is a science. That means using all the tools given to you (including your human influence) to achieve the best possible outcome. Identifying and predicting human behavior patterns and choosing a course of action within the confines of the United States Constitution is not easy. It’s the opposite of easy. But you do it with excellence every day.

Despite the Aurora Police Department not making the headlines, we are still painted with a broad brush and the actions of one bad cop tarnishes all of our badges. Although it is unfair, the negative perception is real so we must commit to building trust with our citizens one contact at a time. You didn’t cause this mess, but you have the power to change hearts and minds by engaging our citizens.

There is a big debate going on in law enforcement about guardians versus warriors and how the latter adds to the negative public perception. I was asked about it on the panel and want to share my viewpoint with you.

You will spend the majority of your shift acting as guardians to the City of Aurora. You will solve problems and you will enforce laws so there is order in our neighborhoods and our citizens can live peacefully. Most of you have learned by now that it’s a waste of time and energy to demand respect and instead have figured out that by giving respect freely, you earn it naturally. Respect is earned by looking at people and not down on them.

Throughout your tour of duty, there is no doubt that you will show empathy and compassion to many individuals and those acts of altruism will never make headlines. But you will do it anyway.

So make no mistake — you are guardians.


However, there will be moments where you will have no choice but to transform into a warrior. You are the first line of defense in our city and when there is someone who threatens the peace and safety of our citizens, you must embrace the warrior mindset and run towards the gunfire. You will put yourself in harm's way and risk your own life because you are police officer. It.is.who.you.are.

The warrior mindset is what sets you apart from those who don’t wear a uniform and without it, there would be no one to fight the evil that exists. Being a warrior is not a bad thing as long as those skills are applied with good purpose. We cannot shy away from the notion that there will be times where we have to use force to subdue a person whose intent is to harm others. As long as force is applied within the parameters of the law and without excess, you won’t find yourself standing alone.

A true warrior fights only to protect and the greatest skill of all is to subdue the offender without violence. That should always be our goal. But I refuse to pander to the negative perception of warriorship and deny that side of us because there have to be people willing to go where others will not.

The answer is that we are both guardians and warriors so embrace and hone the skills of both.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Abundance versus Scarcity

I used to believe that success was defined by achievement. I admired those who achieved degrees and titles because those things seemed to be what people celebrated.

The older I get, the more I have come to realize how no achievement matters if you think in terms of scarcity. If you believe that everything is a competition and everyone threatens your success, you will spend your life manipulating and strategizing to keep people down.

Those who make it their life’s work to elevate themselves by stepping on others might succeed in obtaining power and status but they'll eventually find themselves in a lonely existence.

Because in the end, titles fall away and power diminishes and what is left is the person you are — not the position or degree you’ve achieved. What becomes most important is the way you have treated people along the way.

So perhaps our greatest achievements and the legacy we leave lies in what we give instead of what we take.

Kindness matters.



Monday, November 16, 2015

Angels and Demons

My dad passed away last week.

It feels misleading to say he "passed away" because that gives the perception of a serene slipping away. It's not the same in my mind since he killed himself.

I have been on countless suicide scenes over my career and I find them to be so complex because those who find the victim are often the ones who loved them the most. I could never understand how a person could be so selfish to leave their family with that final memory and in the incidents where there was no note or warning, leave them wondering why.

The anger I have felt on behalf of family members has been real. And now I’m that family member attempting to get inside the head of a man who chose to leave this world without saying goodbye to his one and only child. I vacillate between profound sadness and wanting to beat my fists against his chest.

And then I think about the man who was my father and the demons he fought throughout his life. He was two people to me and I have mastered the art of compartmentalizing both.

He was a man with a very high IQ and my earliest memories are sitting on his lap watching television shows like Jacques Cousteau’s underwater exploration and Carl Sagan’s personal voyage through the cosmos.  He read me works from the analytical psychologist, Carl Jung and I was bored by it but I pretended to love it because he did. He also exposed me to The Benny Hill Show and loved listening to his thunderous cackle even though I didn’t understand what was so funny. (I now realize allowing me to watch that show was mediocre parenting at best!)

He took things apart and put them back together and his degree from the DeVry Institute of Technology resulted in our garage being turned into a television repair shop. He was a police officer by trade but a technical hobbyist during his off-hours. I sat in his workshop with him and he let me melt spools of metal using the soldering gun (another example of mediocre parenting in hindsight.)

I didn’t realize until adulthood how much his curiosity about life was woven through the tapestry of me and how it’s manifested into my insatiable thirst for knowledge. He’s the reason I became a police officer and I’m blessed that his military and law enforcement service was instilled in me.

Then there was the other side of my father. I would often sneak into his liquor cabinet and pour bottle after bottle down the drain so he would stop drinking. His restless mind was likely the result of his addictive personality and I’m not sure he was ever able to quiet his thoughts — so he drank them away. I wrote him letters as a child and begged him to stop drinking. He never acknowledged me and continued to replace every bottle I washed away in the sink. He would leave work and go immediately to the social club (a.k.a. bar) and when he got home, I learned to tailor my behavior to his mood.

The demons of addiction took over his life and that became his script and downward spiral. He lost everything that was important to him but in my mind, it was his choice. My dad is the reason I thought everyone who had a cocktail in their own home was an alcoholic. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I finally understood that moderation and balance is the key to everything in life but I still find myself triggered by those who indulge to excess regularly. It’s part of the reason I grapple with understanding addiction because I have spent my entire life convinced it’s a choice. Those who are alcoholics and addicts choose their poison over their loved-ones. At least that’s what I used to believe.

He was only 70 years old when he decided he didn’t want to be here anymore. His disease of addiction caught up with him and he chose to leave this life using the weapon he carried on his side as a police officer. And now I’m left with remnants of his dual existence and I’ve been trying to make sense of it all by separating the darkness from the light.

Our parents and other influencers are fallible and imperfect and the way to peace is to recognize and embrace both their light and dark. I choose to cling to the angel memory of a man whose energy is making its way to Carl Sagan’s vast cosmos and I’m going to let go of the man with the demons.

My friend Jeff put it best: We must copy the angels and learn from the demons.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Ultimate Betrayal

When I learned that Lt. Joe Gliniewicz from Fox Lake, IL, was shot and killed while investigating 3 suspicious subjects, I was devastated. There were 7 officers shot that week in incidents across the country and emotions were already running high. So when it happened so close to home, it felt like an epidemic that was closing in. I actually believed there was a full-on assault against police officers.

The police response from all over the state to join the extensive manhunt for the 3 “shooters” was not surprising. There were officers on the perimeter who were overheated and dehydrated but refused to give up their positions.

The sea of blue that enveloped Fox Lake on the day of the funeral was a testament to the support that the law enforcement family extends to one another. Having been indoctrinated into the police profession at an early age, I know what it’s like to be a part of the “brotherhood” and there is no greater feeling. When the police come together for good, we are at our best.

This is precisely why we in law enforcement feel so betrayed by Gliniewicz’ carefully choreographed staging of his own death. I learned early on in my career that law-breakers lie to cover up wrongdoing in both criminal and immoral acts. I have come to expect this.

But cops are supposed to be the good guys. They aren’t supposed to lie and when they do, it doesn’t bode well for our profession. The very core of policing is built on public trust, and when trust is eroded, the police risk becoming ineffective. The public should demand that their police officers enforce the law in an equitable way with service and justice as foundational principles. We can clearly see the consequence of officers who have proven themselves to be untrustworthy.  Their actions not only weaken our system of justice but also threaten the reputation of honorable and worthy police officers all across the nation.

There are two kinds of mistakes: mistakes of the head and mistakes of the heart. Mistakes of the head are calculated and willful acts of misconduct (and should really be called "on-purposes"). Mistakes of the heart are truly accidental where there is no malice or forethought. I have the utmost empathy for well meaning officers who try and fail. Especially since unlike most professions, mistakes in law enforcement can be fatal mistakes.

Joe Gliniewicz is an example of law enforcement at its worst. His criminal actions leading up to his death tarnished the badge and his staged murder ranks up there with deplorable acts like planting evidence and coerced confessions.

The “hometown hero” was a selfish man whose private character was far different from his public persona. I can hardly imagine what his family went through as the details of his corruption and his calculated ruse began to unfold. The betrayal to the law enforcement community pales in comparison to that of his own children. My hope is they can move forward someday and find peace with the memory of what was good about their father because I have to believe (for their sake) that parts of him were good.

As for the law enforcement community, we’ll take another tarnish on each of our badges because the public tends to paint us all with a broad brush. But we will continue to rebuild trust one contact at a time so the citizens we serve are reminded that guys like Gliniewicz are the exception.

We can begin this thought process by recognizing that it was police officers who sifted through the grain and the chaff to get to the truth. Law Enforcement agencies worked together to uncover and expose one of their own. I believe there was a time in the not so distant past where that investigation might have turned out differently.

I offer my sincerest gratitude to those in my profession who had the excruciating job of investigating this case.

We must always search for the truth no matter where it leads us; even when it leads where we’d rather not go.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Who are you and why should I believe you?

I got accepted into the Naval Postgraduate School to pursue a second Master’s Degree in Homeland Security and Defense in June of this year. I decided to move outside of my comfort zone in quest of this degree because I feel as though state and local government needs to be more in sync with the Federal initiatives that involve keeping our homeland secure. When agents interrupted two Aurora natives just prior to their joining ISIS earlier in the year, I started to pay attention to ways our local police might be able to assist in the Homeland Security Enterprise. In short, I need to learn more about what I don’t know.

I’m only months into the Department of Homeland Security program and my mind has already been expanded beyond it’s original proportions. When I met my classmates during our first “in-residence” stay at the Naval base, I was certain that the officials would realize their mistake by allowing me into the program so I didn’t fully unpack {smile}. My classmates represent a facet of Federal entities and are experts in things like: all-source intelligence operations, Foreign Intelligence Services, border protection, emergency management, technology in Homeland Security (to name a few).

In other words, they are really smart people with really high security clearances.

I quickly regained confidence as it became more and more clear to me that local police agencies have a great deal of resources and intelligence that can serve as a force-multiplier when it comes to protecting our city. It didn’t take long to understand that this “enterprise” works when all the players come together to share information.

My first research paper was due yesterday and I decided to write about the current plight of policing and the trust that has been eroded as a result of high profile incidents in our nation. I turned my focus on “soft power” in contrast to “hard power” and set out to explore how the former is not “soft” at all and how we can build better police officers by instilling empathy, compassion and respect as the foundation of training. Skills like defensive tactics, firearms proficiency and arrest techniques are crucial but employing the former during the initial interaction might actually keep officers from having to resort to the latter.

I was pretty proud of the final 16 page product. That is, until I received feedback from my professor. He turned my words into a sea of digital red ink and the common theme in his criticism was my lack of evidence to back up my claims. I began my paper with the following sentence: “The public has lost trust in the police.” It’s a pretty bold declaration and the red font inserted by my professor was:

“Who are you and why should we believe you? Where is the evidence to back up this statement”?

I was thinking, “I’m Kristen Ziman and I’m a cop and I know this because I feel it.”

As it turns out, I am not a reputable source. Mind blown!

I should know better. After all, I’ve been a police officer for 21 years and I have tons of experience writing police reports and from our first day in the academy, we are taught that the foundation of report-writing is to report only the facts.

There is no tolerance for rumor, conjecture, opinion any other descriptive word that isn’t based on fact.

I’ve been a columnist for the “Beacon News” since the mid-2000’s and in my columns, it’s pretty common knowledge that I offer my editorial - my opine. My writing is based on my knowledge and experience but it is merely my personal thoughts on police-related matters through my lens.

I like writing in that style because it’s important to me that people know where I stand on most topics and it offers an opportunity for respectful discourse. I adore it when a reader disagrees and shows me a different perspective that I might not have considered.

There’s a time and a place for editorials. However, in order to achieve a degree in Department of Homeland Security, it’s time to get back to basics of research and report only the facts.

Now I just need to stop retorting to people during conversations, “Who are you and why should I believe you?”

Without fact or supportive evidence, there is only opinion — and that’s pretty much the same as fiction.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure


When I was a kid, I used to read a book series called “Choose Your Own Adventure”.  I loved the books because the stories were formatted so that the reader would be faced with two or three options, each of which leads to more options, and then to one of many endings. Making the right choices led you to the best ending, while making the wrong ones led you to one of a myriad of horrible and agonizing deaths (pretty gruesome for a 10 year old now that I really think about it).

The concept of these books flooded from memory into consciousness while having a conversation with friends about the choices we’d made in life (many of which resulted in failures) and how those experiences were what brought us to that very moment in time. We wondered where we would be and who we would be with if we’d opted for another path. 

Everyone pondered for a few moments and I went on a vacation in my mind back to my childhood where I hid under my covers and read with a flashlight well past my bedtime.  In the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, the one and only rule was that you couldn’t randomly flip through the pages.  Being a rule follower, I would go back to the beginning and make a different choice when prompted and it would alter the outcome of the plot. I would continue reading and re-reading until I was satisfied with the ending.  

What if life were actually like that and we could go back and make a different choice that would alter our existence?  As a police officer, I have watched people err time and time again.  One bad choice can put a once promising future on a different trajectory.  I think of those who committed crimes without having a deep understanding of the consequences and wonder what would happen if they could alter the outcome of their lives.  

In cases of addiction and substance abuse, might one want to turn back to the moment in time they took the first hit of the poison that now imprisons them?  Life is usually understood in retrospect so when we connect the dots of our lives backwards, we see so clearly where we went wrong.  Unfortunately, reality doesn’t allow us to go backwards and make a different decision. What is done is already etched in permanence.  We are victims of our circumstances and much of that is a result of the decisions we’ve made.

So we are doomed by our bad decisions and there is no happy ending and we all die.  The end.

The more I pondered, I realized that life is more like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book than I thought and we actually can alter the trajectory of our lives even after a wrong turn.  While I have seen lives devastated, I have also seen lives completely turned around.  I have had the pleasure of seeing rehabilitated felons and reformed addicts change their future by deciding to do so.  It’s never easy (in fact it’s really difficult) but nothing worth doing is ever easy.

The people who settle with an unhappy ending are those who practice learned helplessness.  This is when a person decides to be a victim of their choices and circumstances thus figuratively paralyzing them from change.  Fortunately, you can unlearn what you have learned by changing your mindset.

I don’t care how bad your bad decision was that landed you where you are; you still have the power to create a new outcome.  Obviously you cannot go back to the the beginning and undo what happened, but you can most certainly turn the page and start a new chapter.  

So if you don’t like the story you’re in, write a new one.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Navigating through the Gray Areas

Bertrand Russell said "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

If this is a true statement, I must be borderline genius given my consistent grapple with uncertainty. Choices that confront us are so easy when we have to choose between right and wrong. If we are of sound mind and moral character, we know the difference between the extremes because social norms and the laws of our land help us to distinguish them.

It’s the complexities that life presents us when we are at a proverbial crossroads of “two rights”. These situations arise when we look closer at a complex problem and determine that many different variables exist that distort the “right versus wrong” formula.

Even the mother of all commandments is subject to some gray area. “Thou shalt not kill” seems pretty clear at face value. For some, no ideological or political conviction would justify the sacrifice of a human life. The value of life is absolute, with no concessions. It's not negotiable.

For others, it’s merely a guideline with a magnitude of exemptions.

“Thou shalt not kill.”*

*unless someone makes you angry, they are a rival gang member or they have different beliefs, etc.

The bloodshed in our cities is evidence that this barbaric mindset exists. Because we are a democracy that follows the rule of law, there are consequences for taking the life of another so one must be willing to capitulate to that punishment.

But there are other exemptions for the taking of a human life that fall within the parameters of legality. If one is provoked to a point where they have to defend their own life or the life of someone else, it is acceptable to kill.

If even the greatest of all commandments has some gray area, suffice it to say that the lessor-important things in life do as well.

To traverse through the gray areas, we need a clear line of site to purpose and morality because when we don’t align to our ethical “truth north”, there is no visible path. When there is no path, we lose our way.

Think of the magnitude of this concept. Religious people have a guidebook to follow (the Bible, Torah, Quran, Buddhist Sutras, ect). In these books, it clearly stipulates the path you should follow. If eternal salvation is the end it mind, one of these books will get you there.

What keeps the non-believers from committing atrocities? How on earth are human beings expected to behave if the notion of a burning inferno isn’t constantly fearing them into behaving properly? Even religion isn’t foolproof since so many have been killed in the name of it.

Perhaps it is the rule of law and the fear of losing our basic fundamental right of freedom that keeps social order. I secretly wonder what kind of hullabaloo would ensue if people succumbed to their own instinctual desires without consequence.

Whether it’s religion or obedience to laws, we seem to have most of the bases covered when it comes knowing what is acceptable and what is not. And yet we still commit atrocities against one another in love and war and all things in-between.

I guess life is just that - a vast quantity of gray area for which we have to navigate. But maybe if we try and do as much of that navigating with the right end in mind, our paths would be more clear.

Maybe if we stopped being detoured by pettiness, hatred and revenge and spent more time seeing the value of other human beings, the natural consequence would be improved organizations and communities.

If religion and laws cannot keep us on the right path, seeing one another as living and breathing people rather than objects might do the trick. If we were able to see (really see) that people are made up of the same fears and hopes that we are, we might not be so quick to pull the trigger, steal from them, or bully them.

Given my propensity for uncertainly, I’m probably not correct about any of this.