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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Relentless Action in Response to School Shootings

Every time there is a tragedy of great magnitude such as that of Newtown, Connecticut, there is a societal uprising demanding to know why it happened and how it could have been prevented. The special interest groups stand on their opposing platforms to make their cases for more guns or less guns while the rest of us try and sort through the rhetoric to find a logical and practical way to keep lunatics from killing our children.

As a mother, I want the peace of mind that comes from knowing my kids are safe when I drop them off at a learning institution. We no longer take that for granted and we certainly cannot afford to live in the mindset that “things like that only happen in other places.” We are Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, NIU, etc. When something like this happens to one of our neighboring communities, it happens to all of our communities and that means that we as a collective society must stop pointing fingers and take collective ownership.

In the days following the tragedy, I received many calls from concerned parents and heads of educational institutions who wanted to know how the police department intends to respond to this tragedy and what measures we have in place to ensure that this doesn’t occur in our community. I can assure you that the police response to any shooting – no matter what the venue – is to move towards the gunfire and eliminate the threat. You can rest assured that we will do what we must to preserve life and you are in good hands with our capable and skilled police officers.

But let’s be realistic. The police cannot be everywhere at all times. As you are well aware, the police are called as an event unfolds – not before. And that might mean there will be casualties before we arrive (even with the typical response time being under three minutes). Knowing this, we have to find a way to predict and prevent these incidents before they occur.

We don’t want to glorify the killer by giving him notoriety but at the same time, we have a burning need to understand why he did what he did. We desperately need to understand what goes through the mind of a human being as he enters a school and assassinates the most innocent of all creatures – children. We have to know the “why” so we can gain preventative insight.

As a police officer, I feel very strongly against arming our teachers with guns. I think it’s preposterous that we would attach that responsibility to our educators who already have enough of a challenge. Besides, firearms are only as good as the proficiency of their user. We want our teachers devoting their time to better educating our children and not shooting at targets on a firing range. Let’s leave that to the police.


Many parents scoff at the thought of metal detectors in our schools because they liken it to the resemblance of a prison. Personally, I think that there should be an armed security guard at every school and those coming in should be subjected to metal detectors and searches. We’ve become accustomed to the security measures in airports as a result of terrorism so it’s time we took the same measures in our schools where body counts continue to rise.

Ironically, we devote much funding to equipping our schools with construction that is aimed at fire prevention in the form of flame-resistant materials, fire alarms, sprinklers, etc. When is the last time you heard about a fire that killed 20 students at a school? Exactly. So why not provide the same preventative (and costly) measures to prevent killers from entering our schools?

We have learned that mental illness plays a role in all of these scenarios. And I think I can safely surmise that walking into a school with the premeditated intention of killing people you don’t even know is a clue that you aren’t right in the head. We know that mental illness can strike in the most unpredictable of places. In other words, mental illness and instability does not discriminate and even families that provide a stable and loving environment may have this cross to bear.


It’s not guns that are the problem; it’s putting them in the hands of unstable people that are the problem. The Chicago Police Department touts that it takes over 4,000 guns off the streets yearly. As of last week, 465 people were killed in Chicago as a result of gunfire. So, if guns are being confiscated under stricter gun control laws, how are people still dying? Heroine is illegal as well, but if you want it bad enough, you will find a way to get it. In other words, criminals will find a way to get their hands on what they desire even if it is illegal. Period.

With that, we need to take responsibility for our own homes and our own families. In every single school shooting, there were signs. After the massacres, people rose up and said of the shooter, “I knew there was something wrong…” but no one did anything about it. As police officers, we find it painful and frustrating to tell families that there is nothing we can do with a mentally unstable person unless they are a danger to themselves or someone else. It’s ludicrous because it’s often too late after they’ve exhibited violent tendencies towards others. It’s time that we as a society provide the resources to better address mental illness.

The conversation starts here. The problem-solving starts now. And it must be followed by relentless action.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Random Acts of Altruism

*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News on Sunday, December 16, 2012

You have probably seen the photo of the New York City Police Officer who gave a pair of boots to a homeless man who had no shoes. The photo went viral on the internet after a tourist happened to be in proximity and hear the conversation between the officer and the man.


Like many, I was extremely touched by the random act of kindness by the officer and was glad that it was captured in a photograph for the world to see. But unlike so many others, I was not surprised by what I saw.

I’m always disturbed by the negative perceptions that many people have of law enforcement officers that make a gesture of kindness seem so out of the ordinary.

A part of me wishes I could have a camera ready every day during an officer’s tour of duty so people could have snapshots of all the altruistic acts performed by the men and women in blue. However, the officers would never allow such a thing because they know that sincere altruism is acting with genuine kindness and not expecting recognition.

A police officer in Plano, Texas recently pulled a man over for expired registration. When the officer advised the man that his license plate sticker wasn’t valid, the man offered no excuse other than to say he simply could not afford a new sticker. In weighing the option to feed his kids or to break the law by driving with an expired registration, he opted to feed his children.

The officer wrote the man a citation for the expired sticker. However, he included a $100 bill with the ticket and told the man to use the money to update his vehicle registration.

This is one of the many times in life where we apply practical wisdom to a situation. There is no disputing that fact the driver broke the law and there are consequences for such (imposed fines in this case).

The officer opted to apply a completely different solution to his problem-solving. Discipline is derived from the Latin root “disciplus” which means pupil or student. The actual meaning of discipline is not to impose punishment but rather, to teach.

When discipline is applied, it should be done in a teachable moment with the outcome being to alter behavior. In this scenario, the officer applied humanity with a teaching moment. The consequences were still present but the solution was even greater. The officer gave out of his own pocket to ensure the man understood he needed to comply with the law and gave him the means to do so.

We don’t know the identity of that police officer because he insisted on remaining anonymous. We only know the story because the driver opted to tell it. I can guarantee you that there are countless stories that are very similar that have never been told because that’s exactly the way the officers wanted it.

There has been some criticism for the NYPD Officer’s actions after the same homeless man was later seen on the street with no shoes after receiving the boots. There is speculation that he sold the shoes for alcohol or drugs. The same can be inferred about the motorist who received the $100 bill. Might he have opted to use that money for something other than what it was intended? Perhaps.

We will never really know if the people on the receiving ends of acts of kindness will selfishly abuse the gesture, but that doesn’t mean we should stop being kind. There will always be those people who lie, manipulate and scam their ways through life. But there is just as many whose lives will be changed as results of these random acts like those of the police officers.

I’d rather be a person who gets taken advantage of now and then, than someone who distrusts mankind.

Friday, November 30, 2012

There are no accidents in life, only divine coincidence.

My mom’s home was burglarized a few weeks ago.

When I received her frantic phone call, I went into my “cop mode” and asked how the thieves got in, what items were stolen, told her to cancel her credit cards and get her locks changed immediately.

During my fact gathering, I learned that it occurred in the middle of the night and the brazen burglars entered her unlocked car that was parked in the driveway and gained entry to the home by using the automatic garage door opener found inside the car.

The fleeting thought to scold her for making it so easy for the thieves was quickly replaced with the overwhelming relief that she wasn’t hurt (or worse) in the commission of the burglary. I shudder to think of what might have happened had she awoke to confront the burglars, and in that moment, I was grateful for her well-being despite the property that was stolen.

My mom told me the thieves took her iPad and iPhone among a long list of other items. However, she was giggling with satisfaction that the crooks got her first generation iPad and her iPhone 4 but didn’t find the iPhone 5 to which she had upgraded. She then added, “Now I have an excuse to get the newer iPad!" Because I get the technology nerd gene from my mother, I shared in this moment of gloating but realized something even more valuable.

My mom chose to see the positive in such a negative situation. After the deputies took a report, gathered evidence and left her house, she exclaimed, “I’m going out to lunch and I’m going to have a stiff drink.” I laughed at her and understood in that moment what I’ve known all along: The people who have a positive outlook on life are the ones who make the choice to see what is right instead of what is wrong.

After the stiff drink, my mom became a bit overwhelmed with the red tape she had to go through with the insurance company, closing bank accounts, getting an alarm system installed, etc., but she always fell back on the reality that her situation could have been far worse.

It reminded me of a quotation by author Eileen Caddy:

“The difficult situations and people in our lives are here to be our teachers. This may be easy to say when we are not mired in those difficulties, but the only way we make trouble into teachers is by remembering this when it really counts… There are no accidents in life, only divine coincidence.”

The teaching moment for my mom was that she needed to be more vigilant about the security of her home and car. I didn’t need to lecture her about protecting herself so she wouldn’t be an easy target because she learned that already. She just assumed that becoming a victim happened to “other” people so it was a not so gentle reminder that we can all be more conscious about our own safety and security.

The teaching moment was even bigger for me. It reminded me once again that the citizens we serve are more than just a police report, property taken or a crime statistic. They are human beings whose lives are greatly affected by criminal acts and if every police officer treated our citizens the way they would want their own family members to be treated, we would never get a complaint about customer service again.

So, the criminals got some electronics, my mom is getting a new iPad, and I get a divine coincidence to remind me that much of my gratitude and resilience was passed onto me from my mother. The way I see the world has a great deal to do with how she shaped it for me.

It’s not what happens to us, but how we deal with it that really matters.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Mere Mortals" versus Police Officers

My recent column about texting and driving elicited an excited response from one of my readers in a Letter to the Editor that had nothing to do with texting and driving.

In his letter, the reader suggested that police officers should lead by example and offered that removing computers from police vehicles would be a start. He made a not so subtle accusation that police officers are privy to a double standard and thus we must be more skilled than the “mere mortals” to be able to operate a computer in a vehicle (his words, not mine).

Albeit off topic, I decided to bite.

Now, I take exception to the tone of the letter because it was extremely sarcastic and accusatory and I believe that we can have a spirited and respectful discussion even when we disagree. In fact, I welcome respectful dissent because the more we communicate, the more we begin to understand one another. Since we often criticize what we don’t understand, allow me to shed some light the reasons police vehicles are equipped with computers.

Much of police work is records-checking. Before mobile data computers, we would use our portable radios to communicate with dispatch to gather information on a person with whom we are interacting. These interactions include but are not limited to those we come in contact with on a traffic stop, an accident or a criminal investigation in which we are called to respond.

I’ll cite one of many scenarios. If you are involved in a traffic crash, the officer must obtain the information from each vehicle involved along with the information on the occupants of the vehicles. This includes data from the secretary of state from your license plate, your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) as well as your driving status. The officer must ensure that the vehicles match the registration (to determine if it is stolen) and if they are in compliance with the law. The officer “runs” the names through the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System (LEADS) which gives information on prior arrests, citations as well as if there are any outstanding warrants. This also lets the officer know if there are any warnings associated with an individual that might put the officer’s well-being in jeopardy.

The MDC’s allow the process to be much faster because the information flows directly to the officer. This means we can get the drivers on their way faster and we can move onto the next emergency.

I can hardly think of a profession these days that does not utilize a computer to assist in making data retrieval easier. The obvious difference is that your computer is on your desk and a police officer’s computer is in his/her squad car – which is the equivalent of their “office”.

Now that we’ve had a brief lesson to educate our reader (sometimes you have to fight sarcasm with sarcasm), I will capitulate to a valid concern from the reader because whether it be texting or operating a MDC in a moving vehicle, it is ALL distracted driving and thus, dangerous. His concern is worthy because some of our officers have been involved in an accident because they were looking at their computer while driving. These officers were disciplined as a result.

Our policy is strict and use of the MDC by the officer should generally be limited to times when the vehicle is stopped. When the vehicle is in motion, the officer should only attempt to read messages that are likely to contain information that is required for immediate enforcement, investigative or safety needs.

Is it a double standard as alleged by the reader? I would argue that it has to be given the scope of the information necessary for our officers to do their job and the exigency in which it is needed. Our officers are not updating their Facebook status on their MDC’s. They are obtaining information that might be crucial to their well-being – and yours.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Each Life Unravels Differently | Respect

*Appeared in the Sun-Times Beacon News on November 4, 2012.

American journalist Hunter Thompson said that we cannot expect people to have respect for law and order until we teach respect to those we have entrusted to enforce those laws.

When I read those words I couldn’t help but think of the citizen complaints I’ve taken as a supervisor where the origin of the complaint was that the citizen felt “disrespected” by the officer. Respect is a powerful thing. Even though many people cannot define it they know when it is not existent.

California Sheriff Deputy Elton Simmons has been a motorcycle cop since 1992. In 20 years and with over 25,000 traffic stops, he has not received a single complaint. You might assume that he doesn’t write a lot of tickets, hence the lack of complaints. Actually, he believes tickets save lives and is unforgiving to those who break the law and offer phony excuses for doing so.

After learning about Simmons, CBS affiliates trailed him one day during his shift. They learned very quickly that Deputy Simmons “has the pitch-perfect mix of authority and diplomacy with none of the attitude that sometimes comes with a cop.” During his interview, Simmons said that one thing he hates is to be looked down upon. “I can’t stand it – so I’m not going to look down at you” he said.

That is the essence of unconditional respect--- to see and value others as people.

It means not violating or disregarding another’s personhood. That means that a president of a university and a homeless person on the street deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion despite the disparity of their lots in life. We must remember that each life unravels differently and where people are is not always an indication of who they are.

Police officers have a tendency to live in an “us versus them” mindset. Because we interact with people who break the law and are conscious of those violent criminals who wish to do us harm, the lens for which we see the world becomes skewed. The fact is that humans are neither all good nor all bad (psychopaths being an exception). J.K. Rowling said, “We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are.”

When we see those we arrest as all bad, we determine that they don’t deserve our respect because they have disrespected the law and society. This doesn’t mean that we have to trust them, but we should respect them. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

Respect can still be given to those who disregard the law. In fact, I find that the most successful police officers are those who understand on a deeper level the concept of respect. When a police officer treats a person in handcuffs with empathy and compassion, I know that they are operating on a higher plane and using their influence rather than relying solely on their power and authority. If they have to apply physical force, they do so with restraint and necessity and not for the sake of exuding power.

One might think that being respectful to all people is a sign of weakness and I disagree vehemently. The interesting part about respect is that the more you give away, the more you get.

It takes great courage to show compassion and respect to all human beings – especially to those who look, think, and behave differently than us. We are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same.

I think Deputy Simmons has the right idea. When we stop looking up to people or looking down at people, we will start to respect all people.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Character Trait that Sets People Apart

As a police officer, my job description has changed over the years but the one thing that still fascinates me about policing is human behavior.

I was never a psychology major in college but I have come to believe that those entering law enforcement should, at the very least, minor in behavioral science.

When I worked the street, I was puzzled by the way different people reacted to similar situations. I found myself viewing the world as a laboratory and every human encounter was an experiment in social behavior.

I started to analyze the ways in which some people reacted to a traffic ticket. Some would be extremely argumentative and rude while others would receive it politely and respectfully. Of-course you might say that a police officer’s demeanor sets the tone for the interaction and I can’t disagree so perhaps that is not the best example in sharing my observations.

I noted that when responding to traumatic incidents, some crime victims were emotionally strong while others seemed to “breakdown” when faced with a similar scenario. Although I noted that people handled death and trauma quite differently, I’ll reserve my commentary because reactions to these situations are at the core of emotion and there are many variables involved.

Rather, I’m referring to incidents where there is a notable hardship incurred but not a loss of life. For example, in responding to burglary victims, it was fascinating to have a front row seat into the layers of emotion that surface when a person was faced with this type of an invasion. Some saw it as a devastating and debilitating blow to their security and peace of mind while others put it in perspective and even found a way to be grateful that there was no human life harmed.

The character trait that sets the two extremes apart is resilience. This can be said for any event or interaction involving human beings. Why does one person fall apart when they are faced with a difficult situation while another perseveres or even thrives in times of turmoil and strife? These coping mechanisms can be seen throughout everyday life if you carefully watch the world around you.

Have you even ridden in a car with someone who becomes furious with other drivers and has fits of rage in response to their actions? This, I believe, comes from the same place that dictates coping skills in other areas of life. When we see people come unraveled by the small inconveniences in life, it is a good indication that they will have trouble coping with bigger problems.

Resilience is a skill that is taught early on. When my children get hurt and I know that it’s nothing life-threatening, I tell them to “suck it up and take the pain.” I’ve gotten curious looks from others when I’ve said this in public but the message I’m trying to convey is that you have to keep moving through discomfort.

If you are alive, it is inevitable that you will experience both physical and emotional pain at some point. How you cope with that pain is what sets you apart from those who survive and those who thrive. Ask any police officer who has been shot and had to continue to fight through the pain in order to live. In that moment, they had to either lie down and surrender or make a conscious choice to survive.

Everyday life isn’t much different. Resilience is gauged by our ability to recognize the stressful (or painful) situation and then consciously choose to maintain composure.

Having the mental fortitude to re-frame pain and place it in proper perspective can add much needed clarity. Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if you don’t believe it’s as good as the one you had before.

You can fight it or you can accept it--- and try to put together something that's better.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sometimes We Need to Save People from Themselves

I was recently asked to represent the Aurora Police Department at an event sponsored by AT&T. The corporation has launched a campaign against texting and driving and they invited me and several local legislators to help them send the message.

On my way there, I was formulating my thoughts about what I was going to say if asked to speak. The appropriate message to send as a police officer is that texting while driving is illegal and there are consequences to breaking the law. As true as that is, the threat of a ticket or an imposed fine is not always enough to change behaviors.

This started my thought process on changing human behavior and I realized that there are several methods that might appeal differently to different people on this topic.

I thought I might tout some statistics about the dangers of texting and driving. After all, it might be interesting to note that in 2009, 5,474 people were killed in U.S. roadways and an estimated additional 448,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes that were reported to have involved distracted driving. (2009, FARS and GES). It also might be important to know that drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (2005, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). While this is all factual information, I have found that statistics and data don’t resonate with people enough to alter behavior. After all, we don’t believe we will ever be one of those statistics because bad things happen to other people!

Then I decided I would apply simple logic in the hopes that it would convince the left-brain drivers that texting is dangerous. Using a cell phone while driving, whether it's handheld or hands-free, delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. (2009, University of Utah). Let’s assume that you are operating a piece of machinery that is roughly 4,500 lbs. (the average weight of a car) and traveling at 55 mph. You either read or answer a text message which diverts your attention from the road for approximately 5 seconds causing you to veer over the center line where you collide with another piece of machinery in motion. I’m no astrophysicist but I can tell you that I understand intellectually the propensity for bad things to occur when those two moving objects meet. Even with this understanding, many of will still disregard the danger of texting and driving.

And so I decided to appeal to the emotional side of people. After all, we don’t change our behaviors or our thoughts and ideas until we are personally influenced – that is, until something affects us directly. My hope it to alter your behavior before you are affected personally by a tragic loss thereby sparing you the pain you would feel by losing a loved one for something so senseless as texting while driving. When I was a patrol officer, I responded to a call for a one car roll-over accident. The driver was ejected from her car and so were the 20 Portillo’s sandwiches that she was bringing home for her son’s birthday celebration. Her phone was found nearby with a text message that she was in the middle of writing that said, “I’m on my way hom---“. She never got to send that message because she ran off the road. In fact, she never made it to her son’s birthday party and she won’t be there for any others because she died instantly.

The thought of living without someone you love or them enduring life without you should be enough to get you to alter your behavior. Alas, it isn’t.

And that is why the government must intervene and create laws prohibiting such actions and police officers must enforce those laws.

Sometimes we have to save people from themselves.

Friday, September 7, 2012

What's the Worst Thing That Can Happen?

Whenever my kids express anxiety about something they want to pursue in their lives, I try and quell their fears by asking, “What is the worst thing that could happen?”

Usually the answer involves a failure such as, “I might not get the part”, or “I might not make the team”.

Once they’ve provided what they believe to be their worst case scenario, I ask, “Are you willing to accept that outcome?” It’s interesting to watch their faces as they ponder the projected outcome and weigh whether or not they want to assume the risk.

I find that more often than not, if you can visualize the worst case scenario and accept that it might be a reality, the fear dissipates and you move forward because you have made peace that the outcome might be negative. In moving forward, you hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

I’m often mistaken for an optimist but I’m actually quite the realist.

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we subscribe to the notion that everything is going to work out or when we teach our children to aim for the stars without preparing them for the long fall should they miscalculate their reach. When we force ourselves to see potential barriers, we can better prepare for the quest ahead and take measures to overcome them.

Every police officer should ask themselves when they gear up to hit the street, “What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?” The answer is that they may not make it home at the end of their shift. Any police officer who runs towards gunfire (or firefighter that runs into a burning building) understands intellectually and conceptually that there is a possibility that they will meet their demise in doing so. And yet, they accept that risk and continue to serve. If they didn’t, they are not suited for the profession.

We don’t just send our public servants out with superhero capes and tell them to save the day. Instead we train them vigorously on topics that depend upon the risk they incur. We know that making a traffic stop is one of the most dangerous situations for an officer. With that in mind, we devote many training hours to traffic scenarios so our officers learn to interpret body language and demeanor and assess very quickly if there is a potential threat.

We also study the failures of others and try to determine the actions that led to the failure so we don’t emulate the mistakes. Failures are just as valuable as successes because we can hardly find the thing that works until we have discovered what doesn’t.

Naturally, when we ask ourselves the worst case scenario and realize that the answer is potentially fatal, we are going to weigh our actions and take greater precautions.

But I find that most people in life who don’t take risks are still afraid to fail even when there isn’t a threat to their mortality. We are creatures of comfort and anything that disturbs or threatens our environment is sometimes too much for us to bear. We remain stagnant because we are afraid to make any movements that would upset the life we’ve settled into because we are afraid of what others might think or we fear the unknown.

The next time you are faced with a challenge or are pondering whether to pursue something in your life, ask yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Maybe the answer is that people will judge you or criticize you. Maybe it’s bigger than that. But once you have determined what it is, you can decide if you are willing to accept it.

Make peace with it.

Now do it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why Can't We All Just Get Along

*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News on August 26th, 2012

One lesson I’ve learned in nearly four decades of being alive is that it’s never actually about the neighbor’s dog pooping in your yard. By that, I mean, there is always something deeper and more complex at play than what is visible on the surface.

I recently read a story by one of our local columnists about the growing number of neighborhood disputes and it started me on a thought process about confrontation and basic civility towards one another. Something may start out as simple as dog poop or overgrown branches crossing a property line but when a problem is not confronted immediately and respectfully, it grows and festers into something far bigger.

Eventually, we get to a place so clouded in anger and resentment because we have handled the problem poorly or the subject of our complaint didn’t respond appropriately that we can no longer even recall what we were angry about in the first place.

The same holds true in a domestic dispute. When we respond for an argument between partners, it is usually because something happened that has elevated so much so that the police need to respond. As a patrol officer on the street, I remember standing in the homes of couples and trying to sift through the incident as told by each person involved. I learned very quickly how humans have a gift for telling their story in the way that makes them look most favorable. We all do it. I also learned that a police officer cannot come into your home and solve a problem in 15 minutes that took 15 years to create. A call to 9-1-1 tells me that in most cases, the problem is far deeper than the action that resulted in the call.

When we refuse to confront the issues in our lives that cause us stress, we run the risk of the problem growing into something insurmountable. The problem lies in the confrontation. The word itself has a negative connotation and it conjures of images of finger-pointing and posturing. And yet confronting something respectfully and from a place of caring is actually the stuff that propels us to a higher level.

The people I surround myself with in life (I call them my personal Board of Directors) have earned their place because they never allow me to manipulate myself or the truth so it is favorable to me. In my personal life and my work life, I have benefited the most from those who have pointed out my weaknesses and provided suggestions for improvement. If it comes from a place of genuine concern, criticism is the best gift someone can give us because it forces us to change if we want to be better.

What if we applied that same concept to everyone with whom we cross paths? If your neighbor has his stereo blasting and it’s shaking the china in your cabinet, why not walk over and knock on the door and politely explain your plight?

I realize I just made that sound ridiculously easy when the reality is that it is far from easy. Confrontation is a terribly complicated process because we have to be concerned about how we are delivering the message just as much as how the message is being received. We all have different communication styles and we run the risk of the message being distorted based on our own interpretation. And there are some people who absolutely shut down and become defensive in the face of criticism. You won’t get very far with the likes of them.

But what if we tried it anyway? Humans inherently take the path of least resistance and it’s far easier to air your complaints to everyone else but the focus of your complaint or to call 911 and ask the police to do the confronting for you.

I’m simply suggesting that even with our differences, we start practicing basic civility and respect for one another so that we may co-exist peacefully in this life.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tradition Should Never Impede Progress

A friend of mine spent 26 years with a state police agency from which she retired as a captain. During one of our conversations she jokingly described her organization as “85 years of tradition unhampered by progress”. Knowing the sense of pride she has for the agency she spent the majority of her adult life, I understood that she was not being disparaging but also recognized the underlying reality to her words.

Tradition is a word that evokes strong emotion in all of us. We value our family traditions and we take great pains to keep the traditions alive for our children in hopes they will continue for our children’s children. The word “tradition” comes from the Latin meaning: to hand over for safekeeping. It is a ritual or a belief passed down within a society that is still maintained in the present but has strong ties to the past.

Whether it is families or institutions, we pride ourselves on the rituals that merge our past and our present. There is something to be said about upholding traditions when they instill positivity and a sense of belonging.

However, tradition can sometimes impede progress as my friend not so subtly pointed out. We can all relate to organizations that operate under the maxim, “we’ve always done it this way.” It is when we cling to past practice for the simple sake of it being the traditional way that we are closing ourselves to the possibility of new and better.

This instills fear in many people because the idea of moving away from tradition suggests that we are not being true to our values which are woven into our practices. The truth is, we are a nation founded upon change. Tradition is what denied the right and ability of women to vote for so long. Tradition is what justified slavery. Tradition is what kept interracial couples from marrying. Some people cling to their “traditions” as a way to validate their own antiquated beliefs – and that is what impedes progress.

To be “progressive” has such a negative connotation because it challenges traditions thereby labeling change agents as dangerous or rogue. Some even suggest that changing what we deem as traditional is a threat to mankind and believe it weakens the very fabric from which our legacy is woven.

Change for the sake of change is never wise when it comes to organizations and intuitions. But keeping things the same for the sake of tradition is just as irresponsible. For example, there is currently a large push in police organizations to move towards a more relaxed uniform. Aurora police officers don hardware on their uniforms that include a star, collar brass, nametag and award pins. There is a growing trend of police agencies that have transitioned to embroidered stars and shields so there are no moving parts on the uniform. Many have also evolved to military style BDU pants instead of the straight cut polyester blend uniform pants. I personally favor the appearance of the ornamental hardware and the militaristic look. One of the patrol officers challenged my preference and argued that officers on the street are jumping over fences and traipsing through backyards on any given day and the traditional style uniform is impractical in this arena. When I began to formulate my response, I realized I could offer no rebuttal other than my preference (my values) to keep with the tradition of our police department. His points were based on logic and empirical evidence to support his position. Mine were not.

There is honor in upholding traditions because we feel rooted to our ancestors and our institutions when we honor the legacies of the past. We all feel a responsibility to keep the fire ignited when we are handed the torch, but we must never be afraid to use our flames to illuminate a different way. It might lead to a better way.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Perception versus Reality

I absolutely reject the phrase, “perception is reality”. I hear it so often and it evokes such strong emotion in me that I will invariably push back by stating, “No. Reality is reality. Perception is simply the way someone sees the world through their own lens. Your perception is your reality.

I understand why the phrase is used so frequently but I think it is a weak way of allowing first impressions or non-truths to be accepted. By arguing that perception is reality, we excuse the fact that we can sometimes become clouded by our own biases and beliefs; that the truth lies only in our frame of reference. This is simply not true.

I have learned many lessons over my lifetime where my perception about something or someone has been completely incorrect. I often find myself falling into the belief that first impressions are an accurate portrayal of another person.

Our first impression of someone is generally based upon their appearance. Some people have immediate biases or bigoted beliefs that reject someone based on their skin color while others might judge the style of dress before imposing an impression. Some of us go further and discard people based solely on religion or orientation. We size people up quickly based on our own values and we are quick to accept or reject people as a result.

Police officers are trained to quickly assess people and look for suspicious movements or behaviors that would indicate they are involved in criminal activity. It’s called criminal profiling and I can assure you that people act a certain way when they are up to no good and we are trained to pick on non-verbal actions that raise suspicion. However, it is not a foolproof method and police officers are expected to investigate an incident so that it reaches the level of probable cause even if it began on reasonable suspicion. It is not an absolute science because of the human factor of error involved so our criminal justice system rightly requires that solid evidence be built upon reasonable suspicion.

It is easy to explain how perceptions are built into police work because keeping the community free from harm depends largely on preventing a crime before it’s committed. If I believe a robbery is about to occur, I want to be in a position to stop the offender before he or she commits the act – namely if it saves someone from injury. So there is a place in life for first impressions.

The Trayvon Martin killing by George Zimmerman might be another illustration of biases and unfair perceptions. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, noticed Martin, a black teenager, walking around the neighborhood in a way Zimmerman thought was suspicious. Martin was wearing a “hoodie” which has been a trademark symbol of gang members because of its ability to conceal identity. Zimmerman, a Hispanic, called 9-1-1 and began following Martin even after police dispatch advised him not to do so.

What then transpired can only be explained by Zimmerman because he shot and killed the unarmed teen, claiming self-defense. Did young Trayvon physically lash out at Zimmerman because he was scared after realizing he was being followed? Did Zimmerman shoot him as a result of a physical altercation?

The trial has yet to occur but the court of public opinion has raised some interesting questions about perceptions. I’m confident the questions will be answered in a court of law.

Perhaps we size people up so quickly as a method of protecting ourselves from harm. But more often than not, it is just our biases at work that prevent us from looking past the first impressions to see the real person. Sometimes perceptions are correct and sometimes they are not.

Maybe all people should do what the police are expected to do: investigate further and base your judgments on things that are substantive rather than perceptions. You might find a new reality.

*Appeared in the Sun-Times Beacon News on July 15, 2012



Saturday, June 30, 2012

Indifference is the Enemy


I was watching the scene from the movie “Patch Adams” where Robin Williams’ character is defending himself to the Board of Medical Directors to keep his medical certification after being accused of running a clinic without proper licensing.  In his poignant speech, Patch tells the Board:
“Every human being has an impact on another. Why don't we want that in a patient-doctor relationship? A doctor's mission should be not just to prevent death but also to improve the quality of life. That's why if you treat a disease, you might win or you might lose.   If you treat a person, I guarantee you; you win, no matter what the outcome.”
I applied this concept to police officers and the interactions they have every day with the people in this community.  It reminded me that our job is not just to prevent crime, but to ensure that citizens enjoy a good quality of life in the neighborhoods.  And the way we do that is to treat the person as Dr. Adams suggested, not just the incident in which the person is involved. 
The best officers I know are the ones who understand that each crime victim is going through a traumatic experience.  Even if an officer has taken several burglary reports in one day, it is still a profound feeling of violation to each of the victims.  The officers who understand and empathize are already practicing the concept of treating the person and not the crime.  That means being compassionate in the process of doing their jobs.  Since crime victims comprise most of our encounters, they are left with a positive feeling about the police despite the crime against them.
What resonated with me the most were the words that Patch Adams delivered to the Board: “If we're going to fight a disease, let's fight one of the most terrible diseases of all -- indifference.”
The most dangerous place a human can be is the point where they simply don’t care.  
Indifference is a disease that manifests itself in organizations and even relationships.  Think about all the people walking through life who have lost their passion; and pay close attention to how they relate to the world.  They go through the motions as though they are on auto-pilot, never contributing to their own lives or the lives of others.
Police officers often find themselves developing the disease of indifference because they are exhausted or drained by the evil they continually see in the world.  The ironic part is that the cure for indifference is to begin seeing people as people – treating the person.  When we do this, we are awakened by the humanity that exists in the world and the more energized we become.  
I’ve heard people speak about keeping a professional distance and I understand that concept.  However, I believe that transference is inevitable.  Transference is the belief that every human being has an effect on another.  Police officers especially need to understand that that they can strengthen or diminish the life around them through their demeanor and their attitude.  We all have the power to affect others and we may even affect those we don’t know at all. 
It is important that we all understand the power of transference and how it can be used for good or for evil.  If we remember that our encounters are an opportunity to connect with another human being, we might change the way we see our place in this world.  We might not feel so powerless or indifferent.
When addressing the Board, Patch Adams tells his colleagues to learn from those people around them who are, “not dead from the heart up”. 
I suggest the same for all of us.  Cultivate relationships with those people who are passionate and compassionate because those traits are contagious.  I know it's not easy, but anything worth doing never is.
These boys are some of the best in the business!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Attitude is the Real Figure of Speech


Edwin Friedman said that communication does not depend on syntax, eloquence, rhetoric or articulation, but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard.
He said that people can only hear you when they are moving toward you and are not likely to hear you when your words are pursuing them. He explained that even the best words chosen lose their power when they are used to overpower. “Attitudes”, he said, “are the real figures of speech.”
I’m in Quantico, Va., at the FBI National Academy for 10 weeks. In my Public Speaking class, we were each assigned a day to present a quotation that resonates with us. We must read the quotation and then explain to the class why we chose it.
The goal of the assignment is actually to become more comfortable speaking in front of a group, but the real lesson for me has been listening to the quotations that other police executives from around the world have chosen. It’s interesting to see what inspires and moves people into action.
I plan on using Friedman’s quote because throughout my career and my life, I’ve come to recognize that the real assets are the people with whom we interact.
“People can only hear you when they are moving toward you.” What a powerful and true statement.
Just the other day, I was Skyping with my daughter and I asked how her basketball practices were going. She said she really likes the coach and he doesn’t yell. I found that humorous and asked her to explain. Being a sports enthusiast, she has had vast experience with different coaching styles, and she said the coaches that scream at the team make her want to do the opposite of what they are asking. “I don’t mind running and doing drills with this coach,” she said, “because he talks to us.”
“Even the best chosen words lose their power when they are used to overpower.” I cannot help but think about some of the complaints that we receive from the public about police officers being rude. In some instances, the citizens cannot pinpoint exactly what was said except to say they didn’t feel as though they were treated with respect. This speaks to attitudes being the real figures of speech in that the words someone says might not matter as much as the feeling you are left with after you talk to them.
The perception people have about the police is derived from their own personal interaction with an officer. The largest numbers of people who have encounters with police officers are not the bad guys as you might assume. Instead, they are victims of crimes.
The way an officer treats the victim of a crime can leave a long-lasting impression of the entire profession. If an officer shows empathy and compassion for those with whom they have an encounter, they will invariably earn support for the entire law enforcement profession.
I realize that one shouldn’t have to be a victim of a crime in order to be treated with human dignity and respect. I learned early in my career that treating those I arrest with compassion was a great part of the reason I avoided physical confrontations.
We have nearly 300 sworn police officers in the city of Aurora, and that means that we should have nearly 300 commercials for our organization. Every interaction should be an opportunity to market our police department and our profession, because we all know that one negative experience often translates into all police officers being painted with the same broad brush.
People will only listen to you when they are moving toward you, and people will only move toward you when your words are not pursuing them. It is such a profoundly deep and seemingly simple concept.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

FBI NA #249 Recap

My intent was to give weekly updates during my time at the NA, however, plans were derailed by my having to dedicate so much time to catching up on the work that I needed to complete for the end of the session.  Being out of commission midway through with pneunonia really messed up my cadence - especially since I was on track to finish everything at the very last minute per my usual modus operandi. 

In week 9, I had successfully turned in my last paper and given my last presenation and was prepared to sit back, breathe a sigh of relief, and uncork another bottle of wine.  That didn't happen.  Being a hobbiest photographer (that's code for "wannabe"), I volunteered to be the class photographer.  My favorite place to be is behind the camera so I thought I could really capture the essence of our 10 weeks together.  I think I succeeded in that goal but I didn't realize that the FBI NA Staff was looking for someone to do a slideshow compilation of the pictures for our graduation.  Well, to be clear, I did know this but I just assumed "someone else" was going to do it because I had a lot on my plate with earning my yellow brick and my purple brick and taking pictures in between.  There was no one else, so in typical "me" fashion, I volunteered last minute to put together the 19 minute slide show.

Now, if this sounds like a non-issue, then you clearly have never met me.  I devoted 4 days straight to researching the best slideshow software, compiling the perfect photos, gathering meaningful music to ensure a few tears, matching the music, adding transitions.. well, you get the idea.  I can tell you that the NA has pretty vigorous academics and yet I didn't stress out hard-core until working on the slideshow. 

It would keep me up at night because I worried 1) that I would unintentionally leave someone out and 2) that it would fail to play during the graduation.  The latter might seem like an odd fear but I have been known to have technical difficulties right before a presentation.  Public speaking doesn't scare me, but my powerpoint failing does.  Well, it all worked out and it played beautifully and it was worth all the time invested because it captures our 10 week journey pretty spectacularly (yes, my back is sore from patting myself).

But this isn't about a slideshow or excuses for not completing my weekly blog like I promised my followers.  This is a recap of my experience at the FBI National Academy.  It's only been 2 days since re-entry into the real world and I can tell you that I miss the people terribly.  I knew I would meet some great people and forge new friendships but I did not realize the breadth and the depth of the relationships that would be cultivated.  Spending 10 weeks in such close quarters was not very appealing to me as I packed my bags and headed for the academy.  Spending 10 weeks in such close quarters became the reason I will have friends for life.  It's an accelerated process of building relationships and I have some clarity about that now.

Lifelong Friends

As for the NA itself, I learned a lesson that I'm going to apply to my own police department.  I got a bit frustrated with the rules at the NA.  Well, just one in particular.  We had to dress in our NA uniforms to walk to the locker room where we would then change into our PT clothes.  After PT, we would have to put our NA uniforms back on to walk to our dorms to shower if we didn't shower in the locker room (and I never did because I freak out about mass showers.. but I digress).  So, I started being a little defiant and walking to the gym from my dorm in my PT clothes.  Now, I wasn't the only one to do it but you can bet that I was the only one to get caught (story of my life). 

My FBI Counselor scolded me and told me to comply with the rules which clearly state that you cannot be in the halls in your PT clothes but he couldn't tell me why.  I have had pretty good success in my life by respectfully questioning authority because I like to know why rules are being implemented.  If someone can give a reason (even if it's a mediocre reason), I'll comply.  But in this case, I was told "because those are the rules" and it was unsettling to me. 

My classmates quickly learned that if you snuck out the side door of the dorm building in your PT clothes, you are technically not in violaiton because you aren't in the halls, but I have got to tell you how damn funny it was to see gaggles of NA students running accross the courtyard in their PT clothes from my window.  Police executives turned into delinquents and all for a rule that was inconvenient and non-sensical. 

This made me think about the police officers in my own agency who are constantly questioning a policy or a directive.  So many people complain about the "Y" generation but I identify with their need to attach meaning to something.  I've always thought that we (the Command Staff) should take the time to communicate the reasons behind the directives.  And if we cannot provide a logical answer for WHY we are adhering to a particuluar rule, then maybe it's time to re-evaluate.  I'm going to remember this lesson as I lead in my own organization. 

For those of you attending an upcoming academy session in the future, the side door is off Jefferson dorm and you can sprint across the courtyard in your gym clothes to the side door near the gym.  Run fast so you are blurry.

Overall, the experience was the best I've had in my career.  The academics were challenging and the instructors were brilliant but the real learning came from the other 263 police officers that I met.  It was such an honor to be able to share ideas and best practices with them.  My biggest take away, however, was unexpected.  I learned that my police department is extremely progressive as I found myself saying, "we already do that" when my Labor Law Professor presented the most recent case law.  It seemed that a lot of departments are behind the times and I was (I am) extremely proud to be a part of an agency that is professional and progressive.  Sometimes you have to venture out to realize everything is good where you are.

I came back to work the Monday after graduation and I must admit that I was in a bit of a fog as I tried to assimilate back into the real world.  I found myself caught between the FBI NA world and reality and I probably should have taken a few days off to make the transition more smooth.  But there is work to be done and learning to be applied.  I look back on my National Academy journey fondly and continue on my own "Yellow Brick Road" of life where the obstacles are the same -- but different

The 6 mile obstacle course:  "The Yellow Brick Road"





Monday, May 21, 2012

FBI NA #249 Week 7 Recap

I've returned to the land of the living and I'm glad to be back - especially after having missed so much of Week 6 after being stricken with Pneumonia. It took a solid 7 days to be able to change out of my pajamas and back into my NA uniform.

Fortunately, it was just in time to attend the Police Memorial Fund Candlelight Vigil in Washington, DC for our fallen officers. Never having attended attended Police Week events in DC, I had no idea what to expect. I can honestly say that it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Watching the families of the fallen gather around the memorial wall where their loved ones name is scribed was extremely emotional and nearly unbearable.

The candlelight vigil is an intense moment during the memorial and there are no words I can feasibly string together to provide a sensory re-enactment of what it was like to see the sea of candles held high to the sky symbolizing each of our fallen brothers and sisters.

It was in that moment I was reminded of all that is right within our Law Enforcement community. For all the disfunction that frustrates us within our own organizations, there is no substitute for the way we rally together when it really matters. The thin blue line is indicative of the band of brother/sisterhood that reminds us about the nobility of our chosen profession and the responsibility we have to take care of one another both on the street and off.

Candlelight Vigil at Police Memorial in D.C.

International Night

I've heard many stories about International Night from those who have attended the NA before me. But like anything in life, one must experience it on their own to get the full effect. Thus far, it has been the highlight of my time here at the NA (which is a significant statement to make given all that we've experienced together).
I enjoyed it so much because it was a treat to see the International students beaming with pride as they represented their respective countries. Some wore their uniforms and all brought food and drink and trinkets from their homeland.

Nevada (left), Italy (center) and me (right)

France and Italy were my favorite because I very much enjoyed the red wine (no surprise there, friends!) and it certainly reinforced that those two destinations are on my travel bucket list. I loved the food from Pakistan and the Phillipines but what I remember most are the shots of liquor from Romania, Taiwan and Germany. The word "remember" is relative as my memory is a a bit fuzzy after making my way only halfway around the "world" in a room in Quantico, Virginia. I'm pretty sure whatever I drank from Romania killed any lingering pneumonia in my system given that I felt fire as it went down.

It was a great bonding experience among our entire class and it was such an honor to get to know even more about our International friends and colleagues and learn that policing is truly universal.

NA girls sharing a drink with Jennifer from Taiwan (left).

Philadelphia

About 100 of us spent the weekend on a trip to Philly and I have to say, the highlight of the trip is not what one might expect. John from Philly organized the events and he did a great job tending to the details so we would all have a memorable experience. But the best memory occurred at the Philadelphia Art Museum - the very location made famous for Rocky Balboa's run to the top of the stairs. I ran the stairs and threw my arms up in the air to mimic Rocky but let me back up to the moment our 3 vans and charter bus pulled up to the museum.

I'm Rocky!!!

John got off the bus and kindly asked a cab driver (who had no fare) to move so we could park the bus. The cab driver did not respond in kind and started yelling at John. They exchanged words and the cabbie got back into his car, put it in drive, and proceeded to hit John with the car. It was at a low speed so there was no damage done but once our caravan saw that occur, we all poured off buses and out of the vans and surrounded the cab driver and John in a matter of moments.

I don't think the cabbie quite knew what was happening when the sea of cops surrounded him but I surmise he might have needed to wash his shorts after the encounter. The cabbie quickly realized his bullying tactics were no match for the mob and he timidly got back into his cab and drove away. Now, I thought we should have arrested Mr. Cabbie given that it is aggravated battery to strike someone with a vehicle but my comrades put it in perspective when they said the look on his face when he was being surrounded was far more effective than being arrested. Good point.

I learned how to correctly order a Philly Cheesesteak from Genos. If this strikes you as an odd educational experience, you've obviously never been to Philly and ordered cheesesteak as there is a strict protocol for this practice. It's a necessary skill to have in my humble opinion.

Onward to week 8!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who takes care of you when you are sick?

Who takes care of you when you are sick?

At the very essence of human relationships, the answer to that question will tell you a lot about your life and the people in it.

I got sick on Sunday just after returning from the New York trip. I’m talking the kind of sick where your hair is matted to your head and and you can’t sit up sick. Since I’m far away from home, I decided that there would be no one to take care of me and I would have to muddle through the best I could.

I had to go to the Emergency Room on Wednesday because I wasn’t getting better. It turns out I have pneumonia.

My roommate, Hawaii, has made sure I have everything I need for sustenance since I haven’t left my dorm-room in days. Texas took me the ER and Georgia and Hawaii picked me up and got my prescriptions filled. Georgia also grounded me to my room after I said I was feeling a bit better and might like to venture out. Milwaukee keeps checking to see if I need anything. The Illinois boys keep calling to make sure I’m okay and Nevada makes me drink more water and get back into bed. And drink more water. Hawaii won’t take no for an answer when I say I don’t need anything and like a true friend, she just does it (even though she brought me a salad with mushrooms and I hate mushrooms but we’ve since worked that out).

As it turns out, my friends take care of me when I’m sick.

Monday, April 30, 2012

FBI NA #249 | Week 5 | The Halfway Mark

An interesting shift occurs around this time at the academy in that we have started calling the base "home". I caught myself and a few others doing it over the weekend while we were in D.C. sightseeing. "What time do you want to head home?", someone asked. I even received a text message from one of my floor-mates asking what time we would be home.

Of-course there is no substitute to our actual "homes" where our hearts and our families are, but the National Academy has become our temporary home and those who share in our experience have become our family.

We are at the half-way point of our 10 weeks and it feels like a lifetime ago that I set foot on the Marine base and was completely and utterly lost (both figuratively and literally). When I walked into my dorm room, I was secretly wondering how I was going to sleep in a twin bed comfortably and share a bathroom with 3 other people.

Because humans are inherently adaptive, everything seemed to work itself out organically. I hardly remember what it was like not knowing my roommate from Hawaii, Sherry. We were so polite and considerate in the first few weeks -- now she grounds me to our room for my own good so I can't sneak back to the Boardroom. She's made me an honorary sister since I'm an only child. In the Hawaiian culture, Ohana means "family" in an extended sense of the term (blood-related, adopted or intentional) and that means no one gets left behind - especially not in the Boardroom.

Onto academics...
I know there are a few followers of this blog that will be attending future sessions of the NA and are worried about the academics. Based on some of the e-mails I've received, I know there are some of you who have not been in a classroom setting for quite some time and have some trepidation about writing a paper in APA format (if you don't know what that means, you might want to brush up on this topic).

To you I say, get organized immediately. You will be given a syllabus for each course and it's easy to get overwhelmed with the expectations and upcoming assignments. Buy an assignment notebook (not kidding) or download an app for your ipad (I use iStudiez Pro) in order to stay on top of your assignments.

Mock TV Interview Media Class
You will spend a considerable amount of time writing papers. The papers will be longer if you are in a graduate level class. You will also be required to meet outside of class on group assignments. If you take a media class, you will be required to give interviews on camera in a one on one setting with a reporter and later give a press conference in front of the press corp. If this scares the crap out of you, sign up for it. My public speaking class required us to give an introductory speech on the first day of class. The speeches get more complicated (informative, persuasive, etc.) as we go along. If this scares the crap out of you, take it. It might seem overwhelming in the moment, but I promise you will be better for it.

The same holds true in the social events. Spend some time with officers from different places. Talk to the international students and learn about them. If you aren't normally social, sign up for organized outings that will force you out of your comfort zone. Please do not sit in your room. There have been a few times I have been working on a paper (trying to stay ahead) and got an invitation to the Boardroom from someone I didn't know very well. The responsible thing to do is to stay in and finish that paper but you should do just the opposite. Go build a relationship. The paper will get done.

U.S. Classmates with Marco from Italy

Like anything in life, the level of reward you get from your NA experience will be equally proportioned to the amount you put into it. By that, I mean, take classes that will challenge you if you wish to learn. Get outside your comfort zone as that is the only way you will grow.

And if you are following this blog but have no future desire to attend the FBI NA, this advice is applicable to your own corner of the world. If you have put off doing something in your life because it scares the crap out of you, that is precisely why you should do it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

FBI NA #249 Week 4

Everyone who has been through the National Academy explains that around the 5th week, the time seems to accelerate and the 10 weeks are over in a mere blink. I experienced that sensation during this week (albeit a bit premature).

Papers were due this week, speeches were delivered, mock television interviews were conducted and group projects were coordinated. All of which lent to the days being filled with a lot of work and little play.

Delivering my Informative Speech in "Public Speaking"

The best advice I got before coming to the NA was to keep on top of all of the assignments and get them done as early as possible. I would also add that weekdays should be utilized for work so you can allow as much time on the weekends for socializing and exploring. I have noticed that my classmates are starting to linger away from the base to get real food on some weeknights. The cafeteria food does not sustain the foodies in our group and I've noticed the mess hall crowds getting more sparse. Thus far, I've stayed productive on my weeknights. Thus far...

There is always an adventure planned for the weekend (usually several depending upon interests) and I'm trying to take advantage of all I can. The New York trip is coming up next weekend followed by the trip to Philly. The Myrtle Beach excursion was last weekend but I decided to go for a well needed trip home instead. Officers from the respective destination cities organize and plan the trips. The coveted New York trip often results in a lottery because so many wish to attend. Fortunately, every person who signed from our session up will get to go and the buzz around the NA is anticipation of such.

This weekend I will spend some time sightseeing in Pentagon City and DC. Our class sommolier has organized another wine tasting tour for Sunday and even though I've already gone to one, I couldn't keep from signing up again to experience more of the vineyards in Virginia.

There are many people going for the Blue Brick for swimming and the Yellow Brick for the 6+ mile obstacle course (and yes, these are literal brick awards I'm describing). While I plan on conquering the "Yellow Brick Road" in week 10, our session has introduced the "purple brick" for those of us who consume the most amount of wine on the weekends. I think I'm on my way to earning it.




Friday, April 20, 2012

FBI NA #249 | The End of Week 3

Week 3 of the National Academy has come to a close and I'm sitting in the airport awaiting to board a flight back to Chicago to see my family.  

As I sit here and quietly assess the last 3 weeks of my life, I realize that I need to freeze frame for a moment and remain fully aware of what it is I'm experiencing so I can appreciate it right now - while I'm in the middle of if - instead of after it's over.  The learning that is taking place is phenomenal and I am crossing paths with some of the finest officers in law enforcement.

I am so excited to see my family because that is the only thing that weighs heavily on my mind while I'm at the NA.  Fortunately, the NA schedule leaves little free time during the week and keeping busy keeps me from being consumed by the fact that I'm away from my children.  

There have been a few times I've felt completely helpless to the challenges at home.  Knowing that my mate is shouldering the responsibility for the kids' activities and all that goes on in real life leaves me burdened with guilt.  I certainly have the better end of this deal and I am conscious of it.  I am filled with gratitude for my family who encouraged me to attend the NA while knowing the hardship they would incur.  I'm truly blessed to have the love and support of them along with all of our friends who have stepped in to lend a hand.  There are no words for that.

I think about my police department every day but not because I'm worried about the work.  I have the utmost confidence in those I have entrusted to fill in for me in my absence and I am not so egotistical to believe that they can't function without me.  I am struggling with being out of the informational loop but that is because my PD is such a big part of my life and quite simply, I miss it.  I miss the people with whom I work and I miss the officers.  I miss everything about APD and in being here and listening to the stories of other agencies, I have come to realize that even with our challenges, our organization is truly one of the finest around.  

I'm over my head with all of my assignments that are due in the next few weeks at the Academy but I have no intention of bringing work home this weekend.  Instead I'm going to spend the next few days following my kids around and squeezing them so much that they will be grateful to see me leave again on Sunday just to get some peace.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Women of FBI NA #249


A few of the women of FBI NA #249


Everyone has a story.

There are 29 women who are attending session #249 of the National Academy. We comprise different facets of Law Enforcement from the United States, Greece, Australia and Taiwan but we have a common thread as female police officers. We've spent the last 3 weeks exchanging polite salutations and our professional status. One of the women took the initiative and arranged a dinner exclusively for the female officers.

At first I was indifferent about the dinner. It was just another event to fill in a time block on my calendar. And then someone suggested that each of us stand up and introduce ourselves and offer something unique about who we are -- something we wouldn't learn from a resume.

I had introduced myself so many times in front of my classmates since being at the NA and I'm normally not shy or nervous about such things. But in front of these women, I was. What they think of me sincerely matters and I felt so humbled to be in the presence of so many woman who have broken through barriers in their organizations.

Their faces are a reflection of how far our profession has come and I loved watching these women come to life, one by one, when they spoke about their passions and their challenges. These women were just colleagues before our dinner together and now I can see the beginnings of friendships being forged. It's funny how first impressions are so often wrong and by taking the time to look past our initial judgements (good or bad), we begin to see the real person.

Nora is the longest serving female executive and many sentiments of gratitude were shared about her being a pioneer. I have been very fortunate in my career and have have minimal barriers thanks to those like Nora who paved a path for the rest of us. We truly see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants.

I look forward to learning more of their stories.

Onward and upward.

Attitude is the Real Figure of Speech - My Column in the Sun-Times Beacon News

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

FBI NA #249 Deception and Muscle Fibers

I am not a good liar. This fact was unequivocally determined through a practical exercise in my "Interviewing Strategies Through Statement Analysis" class. Instructor Special Agent Kevin Daley asked all of us if we thought we could be deceptive about an incident and fool the class. Seven of us volunteered to give it a shot and were escorted out of the room to await instructions.

We had to randomly pick cards to determine if we would be truthful or deceptive. I drew a red card which meant I had to fabricate an incident. I was called in first and sat in a single chair in front of the room and was asked this question (of which I had no prior knowledge):

"Tell us about your last vacation."

Now, this might seem like a simple question if you are being truthful. You might have to think for a few moments if your last vacation wasn't very recent but it certainly would not be challenging to draw up that memory. I tried to remain calm while I told the class that my family and I went camping for our last vacation. Those who know me will find that extremely comical as I'm more of a 5 star hotel vacationer. I recognize the irony in this and quite frankly, I have no idea why I blurted out "camping". I was asked questions about my "vacation" and I did my best to explain the details. I tried to visualize what a camping experience might be like and I thought I did pretty good fabricating the event. I shouldn't have pat myself on the back too soon because when it came time to analyze my performance, 6 people thought I was telling the truth and the remaining 17 decided I was being deceitful.

There are non-verbal movements that are universal while being deceptive. Most people cannot read these clues unless trained to do so, but they are nearly foolproof. A person's language changes when they are lying as well. We watched videos of interviews with convicted killers and the same clues of deception were glaring in all of the video clips.

I had advanced interview and interrogation training while I worked as an Investigator but it never delved into statement analysis as deeply as it has here at the National Academy.

I plan on using this on my kids. And everyone else. And I'm still never going camping.

A snapshot of my genius instructor in action.


Physical Training is mandatory for all of us. We spend one hour in the classroom and the other hour working out with the PT instructor (kinda like a drill sergeant but nicer).

He informed us today that humans have different muscle fiber types. Type 1 are red muscle fibers and they are slow twitch. This means that people with this type are fatigue resistant because they have a high oxygen capacity. In short, they have more endurance.

Type 2 are white muscle fibers and are considered fast twitch. This type fatigues more easily but they can go for short bursts.

I have no evidence to support that I'm a Type 2 but that's what I'm going with to explain why I'm such a slow runner.


Onward and upward.

Monday, April 16, 2012

FBI NA #249 04.16.12

Monday, April 16th

I'm admittedly feeling a bit sluggish on this Monday as a result a vineyard tour around the great state of Virginia on Sunday. One of my classmates is a wine connoisseur (although I have renamed him the Sommelier) and he arranged a field-trip for the other wino's..ahem..wine enthusiast's in our session.

We had two van's full of enthusiast's and set out into the Virginia countryside accompanied by our FBI counselors who served as both our chaperones and our drivers. After the 5th winery, they moved into the category "saint" given what they had to endure with our tipsy group.

Here's a shout out to SECTION 5!


I'll leave out the incriminating details except to say that I have done my part in contributing to the economy of the state of Virginia as I purchased bottles of wine at each vineyard. You are welcome, Virginians! Clink!

Here's a snapshot of our entire group.


The Illinois Association of Chief's of Police (IACP) were guest speakers in my graduate level class today, "Promoting the Law Enforcement" image. The topic was social media as it pertains to Law Enforcement. The IACP focused on Facebook and Twitter (to name the big ones) and police departments who have jumped on these venues to share information with the citizens of their community. I learned that most of agencies have adopted some form of social media but many are operating without a sound policy. APD is fortunate enough to have a successful Facebook following and a good first draft of policy.

What was troubling to me was the vast examples they gave us of police officers who have gotten themselves into trouble on their personal Facebook pages. I never cease to be surprised by the ignorance of some humans. If you are a cop, don't post information on your page about those you arrest or make any disparaging comments about your community or your department.

In Labor Law, I learned that the right to a person's 1st Amendment right to free speech does not afford a police officer to speak out as a "normal" citizen could. Well, let me reframe that. If you are a cop, you are entitled to free speech but you are not entitled to to keep your job if you say something stupid.

I finished a 5 page paper for my Media class over lunch so I feel less stressed about all I have to complete. Tonight I plan to finish my informative speech for my "Public Speaking" class that I will have to present on Friday.

The academics here are more difficult than I anticipated. I tried to pick classes where I needed the most education (which explains Labor Law) and I'm glad I did because there is a lot of learning taking place -- which is why I need to balance it with wine.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

FBI NA #249 | Week 2

As previously mentioned, we had our first Challenge Run on Wednesday. These runs are every week and are in preparation for the Yellow Brick Road challenge in week 10. Each week will be a new challenge and the mileage increases.

As you can imagine, there are all types of fitness levels here but we begin together as a group and those who finish first bring the others in until the last one crosses the finish line. It's very metaphoric as it pertains to our profession. The camaraderie I've felt throughout my career is the reason I love law enforcement. I've always felt as though my brothers and sisters in blue were by my side -- that we would never leave anyone behind. I was reminded of this during our challenge.


Last night was Flag Night where we all assembled under our respective state flag or country flag (for the International Students). It is a way for the officers from each state to network with one another. Since we Illinoisans are over-achievers, we had all arranged to meet socially before departing for Quantico.

Many patches, pins and other paraphernalia were exchanged throughout the evening. It was a nice reminder that despite being geographically separated, it really is a small world. The below pic is me (left) with Paul from France (center) and Lisa from Kentucky (right).


After Flag Night, we were off to the Boardroom for Karaoke and I have to say that I was not expecting talent. Where I come from, Karaoke night brings out those unsuitable for singing anywhere but their shower (present company included). I was stunned that a lot of my comrades had actual talent. Why that shocks me I do not know!

Onward and upward.