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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"