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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ferguson: Our Criminal Justice System Failed, Worked, Failed...

Only once in my career has someone attempted to take my gun.  It was in the middle of a street where I was struggling to place a man in handcuffs who was under the influence of cocaine and had just smashed the picture window in the home he shared with his wife and kids.  He was larger than me and during the grapple, I felt my weapon being tugged and realized he was attempting to disarm me.  

Fortunately, I was not alone and my partner and I were able to subdue the offender and place him in handcuffs.  The bad guy wasn’t able to retrieve my pistol but I shudder at the consequences if he had. 

I tell you that story so you understand that an unarmed person can pose just as much of a threat and I’m getting a bit tired of the headlines that are painting the picture of police officers going around killing people who don’t have guns.  In fact, I’ll give you 3 minutes with someone who is beating you with their fists and you tell me if you feel as though your life is threatened.

Last year, 10 police officers were shot and killed in the United States after a suspect managed to get control of an officer’s weapon. Nearly one in five officers killed as part of a crime last year were shot with their own (or a partner’s) weapon, according to the National Center for Law Enforcement Technology - the highest number of such deaths in 18 years.

Because I write this column, I’ve been bombarded with inquiries about the events in Ferguson from people wanting to know what I think.  

The truth is, it keeps me up at night because I have an internal tug of war between what I have experienced on the street and what I know about the men and women who wear a uniform and risk their lives every day in the simple act of going to work.  These police officers have dedicated their existence to putting their lives on the line for people they’ve never even met.  It takes a special kind of person to be spit on, screamed at and even harmed by those people in the community who have made it their mission to prey upon others for their own gratification and without empathy for their victims. 

And yet these officers get up, gear up and do it all over again day in and day out. 

The conflict I feel arises because I know there are police officers who get it wrong.  When a police officer acts with a willful and wanton disregard for the law and life, I will not stand with them as there is no such thing as blind loyalty.  We have fired police officers for excessive force where it wasn’t justified and I don’t lose a shred of sleep over an officer who violates policy and/or law.

Then there are those officers who act with the best of intentions and still err in judgment.  Human beings are fallible and even though they are entrusted with powers to enforce laws, some don’t get it right. 

The difference is that the mistakes made in law enforcement are not the same as in other professions.  I’m not on the street anymore so when I make an error, it’s typically involving policy or decision-making.  I can usually right my wrong after careful contemplation and with little consequence.  When a front line officer makes an extreme mistake and takes a life when it wasn’t justified, this isn’t just an error.  It is a grave aberration that accounts for a human life being erased from existence.  I can think of no greater burden than a well-intending person to have to carry with them nor can I begin to contemplate the unspeakable grief of the family who has suffered the loss.   This is why our training is so intensive and why we are held to a higher standard and why any use of force incident is dissected and scrutinized.  It should be. 

What happened in Ferguson on that fateful day that divided our nation and the public from the police is bigger than police policy.  We know that a police officer confronted a strong-armed robber and the physical evidence is pretty clear about what happened inside the officer’s squad car.  By virtue of the law, the officer acted justly.  The witness accounts are on the spectrum of polarization about the events that unfolded that lead to the fatal shots.  Unlike the proclaimed “experts” that will not hesitate to tell you their opinion, I’m smart enough to say that I’m not sure if something different could have been done.  I wasn’t there to experience it.

A grand jury didn’t indict the officer and some think our justice system worked while others say it failed.  This alone tells you that the answer is not easy.

The only thing I know with vehement confidence is that the police are not the bad guys.  There are bad cops out there who do our profession a disservice (just like any profession) and we must constantly hold them accountable. 

Police officers are the good guys and I boldly proclaim that the aftermath of looting and violence in Ferguson would be far more commonplace but for the police officers who act as guardians of our communities every day.

It is easy to choose between right and wrong when there is a glaring line between the two extremes.  But life doesn’t often provide us with such simplistic scenarios and instead, we are faced with multiple facets of truth sprinkled with perceptions and judgments. 





Friday, November 21, 2014

Do Law-Breakers Deserve a Second Chance?

Everything that happens to us has the propensity to teach us something if we are willing to heed the lesson.  If we view failures as opportunities to grow, resilience is born from those experiences and we become stronger.  Hopefully we are wise enough to not repeat the same mistakes again.  

Alas, many of us do repeat mistakes and we find ourselves reliving the same reality as we move through our lives.  These patterns of behavior can be difficult to break because we are creatures of habit and we tend to live out what we know.  It is the same reason we continue to battle our own demons over and over.  If we are lucky, our loved ones continue to forgive us and we forgive ourselves.

That same pattern of behavior also correlates to recidivism rates for offenders.  We want to believe that our criminal justice system is one where a person can serve their time and then assimilate back into society after having paid their debt.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way at all.  May repeat offenders continue their pattern of crime because we don’t allow them seamless entry back into the free world.  But surely I cannot compare those who break the law with the rest of us law abiding citizens.  

We have a tendency to judge others so harshly by their transgressions because they sin differently than us.  In other words, we attach value to wrongdoing by ranking it.  Violent crimes rank high on the list but as we move down in descending order, I’m certain we’ll find our own bad behavior.  We rationalize the bad things we do but have no problem condemning others.  

We draw a line in the sand between breaking the law and crimes of morality but the reality is, they are all just different degrees of bad behavior.

I recently was part of a panel discussion in Chicago sponsored by the Illinois Justice Project where smart and caring people came together to collaborate on “reentry”.  That is, prisoners who are released from jail and transitioning back into society.

It turns out, we don’t make it very easy for them.  Now, I can hear the voices of the contrarians declare that it shouldn’t be easy.  After all, they are criminals.  The universal paradox is that we are free to choose but we are not free from the consequences of our choice.

But what about those who have paid their penance and wish to live honorably thereafter.  The truth is, they have trouble finding people who will give them a chance.  If I were a business owner and someone with a felony burglary record applied to work for me, I can tell you I would have trepidation about hiring them.  After all, past behavior is typically indicative of future behavior so why on earth would I put my livelihood at risk when I could hire someone with no criminal background?   Therein lies the problem.

Those who break the law, serve their time, and wish to assimilate often resort to committing crimes once again because no one will give them a chance to succeed.  When you factor in societal circumstances that were more than likely to contribute to the delinquent behavior, there is seemingly no way out for a person who genuinely wishes to reform themselves.

If you were lucky enough to be born into an existence where food, shelter, affection and boundaries were prevalent, chances are you turned out okay.  Those who weren’t so fortunate have to unlearn what they have been taught.  There must be a pattern interruption for them so they can see that there is another alternative.

People are going to continue to fall from grace.  But after atonement, it is in the best interest of all of us that we commit to finding ways to reform offenders so they can be productive members of our society.  

Who among us hasn’t benefitted from a second chance?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Redefining Success

In order for you to be successful, you do not have to be the smartest person in the room.  This is relieving news for someone like me who is of average intelligence.  Many studies have been done on Fortune 500 CEO’s who have achieved success in their respective careers and it was learned that there were a few traits that many of them had in common.  Humility and empathy were among the virtues that they possessed. 
After learning about the study, I started to pay attention to the people around me in formal leadership roles.  I watched how they worked and how they related to others and it started to become abundantly clear that the ones who were effective were the ones who had a high level of emotional intelligence.  But then I started to notice all the people in informal roles that were doing great work and I started to question what it means to be successful.
Merriam-Webster defines success as "getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame,” but I think it’s so much more than that.
Rising to the top executive level of an organization certainly would translate into achievement; however, some people don’t aspire to move up to a formal position in the hierarchy of their organizations.  Furthermore, we have all had experiences with those who have attained positions of authority who we would not consider successful leaders. 
Success for me is loosely defined because the benchmark is always different. For example, I would consider a police officer successful who uses their skills and influence to achieve the best possible outcome for a citizen.  The men and women who put a uniform on every day and enforce the law with compassion and even-handedness; the ones who do their very best in every encounter – they are successful even if they aren’t in a position of rank.
I received an e-mail from a citizen not too long ago who told me that she had an interaction with a police officer that made her lose faith in our police department.  The incident occurred near her home where officers responded to a person with a weapon.  The citizen said she remained in her home watching the action from an upstairs window when she noticed a man walk to a truck and get into it after most of the officers had left the scene.  She felt as though she needed to pass that information onto the officers who remained so she came outside to speak with them.  Apparently the officer responded by saying, “Do you want my badge?” implying that she was attempting to do his job. 
This citizen was so offended by his comment and she said he made her feel worthless.  When I spoke with the officer, I learned that humor was his intent but he realized by her reaction, that it was a failed attempt.  On his own volition, he advised me that he wished to go back and speak with her.
I received a follow-up e-mail from the citizen whose faith had been restored in this officer and the collective police department. 
The officer involved is one I know to be empathic and compassionate but at the moment, he made a mistake in judgment.  In being confronted, he chose to right the wrong.  When a person can stand tall and admit their mistakes and attempt to correct them, I consider them successful.
It’s showing up every day and giving your very best and not losing your enthusiasm even in the midst of failures.
My favorite poet, Brian Andreas, says this:  “Anyone can slay a dragon.. but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That's what takes a real hero.”
So success is not just in the big milestones.  It’s actually better defined in the small moments of our lives when we bring the best of ourselves.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Learn to Use Criticism as Fuel

*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon news on Monday, October 27th


I recently had the opportunity to attend a law enforcement conference and listen to Sandra Hutchens of Orange County, California, share with the nearly 700 attendees, her experience after being appointed Sheriff in 2008 by the Orange County Board of Supervisors by a 3-2 vote.  The appointment came after her predecessor was indicted on federal corruption charges in the middle of his term.  

Sheriff Hutchens has since run for election and is currently serving her first full term after the initial appointment. She jokingly stated that the bar wasn’t set very high by her predecessor. She quipped that by not getting indicted, she’s already a head above him.

But what I found extremely interesting was her account of the headlines that ran when she was originally appointed.  Sheriff Hutchens read though a stack of scathing one-liners such as, “They Picked the Wrong Sheriff” then stated with a chuckle, “Not a very warm welcome, huh?”

I began thinking about the immediacy in judgment and how quick the public (and the media) vilified her before she’d even had a chance to prove herself.  Given that the previous Sheriff was convicted for witness tampering after being investigated for accepting secret cash payments, engaging in illicit sexual affairs and taking political favors, it is interesting that Hutchens would be met with such opposition.

We have a tendency to see elected officials and people in positions of power as open-season for target practice and those who assume the positions have to be willing to take the hits.  

Don’t misunderstand and assume that no one should be questioned.  In fact, legitimacy is based on fact-finding and accountability to those we entrust to positions of power.  I’m referring instead to the constant barrage of criticism accompanied by the loose interpretation of the truth. 

What I find particularly amusing is how so many people stand on the sidelines doing absolutely nothing meaningful but still manage to criticize those who are trying to do good work.

It reminded me of the famous Teddy Roosevelt quotation:

“It's not the critic who counts. It's not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled. Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…”

This is a great lesson for those who get frustrated with the “anonymous” bloggers and posters on the internet and those who bark judgments while doing nothing of value themselves.  You’ll never see those critics offer solutions or roll their sleeves up to help.  Instead they remain on the sidelines lacking the courage to put themselves out there.

If Sheriff Hutchens had believed the critics, she might not ever have showed up to work.  And if she took the time to correct the misinformation, she’d never get any work done.  The same goes for the majority of the do-gooders who are trying their very best to fight the good fight with honor and integrity.  

Just the other day I was accused of teaching in Arizona on the Aurora taxpayers’ dime.  Had I not corrected the person in the highly populated venue, some might have believed the accusation to be true when in fact, I used my personal vacation time.  But what about all the untruths that are never corrected?  

It is extremely important to understand that someone simply stating something does not make it true.  

Those who are doing the work press on in spite of the criticism because they have learned that there will always be people sitting on the sidelines watching and judging those in the arena.

If there is one thing I have learned in this life, it’s this:  If you learn to use criticism as fuel, you will never run out of energy.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Role of Respect in Policing

I taught a class for our police department entitled, “Customer Service for Police Officers” and in it, I stood on my soapbox and said that I believe everyone should be treated with human dignity and respect.  I have written many columns citing the same and I will tell anyone who will listen that the day everything changed for me in policing was when I stopped looking “down” at people and I started looking “at” them.

This seems to be a difficult concept for many to grasp because we have a tendency to withhold respect from those who have broken the law.   Many police officers struggle with the notion that they should “respect” a criminal – especially one that has committed a violent or heinous crime.

The struggle to understand this concept is not lost on me but what I’m trying to convey is that we (the police) have a very specific job to do.  That job is to uphold the constitution of the United States and to use the tools afforded us to enforce the laws of our land.  Nowhere in the constitution does it tell us to cast judgment upon or to mistreat those who fall short.

But humans are complex and driven by emotions.  And cops are human.  With that, it’s difficult not to withhold our emotions when we are confronted with a child molester or someone who has committed an equally devastating crime against humanity.

Thus, we tend to disrespect the wrong-doer and that can manifest itself through excessive force or verbal abuse – neither of which is particularly helpful in the process of an arrest. 

The majority of police officers do not violate the law or policy and will carry out their duties in a respectful manner but they simply draw the line at “respecting” the person being arrested.  I think this is precisely what we should expect from those we entrust to uphold the law.

Besides, respect is esteemed.  When you stop and ponder those people you respect, you will likely note that they possess positive virtues.  But that’s not exactly the way “respect” is defined.  Respect is an active process of non-judgmentally engaging people from all backgrounds.  It is practiced to increase our awareness and effectiveness and is demonstrated in a manner that esteems us both individually and those with whom we interact.

Simply put, respect isn’t reserved only for those who have a moral compass.  If I interviewed gang members, I would probably find that they respect someone in the hierarchy.  I imagine I would also find someone who respects Hitler or another infamous person.

We all align to different principles and those we hold in high regard differ for each individual.  Police officers value the law and protecting the public.  When a police officer can carry out those duties and still be conscious of the fact that even those who commit crimes against society should be treated with dignity, the better cops they become.

In some abstract way, I came to understand during my years in patrol that the more I treated people with human dignity and respect, there was less propensity of my being hurt.  Respect is not trust so I never let my guard down, but I have found that when a person feels respected, it has a disarming effect. 

I may not respect the action that brought me in contact with the individual but I can certainly treat them respectful in the process of holding them accountable.

So, if it’s too much to ask to grasp the notion of “respecting” those who break the law, I can reframe it simply by changing the verbiage.  Treat those who have committed transgressions in a dignified manner while still holding them accountable for their actions. 

I’ve always felt that if we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are.  But if we treat people as if they were what they should be, they just might become what they should be.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tree Huggers and Warriors

This morning I posted an article on my Facebook page written by Mary Anne Case, a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, where she cited lessons from the 1991 Christopher Commission after the investigation into the police practices that led to the Rodney King beating by LAPD officers.

In her article, she claims that the police mistakes in Ferguson are the forgotten lessons learned 23 years earlier as cited in the Christopher Commission report.

I have no intention of dissecting the Ferguson incident, as I tend to be a collector of facts before spouting off an opinion.  After an emotional event, information of biased or misleading nature tends to be used to promote a particular point of view.  Having been a police officer for over 20 years, I’m smart enough to know that facts continually unfold and evidence is uncovered during a criminal investigation that can alter its course.

But I will speak to the premise in the Christopher Commission report that argues “macho tactics of the police and police-academy training overemphasize the paramilitary and physical and underemphasize interpersonal skills, sensitivity, politeness and the ability to communicate.”

Immediately upon posting this article on my Facebook newsfeed, a comment from one of my favorite dissenters surfaced (who also happens to be a police officer):

“We are paramilitary regardless of what all the tree-huggers think. If we start to turn soft while the world gets more violent we will have more dead cops.”

Therein lies the problem at its core.  Interpersonal skills like empathy, compassion and communication are labeled “soft” and those who emphasize the need for these skills in police officers are labeled “tree-huggers”.  I personally have never hugged a tree but I vehemently believe that the best police officers are those who know have both a servant heart and a warrior spirit.

We [police] are afforded the tools necessary to fight wrongdoing.  The United States Constitution affords us the right to search someone’s home or person.  This 4th Amendment Right is precious and when used in compliance with the laws of our land, we can seize evidence for criminal cases.  We can also take away a person’s freedom through lawful incarceration.  And the most mammoth of them all is the right to take a human life in order to protect human life. 

These are monumental and as such, they should be given careful responsibility.

But what we [police] sometimes fail to utilize is the most powerful tool of all:  our human influence.  These so-called “soft” skills are the reason that successful police officers don’t have to move to force so quickly and don’t agitate offenders to the point of becoming violent.

Police are the first line of defense for our communities and with that, we need to be ready for warfare at all times.  I don’t discount the necessity that our police forces comprise the militaristic maneuvers necessary to fight violent offenders.

What I’m suggesting quite vehemently is that those skills can be taught.  Give me a police officer that is a skilled communicator and is hard-wired for empathy and compassion, and we will train them to become a warrior. 

The argument is there are some who simply do not possess the skill of warriorship and to that my response is that police departments should recognize this while those recruits are in the academy and in the Field Training Program.  Not everyone is cut out to run towards gunfire.

In my humble opine, police departments should spend as much time training officers in interpersonal skills as they do in military tactics.  We should be recruiting officers who have elite communication and problem-solving skills.

There is nothing “soft” about a police officer with a servant heart who treats everyone – even those who break the law – with dignity and respect.  They can still hold the line and be a force against evil when they must.

Now I’m going go find a tree to hug.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Be Vigilant and Unafraid

As it approached midnight on December 31, 2012, I was eager to count down to the midnight hour so I could ring in the New Year. Like most people, I was ready to celebrate -- but for a slightly different reason.

I was watching the clock, listening to my police radio and holding my breath all at the same time.  On the final count down before the clock struck midnight, I raised my glass because we made it through 2012 with zero homicides in Aurora.

It was as though the planets had aligned and all the hard work done by the men and women of the Aurora Police Department, our citizens, partnering law enforcement agencies, and the State’s Attorneys had paid off.  We all worked tirelessly with the same end in mind.

Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to replicate that success. We have experienced seven murders in Aurora thus far in 2014 and the people we serve want to know why.

Interestingly enough, we have had roughly the same number of shootings as last year at the same time.  The difference is that death has resulted in seven of them.  While we can look at the numerical difference and not see much flux, the fact that lives are being lost is the cause for concern.

As criminologists will explain, crime fluctuates as a result of many causal effects.

There are social causes that stem from class, race, gender, family and neighborhood environment.  The health of the economy and the job market plays a role as well.  In short, just as there were many variables that contributed to zero murders in 2012, there are just as many that contribute to the ebb and flow of criminal activity.

I understood that we would enjoy a “moment in time” with no murders but I knew from historical data that it wasn’t a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” we would see an increase.

Like most large cities, we have gangs.  The majority of the shootings have been a result of violence stemming from rival gangs (and sometimes in-fighting within the same gang).

I can promise you that, as a police department, we are working diligently to solve these homicides and put the shooters behind bars.  These violent offenders are wreaking havoc on our community and it is our mission to “cut the heads of the serpent” (the gang leaders) so the gang organization will crumble.  Contrary to what most believe about gangs, they are very structured and there is a dominant hierarchy.

Our patrol officers are the first to respond to the scene of a shooting and it is their initial actions and observations that can lead to the apprehension of the shooter(s). Locating evidence and witnesses is crucial to the outcome of the case.

Our gang unit works tirelessly to collect data on current gang members and our investigators are subject matter experts on the different factions of gang membership.  They work on preventative measures as well as intelligence-lead tactics to combat violence.

Every division in our police department has a part to play in the apprehension, charging and closure of a case and we all have a clear line of sight to the end in mind: to eradicate these crimes in our community.  We will never stop working towards that end.

With that, we are not lone warriors.

As a member of this community, you are just as vital as the front line officers because it is from your eyes and ears that intelligence is gathered and crimes are solved.  You are an extension of our front line and the more vigilant you are in observing and reporting what goes on in your own neighborhood, the more criminals will not be able to thrive.

These are your streets and your neighborhoods.  This is our city.  Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Mean People Suck

When I was a kid, I had sticker affixed to my notebook that said, "Mean people suck".

My mom made me remove it because she thought the word "suck" was distasteful.  I now see her point.  There are many more ways to articulate displeasure for something without using an undesirable word; so to satisfy mom's disdain, I shall rephrase. 

Kindness matters.

When I was in my twenties, I had a list of character traits that I looked for in the people with whom I wanted to surround myself.  They encompassed virtues like ambitious, funny, and wicked smart.  Kindness didn't make the cut on my original list but twentyish years later, it sits as my highest virtue of all. 

Now that I've had a chance to witness humanity through my experiences as a parent, police officer and especially in my role as a follower to many different leaders, I recognize how imperative it is to be kind those people with whom I come in contact.  These days, I couldn't care less how smart you are if you aren't kind to the people around you.

This lesson unfolded over my years as a police officer when I started to understand that the kinder I was to people - even when I was arresting them or writing them a ticket - the more cooperative they were with me.  The more I treated people with dignity and respect (even those whose actions might arguably not deserve respect), the more respectful they were in return. 

I have worked for 23 years in a police department with a militaristic hierarchy of chain of command which means that I have worked under many different sergeants, lieutenants, commanders, and chiefs.  Unfortunately, from many I have learned how not to act.  I actually conducted my own personal experiment to see if I could get certain bosses who were known for their rugged dispositions to respond to my feeble attempt at interaction.  It became a game and fortunate to my own emotional livelihood, I grew from being disgusted to mildly amused by the results.

I remember how it felt when I walked into my lieutenant's office as a sergeant to ask a question only to have a conversation with the back of his head because he didn't turn around in his chair to look at me.

Humans are simple creatures.  We want to be recognized by other humans four our worth and our contribution.  Those who disagree might say that it's weak and vulnerable to want validation. My retort would be that you aren't quite courageous enough to grapple with vulnerability.  Vulnerability is only for the strong.

I spoke with some police officers on the scene of the horrific crash where they witnessed the death of a tollway worker and a fellow police officer who was critically injured.  They were upset because they felt that management had not been sensitive to what they encountered and instead, focused on policy violations.

These weren't weak and sensitive police officers. They were both strong in body and mind.  And they just wanted us to check in with them and ask how they were doing.  There's always a need to evaluate incidents and asses the things that may have gone wrong so we can prevent them from occurring in the future. However, we must first ensure that those who are risking their lives to save others are being taken care of as well.

It's pretty simple when you break it down.  People are comprised of many layers.  When you get down to the very core, we all just want to matter.

It doesn't take much energy to treat others with kindness at every opportunity. The reward for doing so might seem insignificant in the moment but the consequences of not being kind are far greater.

Mean people suck.  Sorry mom.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Motivation Comes from Within

I spend a great deal of time thinking about ways to motivate people because my position requires that I get work done through others.  Fortunately, this is not difficult as it sounds because the majority of police officers come to work and do their jobs because they are service-oriented and consummate professionals.

At home, I am constantly trying to motivate my children to do better and to be better.  This is a large undertaking when it comes to matters of household chores.  I used to believe that it should be a quid pro quo system — that one should get something as a result of output.  I’ve since changed my position and now I believe I shouldn't have to pay my kids an allowance for them to carry out basic expectations.  

My original thinking was based on the premise of an occupation.  If you have a job, one assumes you are compensated for that job.  Food and shelter are basic human needs and in order to pay for those goods and services, we need an income.  My children are provided food and shelter so paying them to contribute to the household seems like the wrong message to send.  I don’t get paid to keep my house orderly.  I do it because I take pride in my home and I want it to be a peaceful sanctuary.  If we go through life doing things only to gain something in return, we are constantly chasing validation and we often come up empty.

When I decided to become a police officer, I didn’t consider the salary. Like most who gravitate towards service, I chose it because I wanted to do something meaningful with my life.  I knew I would make enough money to meet my basic needs but there are certainly other occupations better suited for chasing a paycheck.

Those who are motivated by making more money and obtaining more things often find themselves unfulfilled in life.  We tend to believe that the more money we make the happier we will be and as a result, we are always chasing an abstract idea of success.  The problem with that is that we are never fulfilled.  It turns out the happiest and most motivated people are those who derive meaning from their lives.  

So from where does this motivation come?

Contrary to what we have always believed about a reward system, motivation doesn’t come from external places.  In his book, “Drive”, Daniel Pink makes a compelling case against traditional forms of motivating others.  He suggests that if you pay people enough that they aren’t thinking about money and they are thinking about work, they will concentrate on the work.  This is why salary and benefits are important for security.  But once those basic needs are met, Pink suggests that people are in search of three things:  autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy is the desire to be self-directed.  We want to be able to do our jobs without someone micromanaging us.  

Mastery is the itch to keep getting better at the things that matter to us. 

Purpose is the sense that what we do produces something transcendent or serves something meaningful that is bigger than ourselves.

I want our police officers to be self-directed when they do their jobs.  Naturally there are expectations of them to enforce the law and keep the peace in our community but they should be able to carry out these duties with autonomy and we should be able to have faith in them that they will fulfill the mission.

As they find their niche in the department, they should never stop striving for mastery.  That means that they commit themselves to constant self-improvement by feeding the desire to learn more and get better.  A patrol officer has many tasks while on the street while those in specialize units have a more focused job.  No matter what the position, every officer must challenge themselves to learn something new every day and move outside their comfort zone so they grow.

But I believe that a person will not feed the desire for mastery if they lack purpose.  Without purpose, we are simply carrying out sisyphean tasks.  Without believing that the work you do matters and that you are contributing to the greater good, you will lack the motivation to work at all; lest get better at your work.

When you are aligned with a greater purpose, work simply doesn’t feel like work.  Appealing to my children by telling them that they are a part of something bigger - a family - and their contribution to the things that need to be done in our home are indicative of what it means to be a family, works better than barking orders.  Instead of thinking about the things you have to do, start thinking about them in terms of the things you get to do.  Changing that one word can change your outlook.

Yes, people work for a paycheck because they have to support a family and make ends meet.  Receiving this compensation means that they will have to carry out tasks that are outlined in the job description.  But I have learned that you can buy a person’s back but you cannot buy their heart.  People will meet the expectations you set because of fear of punishment but they will meet them minimally.  However, if you instill purpose within them (heart), they will exceed expectations.  Always.

How we find purpose depends largely on where we look.  Sometimes, other people inspire us to be better and do better.  It is a gift when someone ignites a flame of inspiration and motivation within us.  But more often and more realistically, it is up to us individually to find our own purpose intrinsically.  When you align yourself to something bigger and when you begin to believe that what you do matters to the world, the satisfaction of doing well is its own reward and production is a natural consequence.  

If you want to be motivated, look for meaning in everything you do.  If you want to motivate others, inspire them to find their own meaning.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Getting "Buy In" Might be Overrated

Experts tell us that the way to effect change in an organization is to get "buy in" from people at all levels.  This concept is logical because it is based on the assumption that those who buy into the changes will accept them and thus, become a part of implementing the changes.

Personally, I think "buy in" is a bit overrated but not for the reasons one might think.

I will not discount the importance of every person in the organization being in alignment with the same vision and mission because that is ultimately what makes the ship change course. But that doesn't happen without an original idea--- and that typically is born in the mind of a lone person.

I believe that true innovators and change-makers don't think much about getting "buy in" when they are on the brink of something greater.  Steve Jobs' leadership style was very controversial but one thing that he believed resonates with me:

"A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them." 

At first glance that might seem egotistical but the reality is that not everyone has the foresight to see possibility and opportunity.

Think about those who can walk into a house in need of rehab and see possibility -- those who can push past what is right in front of them and visualize what it will look like when a wall is knocked down or the structure is altered.  They have the ability to visualize the finished space when standing amongst chaos or hopelessness.

This is the same foresight a leader must have in order to take an organization to the next level.  They see what others don't and they don't necessarily feel the need to walk around and make sure everyone agrees with their vision before moving forward.

I've noticed that true innovators have the courage to stand in solitude for a while as they project their vision onto others.  If they are good, they paint the portrait so that others can see.  Even if the picture is blurry to others, true leaders don't necessarily wait to move forward until it comes into focus.

Instead, they begin planning, building and touting the mission as they continue to forge ahead in privacy.  It's part of the reason people describe the "top as being "lonely".  If the leader is able to persuade another person with their passion, something miraculous happens.  That person sees the value and joins the leader.

It seems to me that that first follower is just as critical as the leader because without them, a movement cannot occur. That first follower, like the leader, shares passion for the mission and soon, others begin to see it and follow as well.  This "tipping point" is the very thing that moves the entire path in an organization.  This is where the change happens.

There's nothing easy about starting a movement.  It's hard because people don't always see things in the abstract.  It's hard because failure is a real possibility.  Leaders who are innovators must have the courage to be ridiculed and criticized for their efforts but not allow the criticism to discourage them from movement.

Quite honestly, that's why leaders are rare.  Most people cannot handle the ridicule from those who stand on the sidelines.  It's not easy to be scrutinized by others who wouldn't mind seeing the leader fail.

Keep in mind that this sabotage might not be personal but instead their own resistance to change.  People have a natural tendency to remain unchallenged in their comfort zones and innovators threaten that comfort so the masses push back.

That's why "buy in" might not be as important as we once thought.  Instead I propose that it's more important to have a leader that has the courage to persuade others with passion and relentless pursuit of something greater. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Doing Your Best Brings Out the Best in You

What do you call a doctor who graduated from medical school with a “C” average? 

The answer is “Doctor”.

This joke was told during a gathering at my house for which my kids were present.  I got defensive during the conversation because I place a great deal of emphasis on my children maintaining their grades.

Because I know their intellectual capabilities, I believe that earning a “C” in class means they aren’t trying as hard as they should.  Should their grades drop, I’ve found that once they get past the excuses of “it’s too hard” or “it’s my teacher’s fault”, they usually concede that they could be putting forth more effort. 

I’m not suggesting this is always the case.

Given my deficiencies in mathematics, if I attempted an accounting degree, I probably wouldn’t make the grade no matter how much effort I put into it.  To illustrate the point, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you will forever think the fish is stupid or is not trying hard enough.

We all have limitations in some aspects. What I’m referring to is our natural tendency to take the path of least resistance – to simply get by.

The truth is, a “C” average will get you a degree.  I cannot dispute this notion because it’s factual.

What I can dispute is that effort plays a large part in our accomplishments and intellect alone does not make a person successful.  In fact, I know many people who bear intellectual superiority and cannot seem to accomplish much because they don’t follow thought with action.  Knowledge without application is meaningless.

I’ve always been of the opinion that those who care enough to do their best work are those who will experience great success in their lives.  I am referring to those who take pride in their work and understand that what they produce is an extension of who they are.  Whether it be a project for school or a presentation for work, I can tell a lot about you just by looking at your output.

There is a simple question that I ask myself in nearly every aspect of my life:  Is this your best?

Many times, I fall prey to mediocrity just to get something crossed off my task list.  But I find that when I challenge myself to bring my best, I meet the challenge. 

If we were to hold up the proverbial mirror and ask ourselves if we are doing our very best, and if we are honest, most of us would admit that we spend too much time just “getting by”; and the consequence of that is little reward for our effort.  And I’m not talking about an external reward (although that often results).  Sometimes just the satisfaction of knowing you put everything you had into something you did is enough to bask in accomplishment. 

Your best might be different from one day to another.  There are some days when you might struggle just to be present and put your face out into the world.  Sometimes just showing up is the best you can do.  And that’s okay.

But most of the time, you can be better and you know that you can.  As a police officer on the street, I knew when I was giving the best of myself.  On my best days, I knew I went above and beyond in investigating a case where I could have easily cut corners.  I knew when I went out of my way to assist a citizen instead of remaining comfortable with minimal effort. 

Any time I’ve just gone through the motions, it brought me no satisfaction.  When I work hard and give it my all, I feel accomplished and successful and those on the receiving end shared in the benefit.

When you do your best, you feel your best.  So do more of that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Our Titles in Life and how they Intertwine

*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News in May 2014

There are two titles in this life of which I am most proud:  mother and police officer.

These two roles may appear to be mutually exclusive. But for me, they began to intertwine from the moment my first child was born in 1998.

As a young rookie, I answered many calls of child abuse and neglect and though I was affected by the incidents, becoming a mother magnified them.  I began to correlate every child who was hurt with my own children – especially if they were the same age.  As a result, I spent many nights after work watching my daughter and son while they slept and thanking my higher power that they were safe; while grieving for those not as fortunate with whom I had come in contact during my shift. 

Being a parent made me more patient.

One evening, I responded to the home of a mother who called 9-1-1 because her two year old child was missing.  I didn’t have children then and I recall immediately passing judgment after learning that she had allowed her child to escape from the house.  There was a pond in the back-yard and our officers were wading through it hoping not to find the young boy.  Thankfully we found him unharmed wandering around the neighborhood but I scolded the mother for not being more vigilant in minding her child’s whereabouts. 

And then I had children. 

My kids are 20 months apart in age so I learned very quickly that toddlers are no match even for the most conscientious of mothers.

I would turn my back for literally a moment to find one drawing on the wall (having no clue how they secured a marker) and the other stuffing their socks into the toilet.  They taught themselves how to turn the doorknob despite it being several heads above them and they took great pleasure in letting the dog out and watching me give chase throughout the neighborhood in my bathrobe.

Those lessons in humility would transcend into nearly every call to which I responded as an officer.

I learned to withhold judgment and to be empathic.  It’s easy for a person to judge what they don’t know or understand so I started to seek first to understand, and then be understood.  Naturally, this was not applicable in every situation. There are some things I’ve seen over the years that I will never be able to comprehend but motherhood changed me for the better.

Policing has changed me for the better as well. My children might respectfully disagree, however.

Being the children of a police officer has meant they’ve had to contend with interrogations and suspicion.  One of the things they’ve learned is that I rarely ask a question to which I don’t already know the answer.  I concede that their plight is a bit more cumbersome than those of their peers but I hope I’ve instilled in them the same lessons I’ve tried to instill in our police officers -- that they must lead by example.

Women in policing are no different than those in other careers (excluding the interrogations and pat-down searches). 

We are all struggling to balance our work and home lives; and we are hoping that devotion to our careers doesn’t come at the sacrifice of our children.

I became a police officer before I become a mother so the longevity belongs to the former.  My career will come to an end someday but my role as mother will remain until I take my last breath.  I’ve not been a perfect mother or a perfect police officer and I know there have been times where one aspect of my life has suffered at the hands of the other.  But my hope is that I’ve contributed positively to both.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms just trying to get it right.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Thin Blue Line Represents Honor

*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News | April 2014

When I hear citizens of any community convey their distrust in the police, it devastates me.  But then I rationalize and convince myself that the only people who don’t like or don’t trust the police are those who commit crimes.

It has always seemed logical to me that those who are stopped and questioned by the police are only upset by it when they are guilty of something.  It seemed equally as logical that those who obey the law should not be inconvenienced by the intrusion.  As most internal rationalizations go, it is not the actual truth, but my truth.

The actual truth is that even law-abiding citizens will question police legitimacy if they believe the police are violating the public’s trust.  Even if they aren’t personally victimized, people are keenly aware of injustice; and in the history of humanity, there are many examples of rising to fight in the face of it.
  
The ramifications of trust being eroded in our community has horrific consequences.

Citizens rely on the police (an arm of the government) to practice legitimate authority in applications of law.  Citizens trade some freedoms for this protection (i.e. Fourth Amendment Laws of Arrest, Search and Seizure) because they trust that the police are working within the parameters of the law and in the best interests of the public.  Citizens give police the power to uphold the laws outlined in the Constitution in exchange for protection and enforcement.

When the government exceeds the boundaries and abuses power, the citizens’ extreme reaction is to overthrow the government.  The response to the Rodney King beating in 1992 is a good example of this.  The public took to rioting in the streets because of the actions of the L.A. police officers. 

When the police undermine legitimacy, the public responds in protest and civil unrest is the consequence.

But when the police act honorably and with service, justice and fundamental fairness as their guide, the trust strengthens.  Even when discharging the unpleasant but necessary duties of the office such as search and arrest, citizens accept those actions if they are done with equity and adherence to laws.

People respect power when power is derived from justice.

However, as Historian and moralist Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

When all power is given to one entity, the theory is that man inevitably falls prey to corruption.  This is why power cannot be absolute.  We must have checks and balances within the hierarchy to protect us from dictatorship. 

When police officers enter this profession because they are power-driven, that power becomes absolutely corrupt.  Not only do police officers have the power to take away a person’s freedom (incarceration), they can take a human life as long as it fits within the parameters of the law.  If you think of the awesome responsibility that befalls those acts, you want it only in the hands of those who are worthy.  Here is a great example of unworthiness.

Because our officers on the front line see the worst of humanity, one can begin to understand how seeing the corrosion can skew an officer and ultimately test their will.

At times when the criminal justice system fails, a police officer may feel they have to compromise the Constitution and the laws to ensure “justice”.  But the ends do not justify the means so police officers need to be reminded of their purpose and their mission so they continue to fight for justice fairly.


Gone are the days of the “thin blue line” where police officers are blindly loyal to one another.  Instead, the “thin blue line” has morphed into a positive and honorable litmus test where the police guard themselves by policing one another.  We stand together in virtue and honor but we part with the officer who goes wrong. 

Our “thin blue line” should comprise only those who make the badge shine brighter – not those who tarnish it.