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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.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Creating People in Your Own Image

Dee Hock, the founder and former CEO of the Visa credit card association said, Never hire or promote in your own image.  It is foolish to replace your strength.  It is idiotic to replicate your weakness. 

I thought about how logical this seems and yet people continue to bring others along because they mimic their way of thinking.  Its natural for us to want to surround ourselves with people who align with our values and thought-processes because it takes less energy to stay within the comforts of our own likeness.  Not only that, but it feels good to be validated.

The problem with no one questioning our beliefs or decisions can leave us with the fallacy that our way is the right way.  We do it every day when it comes to our convictions.  We believe something so strongly and we only expose ourselves to people and ideas that support our position as though that somehow proves that we are right. 

This can be dangerous because there can be no growth or progress if we continually operate under the assumption that everyone else is wrong.  We need to surround ourselves with people who will challenge us to question our own assumptions and beliefs.  This doesnt have to be under the guise of conflict; it can be respectful dissent and spirited debate.

When I was a sergeant, I worked for a lieutenant who couldn
t have been more different than me.  His leadership style, his personality and his outlook on life were in stark contrast to mine.  I was conducting roll call with the officers at the beginning of the shift and I noted him sitting in the back of the room as he did every day.  He was a presence in the room not because of his rank, but because he was notorious for his unapproachable demeanor. 

After roll call, I found myself sitting in his office after being summoned by him.  He closed the door and proceeded to tell me that he didnt like the way I conducted roll call.  I must have had a look of confusion or disbelief because he followed up with, I dont like the lightatmosphere with the officers.

I found his vantage point interesting.  In my roll call, there was always friendly bantering and I tried to be participative instead of just talking atthem.  But like a good soldier, I nodded my head in agreement and from that point on, I vowed to be better.

For the next few weeks, I put on my game face- the face I usually reserved for the street when things were serious.  I tried to be stern and matter of factwhen delivering the information and giving out assignments so I could live up to the template he set.  I must have succeeded because many officers inquired if there was something wrong.  They said I wasnt acting like myself.

I wasnt.  I worked up the nerve and marched into my lieutenants office and asked, When I conduct roll call, am I getting the job done?  Am I sharing information, training, and bulletins?  Are my officers producing?

He paused then answered, Well, yes. 

I responded, If its not my performance but my delivery, with all due respect, you cannot create me in your own image.  I went on to share my philosophy that the more positivity and laughter I can add to our environment, the better our officers will feel.  I dont know what kind of day they had before they walked into roll call and since our moods manifest into the way we treat the citizens, Id rather they hit the street feeling happy instead of agitated. 

Its about results.  The style we use to get the results we desire might be different for each of us and we should celebrate the differences and learn from them.  Those who continue to believe different is wrong are an impediment to progress. 

And that affects results.