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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.