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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.