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Friday, November 11, 2016

The Culture of Fitting In

The culture of an organization is a living and breathing organism. You cannot see it in the tangible sense but you can feel the gravitational pull when someone acts outside of the norm.

We spend most of our time synchronizing our actions and emulating social cues so we don't draw attention to ourselves. This is especially true when we enter into a new environment like a new job or a foreign place for the first time. If you are new, the last thing you want to do is stand out or be too different so you find ways to adapt and blend inconspicuously so as not to reveal too quickly how weird you actually are.

This is a survival technique and it’s not always a bad thing because it allows time for us to transition into a new environment incrementally.  It’s very primitive because adapting is what we are instinctually hard-wired to do.  

The problem is when we focus all of our energy on adapting so much that we lose our personhood and we blend in to the extent that our individuality is unrecognizable.  The desperation to fit it often supersedes our belief-system and we do things we wouldn’t normally do out of fear of ridicule.

We have the psychological desire to fit in and if we don’t constantly fight to go against the grain, we will find ourselves ingrained in something that is unrecognizable.  Over time, we will discover that we’ve lost ourselves and we aren’t quite sure how it happened.

In her book, “Daring Greatly”, Brene Brown wrote about the difference between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in is essentially giving up your individuality and your authenticity. Belonging is being exactly who you are and feeling as though you are accepted in your environment. 

 We all want to feel safe and accepted but it’s easy to confuse that feeling of security by adapting the “group think”. Feeling truly safe in an organization means that you can be the same person you are at home as you are at work. You don’t have to try and remember who to be based on where you are.

An organization that encourages individuality by way of respectful dissent and diversity of thought as part of their culture are the organizations that flourish. Leaders should set the vision and the mission but allow their people to align to it in a way that is unique to them.

It might seem impossible to do that in a profession like policing where uniformity and para-military mindset are the norm, but it doesn’t have to be. In policing, we must be aligned to the constitution of the United States of America and bound by the laws we enforce. Nowhere does it stipulate that mirrored sunglasses and attitude have to be the method used to carry out the mission.

When police officers are given permission to use their humor, empathy, compassion and individual talents while carrying out their duties, the job still gets done. In fact, it gets done better because authenticity and trust are the foundation of legitimacy.

By allowing the people in your organization to use their unique talents and skills to fulfill the mission, you are creating an environment where everyone belongs.

When people feel as though they belong, they are happier and more productive people and they walk around transferring that good stuff to others.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Deep Thoughts about Motorcycles

I had a Honda CBR sport motorcycle back in 2003. I have a small streak of adventurism that I need to feed every once in awhile and a fast motorcycle seemed like a good way to satisfy that hunger. I sold that motorcycle two years later after responding to the scene of an fatal accident involving a "crotch rocket". I decided that my job provided me all the adrenaline I needed.

I understand the adrenaline junkies who have a need for speed and to live on the edge. What I don't understand is taking to the street of a suburban city to fulfill that need. The motorcyclists who decided to come through our city last Sunday caused a bit of a stir and we would be remiss if we didn't have a conversation about it.

I want to be crystal clear with the bikers. Don't come into our city and act like fools. When you drive down our city streets and pop wheelies and cut in and out of traffic, know you are not welcome. When you do what you did on Sunday, you give your hobby and other law-abiding bikers a bad name.

I have been on enough accident scenes where I have watched dead bodies of motorcyclists get scooped up into the coroner's van as a result of driving recklessly so I have the credibility to make such a bold statement.

The Aurora Police Department responded to several calls to 911 regarding a road rage incident on Sunday. The motorcycle group did not notify the city that they were coming through and there was no police escort. I say that to dispel a few rumors.

What happened was simple. A few of the motorcycle drivers were acting reckless. Bikers, you simply have to understand that the drivers of motor vehicles who share the road with you get really freaked out when you cut in and out of traffic, pop wheelies, and speed. I'm sure you are a bunch of nice people with good intentions who like to capture your adventures on go-pro cameras and that probably makes for really cool footage. But I need you to move outside your own reality for a moment and put yourself in the place of drivers on the road who find you erratic and unpredictable. There is a place for your adventures but it's not in the middle of a suburban roadway.

For those of you sitting behind your computer screens and attacking the police department for allowing this "act of terrorism" to take place, let's put this in proper perspective.

When the officers responded, they didn't have the luxury of watching all of the videos that have poured in after the fact. They responded to the scene where they met with hundreds of bikers who were pointing fingers at the driver of the truck and other witnesses who were pointing fingers at the bikers. The handful of officers on scene were attempting to sort out all finger-pointing and it was extremely difficult to do so without the videos we are all now enjoying.

Put yourself in the place of these officers for just a moment and I'll let you answer the questions I'm getting:

Why didn't they chase the motorcyclists and pull them over?
I find it hard to believe they couldn't identify the bikers from the videos they are posting on Facebook. Can't you find out who they are?
Why didn't you go get that big tank you drive in the parades?
What are you doing about this terrorist attack on our community?
I don't feel safe and I want to know what the police department is going to do about it?

Friends, the officers and the police department shouldn't be vilified in this scenario. They did the best they could in the moment. They responded when called and mediated the situation which resulted in no further injuries to people or property. We have to weigh the safety of the other drivers with every action and pursuing the bikers would have put others in danger. Everything is so clear to everyone after the fact but in the middle of the chaotic scene, not so much. The majority of our residents are reasonable and understand this.

I have full faith in the detectives of the Aurora Police Department investigations division who are sifting through video footage to try and determine who is culpable for the road rage incident. They will determine if any other criminal charges can be filed and attempt to identify the offender(s). The interaction between the driver of the truck and the bikers who had a physical altercation may or may not result in charges. It depends on all facts gathered and everything considered -- including the state's attorney's office.

Motorcyclists, I want you to know that you are more than welcome in our city. My understanding is that you stopped to have Mexican food on Highland Ave. Excellent choice! Come to our city and eat at our restaurants and enjoy Aurora. But follow the laws. It's that simple.

I don't see the need to have a big forum about this. We have never had an issue in the past. I would welcome a face to face with the group of motorcyclists so we can plan for your next visit should you choose to come back. Motorcyclists are awesome people and we want to help you get a better reputation.

So let's keep perspective and rationale. No one was hurt. Life is moving on and we are all okay.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Heavy Hearts in the Wake of Dallas

To the men and women of the Aurora Police Department,

Our hearts are heavy today as we face the reality of losing 5 officers from Dallas. Although we don’t know them personally, they are our family. You know them because you are them. Like them, you run towards the gunfire to protect innocent lives. You defend those who protest against us because you signed up to fight for freedom of expression even if it is dissenting. When an officer’s life is stolen, a part of us dies with him/her and yet you show up every day and continue to be guardians for the city of Aurora and the citizens we serve.

I am often asked, “What is the Aurora Police Department doing to ensure that we don’t become the next Ferguson?” Ferguson has now become synonymous with every city that has experienced civil unrest over the actions of a police-involved shooting.

I tell everyone who will listen: “We are doing the same thing post Ferguson et al as we were doing pre-Ferguson.” The men and women of the Aurora Police Department approach each incident to which they respond with professionalism and restraint. Where there is force to be applied, we do so within the confines of the United States Constitution and without excess. Our team of trainers dedicate themselves to developing scenarios where our officers learn skills to effectively handle a threat, as well as to bring the incident to a successful outcome through de-escalation techniques. Where other police departments have cut training during tough economic times, this police department and our city officials refuse to do so. We play like we practice and every training scenario in which you participate translates into appropriate action on the street.

Those outside this profession cannot know what it’s like to respond to a call where a person is reported to have a gun. No one outside of this profession knows that feeling you get when you make the walk to approach the driver on a traffic stop and how you tap the trunk to make sure it’s closed, look in the window for a clue of what you might be confronted with inside, and attempt to determine the mindset of the occupants. No one who hasn’t been in a situation where you have to predict with precision what is about to happen understands the gravity of decision-making when tensions are high and adrenaline is pumping.

Contrary, we don’t know what it’s like to be on the other end of a police encounter where a human looks at every officer as someone who may hurt or even kill them. We certainly cannot begin to comprehend the emotions of the families of the two African American men who lost their lives to the police earlier this week. We as the law enforcement community would be remiss if we didn’t dissect these tragic outcomes with a critical eye.

We must create a culture where we can learn from mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. But first we have to be able to acknowledge when mistakes are made. We stand with officers when they are right but we must part with those officers who dishonor our badge. Loyalty is honorable. Blind loyalty is irresponsible.

Today, other cities are facing unrest. Tensions are high. In Aurora, our relationships are healthy. We make mistakes but we hold each other accountable when we do. We are always working to better our skills by committing to constant self-improvement. In response to the unrest all around us, I received this text message from one of our officers and I gained permission to share it:

“Chief, my heart aches for what is happening in this world. It makes me want to put on my uniform today and be out there to help remind our community that we are good.”

I can’t say it any better than this officer. We are the Aurora Police Department and we are good. I know your hearts are heavy today as you mourn the slain officers but I need you to transform the weight you carry into something positive.

Today and every day forward, go out of your way to talk with the citizens of this fine city. Find someone who doesn’t look like you and have a meaningful conversation with them. Build bridges and knock down walls. Continue to look at people and not down on them.

I have been bombarded today with e-mails and texts from citizens sending well wishes and prayers so please know that Aurorans from all cultures and backgrounds are sending you energy. They have your back and so do I.

In short, keep policing this fine city with excellence and professionalism. I couldn’t be more proud to serve each and every one of you as your chief.



Sunday, April 17, 2016

Embrace Warriorship

*A letter to the officers of the Aurora Police Department:

I attended training in Bloomington-Normal this week put on by the Illinois Law-Enforcement Training and Standards Board Executive Institute. On the 2nd day of the conference, I sat on a Chief’s panel and was asked a question about police perception and if police actually need to improve or if we simply need to work at altering the public's perception of us.

The answer is both. There is a reason we are getting slammed in the headlines and although the media is slanted in the anti-police direction (understatement), there are officers out there who are making all of us look bad. Period.

The Aurora Police Department is not in the news. Our excellent training division incorporates deescalation and restraint into mandatory training and because "you play like you practice", we don't have officers shooting people in the back as they run away.

We as a profession have to be able to police ourselves and sometimes that means looking at the actions of other police officers and acknowledging that a bad outcome was the result of poor decision-making. Policing is as much of an art as it is a science. That means using all the tools given to you (including your human influence) to achieve the best possible outcome. Identifying and predicting human behavior patterns and choosing a course of action within the confines of the United States Constitution is not easy. It’s the opposite of easy. But you do it with excellence every day.

Despite the Aurora Police Department not making the headlines, we are still painted with a broad brush and the actions of one bad cop tarnishes all of our badges. Although it is unfair, the negative perception is real so we must commit to building trust with our citizens one contact at a time. You didn’t cause this mess, but you have the power to change hearts and minds by engaging our citizens.

There is a big debate going on in law enforcement about guardians versus warriors and how the latter adds to the negative public perception. I was asked about it on the panel and want to share my viewpoint with you.

You will spend the majority of your shift acting as guardians to the City of Aurora. You will solve problems and you will enforce laws so there is order in our neighborhoods and our citizens can live peacefully. Most of you have learned by now that it’s a waste of time and energy to demand respect and instead have figured out that by giving respect freely, you earn it naturally. Respect is earned by looking at people and not down on them.

Throughout your tour of duty, there is no doubt that you will show empathy and compassion to many individuals and those acts of altruism will never make headlines. But you will do it anyway.

So make no mistake — you are guardians.

However, there will be moments where you will have no choice but to transform into a warrior. You are the first line of defense in our city and when there is someone who threatens the peace and safety of our citizens, you must embrace the warrior mindset and run towards the gunfire. You will put yourself in harm's way and risk your own life because you are police officer.

The warrior mindset is what sets you apart from those who don’t wear a uniform and without it, there would be no one to fight the evil that exists. Being a warrior is not a bad thing as long as those skills are applied with good purpose. We cannot shy away from the notion that there will be times where we have to use force to subdue a person whose intent is to harm others. As long as force is applied within the parameters of the law and without excess, you won’t find yourself standing alone.

A true warrior fights only to protect and the greatest skill of all is to subdue the offender without violence. That should always be our goal. But I refuse to pander to the negative perception of warriorship and deny that side of us because there have to be people willing to go where others will not.

The answer is that we are both guardians and warriors so embrace and hone the skills of both.