Total Pageviews

Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Lesson for Adults: Talk Less. Care More.

Aurora police officers Skyy Calice and Star Pirela stopped into my office to pitch an idea. They run a mentoring program for females in our area high schools called, “Girls Run the World” and during one of the meetings, the students asked the officers why no one ever asks them for their input on how to reduce gun violence.

A week prior, 15-year-old Jasmine Noble was shot in the head and killed at a party on the west side of Aurora and the students were (and still are) feeling the pain from the loss of their classmate. Earlier that week, 20-year-old Juanya Booker was shot to death on the east side of our city.

Aurora has faced challenges surrounding gun violence for a long time and although we have made great strides in the reduction of violent crime in our city, any life lost to a senseless murder leaves a painful void in our community and in the lives of those who loved them.

When Ofc. Calice and Ofc. Pirela said the students wanted to meet with city leaders and offer their input, I was intrigued. As the police chief, I talk to kids all the time. I’ve been invited to speak at our Youth Academy and all of the area schools and I do it as often as my schedule allows. But the words that stick out to me in that description are “talk” and “speak”. It occurred to me that in my interactions with our young citizens, I do more talking than listening.

I told the officers I was in and I recruited Mayor Irvin and the Superintendents from our 3 largest high schools to listen to 30 students (male and female) representing their respective schools. Ofc. Star Pirela organized the event and lured everyone in with a catered lunch. After the food was scarfed, Ofc. Pirela addressed the students with the following question:

“What factors are contributing to today’s youth violence?”

I thought the conversation would be slow to start but hands immediately went up in the air and Ofc. Pirela handed off the microphone where it continued to get passed around. One after another, the students offered their opinions:

  • Bravado on social media.
  • Fear of being ridiculed (i.e. bullied).
  • Lack of friends.
  • Abuse at home.
  • Lack of a father figure.
  • Bad parenting. 

I only spoke to ask a few clarifying questions and as I listened to each student, I was awestruck at the wisdom that was flying around the room. Hearing teens inform us that the major contributing factor to violence is parents who don’t act like parents was interesting to hear. One student shared that parents (regardless of single-parent or dual-parent homes) lack skills and pointed out that too many want to be “friends” with their kids. She offered that they don’t set boundaries for curfew, they don’t go into bedrooms and see what is in plain sight and they don’t pay attention when their kids start hanging out with a bad crowd.

They were fighting over the microphone to add more examples of bad parenting and I was on the edge of my seat. One student offered, “You can’t tell me that the kids who shot up everyone at Columbine and the other schools didn’t have guns or other clues in their bedrooms that their parents should have seen.”

WAIT, WHAT? They want boundaries. They crave rules. They want supervision.

Another said that physical and verbal abuse at home is one of the major reasons our youth are walking around hurting others. “When they feel so bad about themselves, they treat others badly.” Hearing them identify the systemic and causal factors that lead to violence was mind-blowing.

I was immersed in this conversation but I was feeling a sense of helplessness as they described these failures in their own homes. As a cop, I’m programmed to live in a problem-solving mode. I am wired to de-escalate and to stop the bad thing that’s happening but, at this moment, I understood at the core of my being that we cannot control the things that happen in a student’s home.

Ofc. Pirela’s next question was perfectly transitioned to address my internal strife:

“What can police and adults do to mitigate these factors?”

And then a beautiful girl took the microphone and said simply, “We need you to care.” She went on, “We need our police and our teachers to listen to us and to get more involved – please just hear us.”

The damaged kids walking around our schools who are involved with drugs, guns, and gangs got there either because they learned it from parents who engage in those behaviors or because they are running away from something in their lives. Simply put, hurt people hurt people.

We often have no idea what happens behind closed doors. What I learned in this listening session is that police, educators, coaches, faith-based leaders <insert any adult> can have an impact on the life of a teen if they care to do so.

Superintendent Jeff Craig from District 129 said that educators can begin by changing the way they interact with students who show up late to school. “Rather than pointing out that they are late and sending them to the dean for discipline, we can instead say, ‘We are glad you’re here.’” What a difference that can make in the life of a teen who may be late because they are at the mercy of their parent to get them to school or whatever obstacle at home caused them to be late. At least they showed up.

The students pitched tangible solutions such as setting up an anonymous texting platform so they can report incidents without being called a “snitch”. They suggested sending kids to tutoring rather than detention so they can get the academic help they need. They also said that we should get over the idea that every kid is college-bound and accept that some want to learn a trade rather than taking an academic path.

The biggest epiphany that we all must heed is that kids need boundaries and discipline from their parents, teachers, and police. They were quick to point out that being overly strict can backfire and cause rebellion but they offered that giving teens rules, boundaries, and discipline actually mean that you care for them and don’t want them to get hurt.

They also had the introspection to recognize that they need to hold each other accountable peer to peer. Beyond that, they independently concluded that despite the outside factors contributing to drug abuse, violence, and overall bad-behavior, they have the freedom to choose. One student said, “We want voices and we want choices.” They identified courage as being the one quality that they need to exercise more so they don’t follow the crowd down the wrong path.

After this event, I am far less worried about our future because these wise kids are going to grow into adults who will make positive changes that will cause a ripple.

As for me, I’m going to do far more listening than talking going forward. And for all of us, the lesson is simple: Care. You might never know how one act of compassion can change someone’s path.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

20 Things I’ve Learned in the Past Decade

A few days into the new year, I sat down during my morning ritual (see # 10) and pondered the lessons that the past decade offered me. Here is a list of the highlights. Maybe you can glean something from them as well as you take your first few steps into the new decade. 

1) Preparation is the key to everything. The way our officers and staff performed during the mass shooting in our city validated for me that we really do fall to the level of our training. Invest in people. Invest in equipment. Then put both of those things together and go through all the training scenarios you can think of so that when it’s not a drill, you’ve already been through it in a controlled space. You play like you practice.

1.5) Lesson number one isn’t just for police street survival — it’s for life. If you aren’t preparing and bettering yourself with each passing year, you will remain stagnant. This doesn’t mean that you have to get a degree or climb a mountain, but you do have to commit yourself to constant self-improvement. Read a book, take a class, fix a bad habit. Figure out what things you need to start doing and what things you need to stop doing to get better.

2) Life is precious. I already knew this but now I really get it. I felt it when I was in the command post during the shooting and didn’t know if our five shot officers were alive or dead. I felt it in all of my molecules when I attended the funerals of the five human beings who were killed that day. The pain of their family members brought me to my knees. I’ve seen and felt this kind of pain before but this time it was different. It brought clarity to the notion that we are only here on earth for a very short time.

3) Air Pod Pros were the best purchase ever. The noise-canceling feature has changed my life. I love babies but not when they are screaming on an airplane. 

4) Stop trying to win over the haters. You are not the jackass whisperer.

The ridiculous name-calling and bullying that happens over social-media and behind computer screens is so infinitesimally inconsequential in the big scheme of things. I have to come to a place in my life where I genuinely don’t care what the critics are saying because they are cowards making noise from the cheap seats. Any chump can sit behind a computer and spout off. I only take criticism from those who are on the front lines with me with their sleeves rolled up doing the work. The rest is just noise. This has brought me so much peace. Just put on your noise-canceling headphones and keep doing what you do.

5) Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Energy goes where your attention flows so if you find yourself obsessing over the little things, change your focus.

6) I lost a few relationships over the past few years and I was struggling to understand how I failed to see what they had been revealing to me all along. Now that I have some time and distance, the clarity is shocking. I have learned that addition by subtraction is real.

7) As my kids enter adulthood, I was mourning their absence from the house and the fact that they aren’t children anymore. But what I realized this year is that I don’t just love my kids — I really like them as human beings. They are smart and kind and funny and it’s really cool to be able to hang out with your family because you want to — not because you have to. Parenting is hard but try and build good kids who contribute to society. Also, provide just enough dysfunction to make them funny. 😆 

8) Don’t practice blind loyalty. Stand with people when they are right, but have the courage to question and part with them when they go wrong.

9) I still hate mushrooms. Every year I try to like them but this year was a no go. I’ll keep trying.

10) Morning routines affect productivity. I started waking up at 5:30 a.m. so I could set my intentions for the day. My routine consists of:
  • Brewing coffee.
  • Meditating while the coffee is brewing (my mediation time record is 7 minutes).
  • Writing down 3 things for which I am grateful.
  • Writing down 3 things about which I am excited.
  • Outlining my schedule and tasks for the day.
  • Exercise. I am obsessed with my Peloton.
I read about how successful people have strict morning routines and I decided to try it. It totally works! The meditation is still a struggle for me because I have the attention span of a 5-year-old but I have found that by starting the day with gratitude and intention, I am in a mindset of abundance versus scarcity. When I see my day outlined by schedule and tasks, I am better able to keep on track. Seriously, this is life-altering. I use this planner.

11) Even when you think you understand something, you don’t. I think of myself as enlightened when it comes to race relations but I’ve come to realize that there is no way I can comprehend the plight of another no matter how empathic I believe I am. I read 3 books in 2019 that made me realize my level of ignorance:
In a time where the minority community does not trust the police, I have sought to gain a deeper understanding so we can find ways to build bridges. Each of these authors helped me understand the depth and the breadth of societal and racial disparity and while I will never be able to fully comprehend the plight, I am determined to try. The best thing about trust is that it is not finite. We can build it if we seek first to understand, and then be understood.

12) Someone nice to you but not nice to a person in any service industry is not a nice person. Kindness matters.

13) You’re not too busy. You just haven’t made that person or thing a priority. No one is that important or that busy so stop saying you are.

14) Hurt people hurt people. The way others treat you is just a reflection of how they feel about themselves. Don’t take it personally.

15) “Okay.” vs. “Okay!” mean two different things when written. Punctuation matters. I have also accidentally conveyed a harsh tone via text or e-mail when my intention was to be just the opposite. The lesson here: important conversations are best had in-person.

16) Complaining is useless so stop doing it. If you’re upset about something in your life and can change it, do so. The victim mentality is unappealing. 

17) Your inner-circle matters. Surround yourself with people who don’t drag you down. If they steal your energy, it’s time to subtract them. Surround yourself with people who call you on your bullsh$% and make you want to be better. Surround yourself with people who do things and help you contribute to the world in a good way. Your tribe tells me everything I need to know about you.

18) It’s okay to ask for help. The strongest and most bad-assed people I know are those who have the courage to reach out when they are struggling. Struggling is real and it’s different from complaining. 

19) When something scares you, that probably means you should pursue it. Opportunities will not wait for the perfect moment so when it knocks, maybe it’s time to open the door. Then blow the door off its hinges.

20) And through it all, don’t forget to laugh. As my friend and colleague Jeff Wiencek says, “laughter is like shocks on a car — it makes going over the bumps much easier.”

I wish you a happy and productive 2020 filled with laughter and love.

Onward and upward.