The day that you graduated from the academy and the moment that you learned that you had passed your state certification test are two of life's truly memorable events. You were bright-eyed with enthusiasm. Your whole law enforcement career lay ahead of you. Working was such a thrill that you would arrive early, stay late and even thought about going in on your day off without getting paid. You just wanted to be there. Those were heady days, indeed.
I am wired tightly to my family, my faith and my country. My father was a WWII veteran of the European theatre. He fought through the Battle of the Bulge. He came home a very proud and patriotic American. Though I would not fully recognize it until later in life, my Dad planted those seeds of patriotism very deeply in me. They have come to define who I really am, at the core of my being.
To me, one of the ways I best act on my patriotism is by serving in the law enforcement community and The Brotherhood to the very best of my ability. This is a tangible way for me to live the American Dream and return some of what I have been given. Most of my brothers and sisters share my values. But, not all of them do.
This message is for the new, the young and those who are still somewhat naïve. If you are a dinosaur (like me), you probably learned this lesson long ago. In your heart, you wish it weren't so.
LISTENING FOR THE SNAKE'S RATTLE
Your travails through each shift brings you up and takes you down. You have trained hard to fight the evils on the street, i.e. guns, drugs, gangs and the like. You have learned that suspects lie. Hopefully, you have already learned that some people want to kill you just because of the uniform that you wear. When on duty you become hyper-vigilant to sources of danger. Or, so you think.
You face enormous danger from where you least expect it: other cops. They are the snakes, the scum and the vermin that can hide behind a false smile and a badge. It would be great if they wore a sign that revealed their internal rot, but they do not. They usually look just like you and me. But, if you listen and watch carefully, their behavior betrays them. It is just like the rattle of the rattlesnake. When you hear it: run the other way.
THE RUDE AWAKENING
WAR STORY #1 - Many ears ago, I was elected to public office. While there, we started a police department. At the outset, we had 24 reserve officers. Ultimately, we sent those first 24 reserves through the full academy where they earned state certification as career officers. I used my elected position and took the fledgling department under my wing.
A short time after the end of my term of office, the town council hired a new chief. Things were not good in the department. This new chief seemed an ego-centric maniac. He would not tolerate any dissidents among the troops. A few really good men quit because they just couldn't stomach their new leader.
Within a year, his M/O was clear: he enjoyed the media spotlight. He would propose only those initiatives for the department that improved his personal image or enhanced his own resume. Any of the local reporters who challenged him or worse, said something negative about him in print were subjected to being cut-out of the loop.
This new chief became emotionally abusive to the cops who had given birth to the department. Never one to shy away from sharing my opinion, I fell into disfavor with the self-anointed king.
At that time, I sincerely believed that all cops were altruistic. Cops focus on public service. Cops are supposed to be shining examples of people who put the needs of others ahead of their own, I thought. This guy did not come close to fitting those expectations.
WAR STORY #2 - Years later, I remember being a newly-minted cop. I basked in the warmth of The Brotherhood, feeling safe. Wow, was I in for a jolt. The dose of reality shook me hard. Yet, I wanted to believe an attack on me by another officer was an isolated incident. Surely, this must be a rare exception. Cops almost never hurt a brother cop, I thought. Wrong, again.
I ran into a supervisor where I worked. He seemed OK, although he often talked smack about other officers, I really didn't pay much attention. I only worked part-time. Said supervisor showed little interest or concern with me.
That changed. He learned that I was president of a company that wrote grants for agencies and had gotten previous awards of many millions of dollars. Our company consulted with departments to design and implement computer systems for patrol officers. I was a professional LE trainer and also an adjunct instructor in an area academy.
Suddenly, he took issue with me constantly. He incessantly micro managed, second guessed, and picked at me. He would repeatedly bring inane (and false) charges against me only to have them later dismissed as being unfounded. This went on for what seemed like an eternity.
I subsequently learned that this supervisor had left a lot of broken concrete in his career path. The supervisor was a consummate kiss-up whenever he wanted something. Otherwise, he had no use for most people and let them know it, in no uncertain terms.
These two are examples of the dark underbelly of law enforcement. We try to ignore it. We try to pretend that it is not there. We want it to go away. But, we can unwittingly play into it. Worse, we can unintentionally become part of the problem - if we are not careful.
SO, HOW DO I SPOT A SNAKE HIDING IN THE WEEDS?
OK, so I tend to analyze everything to death. This issue is no exception. There are some traits and behaviors that seem to be common to buttheads (that's the technical term) like the two I have described above. Beware of cops who match-up to this list:
- Observe how a person talks of a subordinate or peer that has little/no effect on the speaker or his career. Are those lesser people treated like dirt?
- Observe how an officer treats people on the street. Is everyone not in uniform a jerk who should be demeaned and bear the brunt of the cop's lack of simple courtesy?
- Does the officer's sense of right and wrong change with the situation?
- Does the officer experience moments of rage and lose his temper when he judges that someone else has caused him trouble?
- Is there evidence to show that he carries a grudge? Some folks make grudge carrying into an art form.
- Is he known to retaliate for every transgression against him, no matter how long he must lie in wait to get his revenge? Forgiveness just isn't in his repertoire. Being vindictive is his trademark.
- He will be very kind, affirming and understanding with anyone who has something he wants.
- People who must work with this person at close range tend to be strong willed and thick skinned.
- This person is disliked by most and trusted by very, very few.
- Finally, this person is known to make unending efforts to vigorously crush, discredit and destroy the career or life of anyone who crosses him.
In my opinion, cops who fit this description are in the wrong career. They are only really happy when they are getting their ego stroked. They are the lowest of the low.
They feel terribly threatened by folks who are smarter, better connected or who are better skilled at police work than they are. They seek to elevate themselves only by diminishing others. The thought of self-improvement rarely (if ever) crosses their tiny minds.
COULD I BE FALLING INTO THAT TRAP?
Dr. Kevin Gilmartin said this in his book, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement: "Nobody, but nobody, will escape from a police career with their professional virginity intact. Everyone gets screwed by the agency (or a fellow cop) at least one time."
Those are wise words coming from a man of great wisdom. For the new and naïve: it will happen to you.
Cops can engage in a feeding-frenzy on rumors, gossip and half-truths from within the walls of their own agency. Are you one who actively participates, spreading this stuff around? Or, maybe you are only passively participating - listening attentively, but passing it no further. Even so, you provide tacit approval simply because you don't walk away.
We have all been on a traffic stop where the driver's response to a request for their ID is that they left it at home. We know that's only half the statement. The rest goes like this: "I left it at home because I have warrants open for my arrest and I don't want you to know who I am."
We challenge half-statements when we hear them on the street. Why don't we react the same way when we hear them from a fellow officer? I wonder...
The unfortunate reality is that there are snakes in our midst. They seek self-glorification. They have no respect for others or for authority. To them it's all about me. You could probably say the exact same words about 9 out of the last 10 people whom you have taken to jail.
Yet, too often, we are afraid to confront the snakes. We are afraid to call them out and challenge their evil deeds. We fear that they will seek retaliation against us, whom they will then see as an enemy. I don't need any extra aggravation in this job. Just let me get to the end of the shift and go home, you think. Somebody else can deal with this jerk.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
I will always remember the first time I saw that movie. It was at the home of a fellow cop. I was on an assignment with Omaha PD and staying with a buddy while there.
My Dad landed at Normandy on D-Day +4. He fought through the Battle of the Bulge and on to Berlin. The war changed him greatly, according to Mom. He taught me with words and by his example.
What struck me about the movie? At the invasion of Normandy, I saw men fight seemingly insurmountable odds and surrender their lives pursuing a goal that they judged both good and noble. They gave everything to fight for what they believed to be right. It was at that precise moment in time that I understood what my Dad had truly lived to teach me.
Right is right; wrong will always be wrong. Honor God, your country and your family. Never give up fighting for that which is right. Never. Thousands of heroes have given their lives in defense of our country and our way of life. We can never repay the debt that owed for what the members of our military did (and continue to do) for all of us. Allowing evil to prevail discredits all that our forefathers have fought and died to provide.
Dad taught the lesson about conscience this way, "Every day I must look myself in the mirror when I shave. I want to be proud of what I see there."
Are you proud of what you see? If not, what will you do to change it?
At times, life has setbacks so severe that I wonder if I can recover and go forward. I am reading a book right now on improving personal resiliency to adversity. It is thought-provoking and enlightening, to say the least.
I have recently learned that a fellow officer knowingly filed a false police report about me which is highly disturbing, to say the least. One of the two people mentioned earlier has been forced out of a very lucrative employment contract with his city well ahead of schedule because the officials have recognized his misdeeds and flawed style.
What goes around comes around, so they say. The snakes will ultimately answer for what they have done. I do not need to concern myself with retribution. They will answer to a much high authority at some point in the future.
It has been said that for evil to win, all that the good people need to do is nothing.
WHAT TO DO NOW: If you have been lured to become a snake, reverse course immediately. How do you know? If you are exhibiting any of the traits listed earlier on a regular basis, you may well be in the water. Consider this: you should be able to recount what you have done as a cop to your spouse, your parents or your pastor without apology. If you cannot, something has probably gone awry.
If you must associate with a snake, keep your distance. Learn to recognize them. Don't give them ammunition or the ability to feed their repulsive behavior. You might be able to help them get back on the right track. Maybe not. Rely on your faith and your heart to make that call. But know who and where the snakes are. Avoid becoming ensnared in their web of evil.
If you are too green to have experienced the rattlesnake(s) in your own camp, just know that they are there. Stay on guard.
Stay strong. Stay staunch. Keep yourself wired tight.
It is important to remember this: people who do well, people who sturdily stand for their beliefs and people who are unwilling to yield to those who do evil ultimately become targets. An academy instructor said to me, "We do the only job where (bad) people want to kill us because of the clothing that we wear."
For the rattlesnakes in our camp: we are their target. They can only survive and prosper with our demise.
I refuse to give up. How about you?