Online Exclusive

Applying “Aloha”

Authors’ note:  This is the 3rd and final installment in this series including the articles Type A or Type B:  Which one are you? and Lessons of Aloha.  If you have not yet read these articles, we recommend clicking on their attached links.

In last month’s column we began by presenting a very unique Hawaiian law, that of

§ 5-7.5 the "Aloha Spirit" statute, and we ended with a question:  What if we (as law enforcement officers) adapted that small part from the Hawai’i Revised Statutes that makes “the Aloha Spirit” part of their law and made it a part of our personal covenant with the public we serve?  Of course, to do so would almost certainly have to be an individual choice for most of us, and the question itself seems, and may be, largely rhetorical, but “What if…”  What would that look like?  How would it work?  Is it even realistic considering the many challenges modern policing faces?  Or is it merely an interesting rhetorical exorcise with no practical application for you or me?

Well, if you take time to get past the somewhat florid wording of the law itself and frame the words in more down-to-earth applications, it seems applying the “Aloha Spirit” is both achievable and smart.  Let’s consider what the statute calls the “unuhi laula loa” (“free translation” in the Hawaiian language… I looked it up) using the letters of “Aloha”:

  • "Akahai" – Kindness, to be expressed with tenderness;
  •  "Lokahi" - Unity, to be expressed with harmony;
  •  "?Olu?olu" - Agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
  •  "Ha?aha?a" - Humility, to be expressed with modesty;
  •  "Ahonui" - Patience, to be expressed with perseverance.

Okay, okay, okay… don’t click off just yet and start reading that product review, or the news feed about that thing that happened to those cops over at that place.  Both excellent and interesting articles, no doubt, but they aren’t going anywhere.  Just bear with us a few minutes…

Take a few minutes to reflect on the five principles of the “Aloha Spirit” and how they are important to law enforcement and your role in it, and also how quickly and easily they are so often cast aside and the ramifications of that dismissal. 

Akahai (Kindness) – One of greatest gifts a police officer can give is compassion.  Compassion is the ability to empathize with the pain or fears of others, and usually to translate that empathy into a desire to offer help.  It’s almost a cliché, isn’t it, that so many young (and not so young) cops say they entered policing “to help people.”  But another near-cliché is that of the jaded veteran officer, hardened to human suffering and the flaws that lead to it; angry, bitter, or just numb after years of revolving door justice and feeling like nothing will ever make a difference, marking time until retirement, and with little memory of the compassion and kindness that guided the front end of a career.

Maybe it’s time to recapture that compassion and kindness, to realize people are flawed – all of us – and sometimes do stupid and ill-considered things that come onto law enforcement’s radar.  Maybe it’s time to start seeing “The Big Picture” and look to the thousands of small victories good cops achieve every day, and pull focus from the frustration of human frailty.  Maybe it’s time to recommit to kindness and compassion as a guiding principle for law enforcers, and to realize kindness does not mean sacrificing toughness, or officer safety, or strict accountability for offenders, but that all of those can and should coexist with it.

Lokahi (Unity) – The growth of an “Us vs. Them” mentality in law enforcement - with “Them” being pretty much anyone NOT in law enforcement - is, on one level, understandable.  It is a product of cynicism, borne out of distrust of, and a lack of understanding by, the public we serve.  It’s also deeply regrettable. 

The premise behind most modern community policing models is based upon the not-quite-so-modern adage that “the police are the people, and the people are the police.”  This came from Sir Robert Peel who, while serving as British Home Secretary in 1829, created the Metropolitan Police based upon his nine “Peelian Principles” to earn the title of “The Founder of Modern Policing.”        

Where the “Us vs. Them” mentality exists strongly disunity between the police and public - where law enforcement is acting on, rather than in concert with, the people they serve – builds walls between cop and citizen, fosters mutual distrust, diminishes respect for the rule of law, and generally gets in the way of effective policing.  Dissatisfaction and burnout abounds among the police.  The ability to focus on “The Big Picture” is lost.  Isn’t it time we refocus on increasing unity with the communities we serve?

‘Olu’olu (Agreeable) – Being pleasant or friendly in our dealings with others, especially the citizens we serve, should be a no-brainer.  The reality is sometimes quite different.  I’ve worked with and observed certain officers who seem compelled to let all the world know how much of a hard guy they are, how stupid they believe someone’s complaint is and how unfair it is they have to deal with it, how deep is their contempt for the person standing before them, or apparently how personally they take even the most minor violation of the law. 

Understand, I’m not talking about being a pushover or complacent – neither has any place in law enforcement and will only make you ineffective at best, or dead at worst – I am talking about maintaining a bearing that ranges from professional to personal while never losing sight of officer safety or your mission and duty as a law enforcer.

Despite the howls of protest a few of you are probably unleashing at the very thought of such a thing (we eagerly await your emails!) it’s really not that hard.  In fact, cultivating positive interactions, even with offenders, can reap great rewards. 

Ha?aha?a (Humility) – I once heard the story of a supervisor, well-respected and popular with his officers, who received a dressing down from his captain.  His offense?  He had apologized to some of his officers for what he believed to have been a mistake in his judgment and promised them to make things right.  “Never apologize to a subordinate,” he was told, “it show weakness and they won’t respect you.”

Oh, really?

We will all make mistakes.  We will all exercise poor judgment.  We will all allow our egos to get the best of us.  We will all owe someone an apology and, if we’re wise, be willing to admit our fault and seek forgiveness.  We will do this at home, in our personal lives, and professionally.  The truly humble know this and constantly evaluate and adjust their actions and words to accommodate their weaknesses to best avoid unfairly injuring or offending others. 

Humility will never diminish a cop.  Arrogance?  Well, that’s another story.

Ahonui (Patience) – The “Aloha Spirit” statute calls for patience to be expressed through perseverance.  When you entered law enforcement, you knew this was likely a long-term commitment; it has to be if you want to reach retirement with a solid pension and savings, sure, but you also knew that crime wasn’t really going anywhere, right?  The good each cop does over a career is revealed in the series of small victories tallied in his or her “Win column.  The thieves and burglars caught and charged, abusers held accountable, murderers and sex offenders brought to justice and the innumerable other crimes charged and thwarted.  But no one expected you to make theft and burglary extinct, or that crime would magically disappear shortly after you hit the beat.

Cops become jaded when they realize human nature doesn’t really change (why do we study history and the classics if not to see how familiar we really are with those who came long, long before us?).  They get depressed when they believe all their effort pointless and wasted.  They burn out when they lose sight of “The Big Picture.” 

Learning the race is a marathon and not a sprint, and valuing the small triumphs along the way, is one of the biggest keys to not only surviving but thriving in law enforcement.  There are plenty of threats you’ll face on the street.  Make sure to manage the far more dangerous threats from within, and never lose sight of your own humanity.

And consider how “The Aloha Spirit,” adapted to policing, can help maintain your grip on your humanity and your mission.

Stay Safe!


Web Links:


About The Authors:

Althea Olson, LCSW has been in private practice in the Chicago suburbs since 1996. She has a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University providing individual, couple, & group therapy to adolescents, adults, and geriatrics. Althea is also trained in Critical Incident Stress Management & is a certified divorce mediator.

Mike Wasilewski, MSW has been with a large suburban Chicago department since 1996. He holds a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University and has served on his department’s Crisis Intervention & Domestic Violence teams. Mike is an adjunct instructor at Northwestern College.

Mike & Althea have been married since 1994 and have been featured columnists for Officer.Com since 2007. Their articles are extremely popular and they now provide the same training and information in person throughout the United States. This dynamic team was recently featured at the at the 2010 & 2011 ILEETA Conference & Exposition.

Out of their success has come the formation of More Than A Cop where the focus is providing consultation and trainings on Survival Skills Beyond The Street.